On paper One Piece: Unlimited Cruise SP looks like a real winner. A free-roaming adventure game where you can instantly take control over any of the nine Straw Hat Pirates from the One Piece series of manga and anime? Count me in. Unfortunately what we end up with is something that falls way short of the mark.
It all starts so promisingly, with a fantastic looking cutscene showing the Straw Hat Pirates, led by Monkey D. Luffy, sailing through a horrific storm. At the centre of this storm is a glowing orb, and when Luffy collects it he hears a voice offering him great rewards if he is willing to pass certain tasks. Never one to turn down treasure, he accepts, and four islands appear nearby. Time for a bit of exploring! Straight away you can tell the developers have managed to capture the essence of the anime. All the characters are larger than life, and the Japanese voice-work is great. This is by far the strongest part of the game.
There's a "hot curry" joke here somewhere.
However, it’s not long before you realise that every action you take with a character builds them up, and when they reach a certain level new abilities unlock. When one character dies you are taken into a menu where another can be chosen and sent into battle.
Whilst this system sounds fine in theory, it’s really where the problems start to surface. It would have been better, in my opinion at least, if all characters levelled up together. I’ll be honest, some of them are next to useless and never get used, thus never level up, and when brought out as a last resort they are very underpowered and easily overcome. There’s also precious little skill involved when it comes to defeating the generic enemies thrown at you, and even unlocking new moves fails to spice things up.
If that wasn’t enough to infuriate, the camera’s prone to spinning round to show the most unhelpful angle possible, and can’t seem to keep up with the fast paced nature of the game. This is coupled with a dreadful target lock that refuses to actually lock-on to an enemy, even if they are a few steps in front of you. When you finally do manage to lock-on it will switch itself off if you dare make a move, hardly what you’d want from a targeting system.
The one half-decent area of combat is the Beat Rush. When engaged in combat button prompts appear on the right-hand side of the screen. Matching them will give you a large boost in power, and will cause defeated enemies to drop useful items.
The mostly boring combat could have been partially excused if the boss battles had been enjoyable, but unfortunately they are a lesson in frustration. The potential was there, with all bosses being based on familiar One Piece enemies, but the end result is normally you desperately fighting with the camera as the boss spams you with their most powerful, seemingly unlimited, attack.
One battle was particularly memorable, as you’re forced to fight two bosses at once. This lead to a situation where one would activate his special move, and as soon as he would finish the other would begin his. I went through all of my nine characters in 45 seconds. I then put the 3DS down and didn’t touch it again for three days.
So no, the combat isn’t great, but what about the exploration? Despite giving the illusion of freedom, the islands are fairly linear, with entire areas often blocked off until you manage to trigger the event that unlocks it. This normally involves having to find a certain number of items, which are then combined to make the key. Unfortunately you’re never told what these items are, instead being given a vague description and a silhouette of what they look like (for example, “something sticky”, and a blacked out picture of a splodge that turned out to be a spider’s web).
The loss of target lock finally takes Luffy's sanity.
However, eventually you’ll manage to push your way through re-spawning enemies, overcome your confusion, figure out what the game’s asking of you and actually get the times needed for the key. You’d think that would be it, push the items together and get the key. Sadly it’s not that simple, you’ll frequently be told you told you can’t actually create the key yet as you don’t have enough points.
To get more points you once again have to go around the island, defeating enemies and collecting pick-ups which can then be converted into points. It’s the most unfriendly, long-winded bit of design I’ve ever come across, deliberately added to the game to simply pad it out.
Another issue with the campaign mode is that half of it has been removed. The Japanese version of the game contains One Piece Unlimited Cruise 1: The Treasure Beneath The Waves and One Piece Unlimited Cruise 2: Awakening of a Hero, but the EU release drops part 2.
What it does have is The Marineford Episodes, which is more like an arena based combat game. It’s actually not too bad, putting you in the shoes of various One Piece characters, both good and bad, and competing in multiple fights that are part of an overarching storyline. With some tweaking to the fighting system it could be a blast.
Survival mode is also pretty good, with a huge number of One Piece characters to play as. You’re then given the option to fight waves of normal enemies, or 50 boss fights in a row. Again, with a bit of tweaking it could have been so much better.
In terms of the visuals, the character models are nicely detailed, and the cutscenes are great. The 3D is also well done, but using it seems to cause the framerate to struggle during even the most basic of tasks, such as walking around your ship. Turn it off and things are much smoother, although the issue appears again when multiple characters are on-screen and you bust out a special move. The subtitles are also ridiculously small, and I’m not sure how that wasn’t picked up and changed during the testing of the game.
- The cutscenes capture the anime perfectly.
- Nice looking character models.
- Despite being disjointed, the story isn’t bad at all.
- Marineford Episodes and Survivor mode aren’t too bad.
- Boring combat.
- Island layouts are confusing.
- Dreadful design decisions.
- Cheap, frustrating boss encounters.
Despite what you may think, it actually pains me to score One Piece: Unlimited Cruise SP so low. There is so much potential there, with flashes of it poking through on occasion. Unfortunately the game is marred by so many problems that any positives are almost immediately crushed. Add in the fact that only half the game made it over to the EU, and what we have is something very hard to recommend.