Saitama, the lead character in the manga and anime One Punch Man, is a hero with a very unusual problem. The world in which he lives is beset by endless battles between heroes, villains and monsters, but Saitama takes it all in his stride. You see, he’s so powerful that he can defeat any enemy with, well, a single punch.
The problem he faces is that his daily training regime has left him completely bald at the age of just 25, and is utterly bored and depressed at having no-one powerful enough to fight.
Translating that into video game form is a seemingly impossible task – how do you make a fighting game where you literally just need one punch to win? – but it’s one that Bandai Namco have tackled in an ingenious fashion.
Yasuhiro Yahata, Producer of One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows explained, “We considered various different genres, but One Punch Man, Saitama is just too strong, so we were really struggling with how to get him into a game! But ultimately, having thought about and considered different genres, we thought there are a lot of great characters in One Punch Man, not just Saitama, and so we thought this kind of battle game would be a good way for you to be able to play those different characters.”
Instead of focusing on Saitama, he’s part of an ensemble cast of characters from the anime in a 3v3 fighter. You can swap characters in and out, making use of their various special abilities in battle. That still doesn’t solve the Saitama problem, so they sideline him instead. Much like any superhero, it’s all about being in the right place and the right time, and so he has to race to get to the fight in time while you duke it out with the other characters.
Of course, once he does arrive, it’s one punch and done.
“I think humour is a very important part of this title,” Yahata-san told us. “As you say, in the anime the fact that he shows up at the end and finishes the battles is an important aspect, so we thought a lot about how to replicate that in the game.”
That’s not the only thing that Bandai Namco have done to shake up the usual fighting game formula. That comes with the randomised events that can batter the entire arena that you’re fighting in, suddenly turning a fight into more of a quest to survive a barrage of explosions.
“The concept of Saitama showing up late is pretty innovative,” Yahata-san told us, “and also the variety of events that you get in the game, happenings as we call them. Usually in video games you get items that show up and you can use them to your advantage, but in this we have quite negative events happening that will put everyone at a disadvantage, and they’re really quite out there and bizarre!”
They also take an alternative approach when translating the series’ story into video game form. Instead of letting you play as the show’s heroes, you’ll create your own custom character to experience the events of the first season of the anime from a different perspective. It’s here that One Punch Man’s irreverent sense of humour really comes to the fore, as you make your character in what is probably the best character creator. Ever.
Yahata-san said, “In the One Punch Man world, you have heroes that are very cool, but you also have some heroes that make you think ‘Why has this guy got a pineapple on his head?’ We thought it was really important, that there was really no point in doing a One Punch Man game if you weren’t going to be able to recreate that.”
So that’s exactly what I did! It starts off with a generic looking anime boy or girl to be your hero, letting you change their height, build, hair, face and so on, but then things get wild. It’s not so much the number of items that you have and can customise your character with, it’s what you can do with them. You can attach things to many of your character’s joints, adding spikes to shoulders, balls to elbows and knees, popping a snazzy hat on them. But mix that together with things like a huge lion-like mane of hair or horse, fish and octopus masks, and you can create truly insane things.
You’ll probably want to keep up with the latest fashion trends, so you can totally overhaul your character through the single player campaign, but why have a custom character in the first place, when you’re following the events of the anime’s first season?
Yahata-san said, “We did think at the start of developing a game with Saitama as the protagonist, but he was just too strong, it wouldn’t have made for a great game. So the reason we went for having an avatar as the protagonist was because in the One Punch Man universe there are so many unique heroes that it would be great for the user to feel like they could be part of that world as another hero.”
The one caveat to the hero creator is that in the full game you’ll have to unlock all of these customisation parts, though I’m certain it’s going to be worth the effort. I can say that quite confidently after playing through the game’s opening hour and seeing my character pop up in its various cutscenes, dominating the screen with her over-the-top horsiness. I laughed so hard at one point that the entire room of people playing games at Bandai Namco’s showcase basically stopped to look and see what on Earth was going on!
The story opens with your first heroing misadventure, finding yourself completely outclassed in a fight that ends when Saitama comes to your rescue. Fast forward a few months and you’ve successfully enrolled in the Hero Association, passing the first few tests and find yourself chatting to Lecture Man, a smartly dressed chap with a red question mark on his face. It’s an off-kilter style that many of the characters in the game have (and which you’ll no doubt echo as soon as you can). But you just know that everything he has to say is going to be so booooooooorrrrriiiiiiiing. Skip the lecture, skip the pop up tutorials while you’re at it, and let’s just get to the good stuff!
You’ll start off in the centre of town, grabbing jobs as the local Hero Association posts them, looking to bump up your Hero Rank and make a noted contribution to society. That in turn opens the door to new missions and quests to take on, unlocking new parts of town for you to go and explore.
That will obviously see you facing off against a bunch of baddies, but to start with your hero only really has one special attack, the Consecutive Normal Punches (one of the named moves Saitama pulls in the show) that unleashes a flurry of hits directly to the front, but you’ll eventually have three slots. Cannily the story throws you into the area alongside other characters, such as Mumen Rider, Tank-top Tiger and the legendary Silverfang. There you get a feel for different abilities and characters that can surely feed into the direction you take with your character later in the game.
Through it all, it feels clear that Bandai Namco have had to think a little outside the box when creating a game from such an off-beat manga and anime series. They’ll certainly be hoping that, while you might come for the outrageous character creator, you’ll stay for the quirky twists they’ve put in their 3v3 fighter.