One Piece Unlimited World Red Review: Straw Hats unite
The One Piece anime is a behemoth of a series, spanning now over 600 episodes. Surprisingly, despite its episode count, we've seen more Dragon Ball Z games released here than One Piece titles. This is doubly strange when you consider all the One Piece titles that never saw a western release, like a majority of the Unlimited games. Bandai Namco has decidedly changed that with the latest release of One Piece: Unlimited World Red, and fans have a reason to rejoice.
Though I say fans, Unlimited World Red has the added appeal that it doesn't actually retell any part of the anime, but instead focuses on an original story that brings back a lot of key characters. It'll be fun for fans of the show to see, but won't really confuse newcomers. However, having at least a slight familiarity with the source material will go a long way. Otherwise you're left wondering why Monkey D. Luffy has stretchy limbs, why Zoro fights with three swords (sometimes one being in his mouth), or how the heck Robin summons body parts from various surfaces.
Unlimited World Red actually has more in common with the first Pirate Warriors, with low enemy encounter numbers and a big boss fight at the end of each stage. The difference here is the inclusion of a hub world called Trans Town; an island integral to the story as the crew gets stranded there and must work to help restore the town, all while taking down numerous amounts of bosses.
Each mission sends you and two other crew members into a stage split into multiple parts, defeating enemies as you come across them, and solving various environmental puzzles using unique character actions. For example, Luffy can use his stretchy arms to pull himself up on a platform to reach a chest, and Zoro is able to use his swords to cut down a rusty gate to reach the spoils behind it. Each character has some sort of action, but since you can only bring three characters at a time, it forces completionists to replay levels with other characters.
The only downside of this is that characters that aren't used initially don't level up alongside the ones that are. That means if you later on decide to switch it up from Zoro and Chopper as your companions to Nami and Robin, and you haven't used them for a bunch of missions, you'll be stuck with underleveled characters that need to grind a bit in order to catch up.
Your enjoyment of the simplistic combat will stem out of how experimental you want to be with it. To the game's credit, each character has a vastly different move set, which makes trying them all out interesting and never boring. However, you can beat most of the game's enemies with a simple button combo. If you're the type that likes to mix things up, the game does offer a bunch of different combos, but know that they're not necessary in order to take care of most enemies. Your team also has a joined attack that damages the entire area, usually resulting in massive damage.
Another great addition to combat is the all-purpose button, A on 3DS/Wii U and Circle on PS3. Depending on the situation, you'll be prompted various times during a battle to press it in order to dodge or deflect an attack. If your timing is right, you can minimize, and in most cases nullify, incoming damage.
Aside from the story, you can also take the Straw Hats into an entirely separate Coliseum Mode, which includes its own storyline. The goal here is to rise through battle ranks and accomplish over 50 feats that unlock new characters and items, all accomplished through one-on-one duels, or going up against a horde of enemies. I didn't pay attention to this mode until much later in my play time, and found that it was just as worthy of a time investment as the main story. For those that just want pure action without much of the story getting in the way, check out the Colisem first.
I played the game on both the Wii U and 3DS, and found that I actually prefered the 3DS version for a few reasons. Portability played a big role, sure, but the game utilized the bottom screen perfectly. I could control the camera, switch characters, and best of all, see the map at all times on the bottom screen. Surprisingly, even though the Wii U has a second screen on its controller, none of these features translated, and instead it became completely useless, save for off-tv play. Lastly, the 3DS version actually doesn't contain any 3D, which I'm perfectly OK with. Sacrficing the 3D effect for a super smooth framerate was definitely a smart idea. Of course, the Wii U visuals outmatch the 3DS easily. If I didn't know any better, I would have sworn CyberConnect 2 made it, since visually it resembles the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series quite closely.
Having the 3DS and Wii U version also benefits from being able to share the save file between the two. Much like Monster Honter Ultimate 3, I was able to easily transfer my save from the Wii U to my 3DS when leaving my house, and vice-versa when I came back. Sadly, Bandai doesn't offer any sort of cross-buy option for these two versions, so unless you're a die hard One Piece fan, I can't see a lot of people dishing out their hard earned money for both.
One Piece Unlimited World Red is a largely enjoyable adventure with quirky characters, and loads of missions to take part in. Since it's a completely original storyline, you won't have to wonder if you're far enough in the anime to understand it. This is also one of the first times I'm recommending the portable version over the console.