Before we get started, I should probably admit that I am a big One Piece fan, which puts me in a pretty difficult position when reviewing One Piece: Unlimited World Red. I really want to like it because I know the story was written by Oda himself and the characters and their hijinx are very faithful to the series. On the other hand, I also have to compare this to video games developed for other headline shounen titles, like the beautifully made Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst. I'm also a lapsed Naruto fan (who isn't?), but it hurts not to see major budget console releases of the same quality for a One Piece. I can't help but compare upward to releases for other successful anime, which places a heavy load on the game designers to produce an experience that stands up against console-quality competition.
A huge, interactive environment--the only one of its kind in the game
The fourth installment in the Unlimited World series, Unlimited World Red was originally developed for the 3DS and made available for Wii U and PS3. The story mode finds the Straw Hats shored up in Trans Town, a developing city which is finding itself plagued by weird happenings. The legendary pirate Patrick Redfield has taken an interest in Luffy and his crew, and is using a strange Devil Fruit power to recreate environments and enemies from their past, forcing them to face old friends and foes. Meanwhile, Trans Town requests Luffy's aid in developing their town, asking the Straw Hats to gather materials and help build and expand new shops and facilities.
The dread pirate Patrick Redfield. Perhaps the beginning of a future Resident Evil crossover?
Let's start with what is easily the greatest feature of the game: the local co-op allows you to play with a friend in both Story and Colosseum Modes. Read the rest of this article knowing that everything described is considerably improved by playing with someone else. Combat in the game is the tried-and-true hack-and-slash combo system which should be familiar to anyone who has played a Dynasty Warriors title added to the simple, yet satisfying weak/strong attack combo chains are a number of features which--with mixed success--make combat more dynamic. Right from the outset you can tell they really tried to make each Straw Hat's style true to character and unique from the rest of the crew. A "Rush" system was also added to rapidly familiarize players with character combos and to reward them for diversifying their attack patterns by temporarily boosting damage once all the Rush combos have been executed.
While the gap in power between members of the crew is very true to the anime, it seems less appropriate for the game. Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji all have very satisfying play styles as huge damage-dealers, but other members fall a little flat. Nami is a good example of a middle ground where she makes up for a lack of damage with safer attack patterns and special abilities like stealing from downed opponents. The system seems to fall apart with the group's ranged fighters, however. Usopp is essentially a walking turret whose strong attack switches him into a first person shooter which seems to rob him of many of the tricks which really make him stand out in the anime and is also pretty boring to play. Robin suffers from the same lackluster attack patterns where one button attacks the ground in front of her and her strong attack hits everyone in the field. Weak or strong, their playstyles just aren't particularly rewarding or engaging.
Strangely, I don't have problem with this attack pattern
Each character has a SP bar which can be used to use either their personal or a group Ultimate Attack. Most of the Straw Hats have massive damage area-of-effect or single-target Ultimates which can be used to clear group enemies or chunk bosses, while some characters even have multiple Ultimates. Zoro has an AOE slash or can enter "Aggro mode" by putting on his bandana and enjoying a significant damage boost. Sanji can either unleash a lethal kick attack or cook to restore party health. But then, some of the crew just don't have a damage-dealing Ultimate: Chopper brews medicine to heal the party, and Brook plays music to boost stats. Both don't accomplish much, and leave the character with little to bring to boss fights. Then there are the group Ultimates. Before you start wondering about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance-type combinations, don't get yourself too excited. This consumes 2 SP bars and involves a group attack made by your entire three-person party. Activating it involvings portrait of all three of them appearing over a flashing background then damage being done to the enemies... and that's it. No teamwork, no style, just the same moves every time.
Pictured: Every group Ultimate. Ever.
Character-unique dodging is another fun feature that was added to spice things up. By pressing the dodge button at the right time, you can either dodge, counter attack, or deflect an enemy attack. These are character-specific, so Usopp dodges by running away while screaming and Brook just dies until the attack is over. While a fun mechanic, it is pretty inconsistent across the crew and less reliable with some. If you're trying to avoid a really dangerous attack, it's usually better to just switch characters. Since AI-controlled characters don't take damage, cycling off the crew member about to get punched by Blackbeard is usually preferable to risking failing a dodge or the attack simply being undodgeable.
I beat Whitebeard by walking into his fist with Usopp, then switching to Zoro
In the end, combat is enjoyable, but some of the Straw Hats seem to just have less tools than others to interact with the fight in a rewarding manner. I really can't think of a good reason to play Brook outside of just being a fan of him. There are, however, some areas in levels that can only be accessed by certain crew members. Brook can run across water (maybe Sanji doesn't want to get his suit wet?) and Zoro can cut iron gates in half (while waist high fences continue to foil him) so you can't get everything until you repeatedly explore the same area with all the Straw Hats.
Brews medicine as his ultimate instead of using Monster Point. Well, at least he can... dig holes?
Finally, the "Words" system is a unique mechanic where you can equip all the Straw Hats with words or phrases which boost their stats. The words themselves are common lines by various Straw Hats, so Luffy can equip "My left arm is a giant's arm" to increase his attack damage or Sanji can equip "I am a slave to love" to increase his attack damage for every female in the group. You can then upgrade these words to make them more effective by combining them with objects like wood blocks, gastropods, and spider webs. You will probably be finding yourself spending most of your upgrades on Luffy, as the game frequently forces you into 1v1 boss fights with him regardless of who's in your group.
Literally any three-member group that doesn't include Luffy technically includes him anyway. Can you tell that this annoyed me?
Fighting aside, possibly the strongest feature of the game is the characters and dialogue. While the plot itself is a rather ham-fisted vehicle to match the Straw Hats against many of their most memorable villains, the Straw Hats, returning villains, and even the NPCs definitely give the game the feel of a One Piece episode. Since One Piece is an extremely character-driven anime, this really shines through in Unlimited Adventure Red. The crew bickers constantly, respond in predictable but hilarious ways to inane problems, and grudgingly come together when it really matters. Luffy also has a seemingly bottomless well of character-specific one-liners to burn each of the villains before battling them (with some of the villains he's had a long time to come up with material).
"I wont need water... to rain on your parade."
Redfield, while rather lackluster standalone villain, plays a more supportive role in facilitating the reintroduction of many of the greatest antagonists from seasons past. Each efficiently spend their limited time in the game quickly reminding you why they so sorely deserved a beating. Although the characters themselves do not disappoint, the quality of the boss fights is somewhat inconsistent. For example, while Crocodile and Rob Lucci are both faithful to their characters, Crocodile's fight is by far the more memorable experience. Crocodile spends most of the battle disincorporating away from attacks while making huge sweeping attacks, then cinematically attacks the Straw Hats by cleaving the arena in two and reshaping it with his Devil Fruit power. Meanwhile Rob Lucci, a physical beast, spends about as much time safely out of reach while you are barraged by cannon fire as actually fighting you.
The Rob Lucci fight is 50% this and 50% dodging cannon balls while he hops in mid-air. Fun!
Visually, the game meets standards for handheld systems, but isn't anything to write home about by console standards--the bright colors and detailed models can't hide how stilted the animation is. Even so, the levels are very... level-like and inorganic. Given the diversity of environments Oda has created since beginning One Piece, it's a bit disappointing to see that the game didn't take advantage of his boundless creativity. Most levels feel just like hallways, which is strange since the game's hub of Trans Town is a huge open area which Luffy can zip around using Gum Gum Rocket on just about every available ledge.
As a One Piece fan, I was able to find a lot to like about the game just from the characters and dialogue, although someone less dedicated to the franchise might have trouble overlooking a lot of the game's flaws. For every creative design feature, there seems to be some sort of oversight which ruins it for one or more characters. In that regard, Unlimited World Red reminded me of Super Smash Brothers: Brawl--fanservice and local multiplayer can carry the game through some really huge design flaws, but Unlimited World Red has difficulty keeping up based only on its merits as a video game.
+ Really captures the feel of a One Piece arc
+ Local co-op! This deserves several pluses
+ Allows for a lot of customization with Word upgrades and town building
+/- Graphics are good for 3DS but not up-to-par for console
- Gameplay-wise, the power disparities between Straw Hats is annoying
- Missed opportunities with combination Ultimates and character abilities
- You must upgrade Luffy since you are forced to play him. A lot.