"Each such room represents an apartment within the complex, and you'll see the occupants doing their thing. Of course, their thing might interfere with the something the guy to the left or right enjoys. That's what One Piece Mansion is all about, then: keeping everyone in each of the rooms happy with the people around them."
When I was younger, I used to begin my campaigns for Christmas videogames by finding some sort of value in a given game and telling my mother how it really was a worthwhile game, and really ought to end up under the Christmas tree. If it was a Koei game, I'd go with the ''And look, it's educational'' route. If it was an RPG, I convinced her it would help develop my intellect and deductive reasoning. If One Piece Mansion had existed back then and I for some reason wanted it, though, I'm not sure what I'd have said. Most likely, I would have said it is a good way to immerse myself in the zaniness that is Japanese culture.
Now, before you get too mad at me for slandering the Japanese, consider this: One Piece Mansion is a videogame. This means they had to sink a lot of money into its creation. Therefore, one might expect a somewhat sound premise, right? Well... wrong. This game is the story of a savvy businessman by the name of Polpo who is so good that his rival apartment owner gets insanely jealous. The guy is so jealous, in fact, that he snatches Polpo's little sister while the two siblings are in the middle of an argument. Polpo had his eyes closed at the time, so he missed it until a giant television screen broadcasts a submission to let him know that unless he follows the villains directions, he won't see his sister again.
The story is loony, and I'm not even done telling it. The rest is related through the game's ''Story Mode,'' which consists of the intro I've just described, then a closing scene when you beat the game. So much for a story mode. Seems to me that if Capcom was going to include such a mode, they might have done a better job at it. I will say this, though: the story works into the gameplay.
See, the whole point of the game is that you're following the villain's directions. He isn't asking for much, though. Instead of demanding all your wealth, or the deed to your thriving apartments, or whatever, he wants you to manage some apartment complexes and turn them into successful businesses. Presumably each of these buildings is in the middle of some sort of slum, because the members of an evil crime syndicate are going to be on hand to make each task as difficult as possible. Clearly, the story is just a pitiful attempt to give some sort of vague meaning to your duty in the game, but it might as well have been left off. It does nothing to enrich the experience because it's unbelievable and because there's just not enough of it there.
Story aside, the game does a little better. Managing the apartments can actually be quite the enjoyable task for a while. Imagine that you have a pile of building blocks and you're stacking them against the wall. Each one is hollowed out, sort of like what you'll see if you peer at the inside of an old-fashioned dollhouse. Each such room represents an apartment within the complex, and you'll see the occupants doing their thing. Of course, their thing might interfere with the something the guy to the left or right enjoys. That's what One Piece Mansion is all about, then: keeping everyone in each of the rooms happy with the people around them.
So, suppose you have a block of about 9 rooms all connected together, sort of like Hollywood Squares or something. The girl in the middle square likes taking baths a bit much. This is represented on-screen by a miniature little figure resting in an old-fashioned bathtub, save for moments when the curtain slides closed and you see her silhouette dancing a merry jig. The thing about her baths is that water drips through the ceiling. Meanwhile, the guy below is a bodybuilder and he's pumping irons and banging walls. So he's feeling stressed about the dripping water, and he's annoying the neighbor residing to his left. What to do, what to do?
The actual experience is a little more complicated than that, of course, but hopefully you're getting the idea by now. The problem is that you can't really pick who your tenants are. There's clearly no screening process at work behind the scenes, so everybody irritates just about everybody. This means a lot of room switching on the fly. Fortunately, you can also build new rooms. A building can be four rooms wide, counting the elevator rooms (which obviously aren't occupied). They can tower up to around 15 or 20 floors, too. So when you fill the rooms you have, it's time to add more. The more you add, the more hectic managing things becomes.
This is true because though you might like time to consider the lay of the apartment and where one resident should go to cause the least trouble, events are transpiring. Pausing the game doesn't really let you examine the scene, either, so you have to think fast and act faster. Everyone has a gauge indicating who is happy and who isn't, so it's not hard to tell what is going wrong. It's just that there are always two or three problems in the making. Part of this is because the crime syndicate I mentioned earlier.
Apparently, these dastardly folks think a good year's fun is moving into your apartment and causing trouble. They like to run around on the level they're living in (and sometimes other levels, if they have time to catch the elevator) wreaking havoc. Some rob, some start fires... some just make noise in general. Because of them, you'll be kept running around all over the place, first riding the elevator to one floor to blow your whistle at one dufus, then coming back the way you came to put out a fire another guy started. Your character moves quickly, but with the problems your opponents cause and the constant need to build more rooms, things get hectic faster than you want to know.
Just when you get used to this in one stage, it's on to the next. In the story mode, each area has a specific challenge. One might involve building your apartment complex up to 10 stories. Another might ask that you build 35 occupied rooms, while another requires a specific income. This makes for a slight re-adjustment of strategy at various intervals. That's good. What's bad is that there are only seven stages in story mode, then it's onto the ending with it's silly plot twist. Next thing you know, you're watching people merrily dance their way along a road while credits roll.
If it sounds like I'm taking a slightly harsh stance, well, I am. However, this game has numerous merits that I really ought to cover. The first is the graphics. While this is a Playstation game and certainly isn't going to win you over with stunning visuals, it definitely has a charm all its own. Each of the different tenants is easily recognized by a few cute little animations. The lovers sit on the couch while hearts float over their heads. The body builder knocks the walls around. On and on it goes. And there's a certain appeal to rushing up to a bad guy, blowing the whistle, and watching him scurry back to his room. It's all very cute, but not in that sappy way that will make you want to vomit. Also nice is the fact that everything you need to succeed is on-screen and easily identified. There's never any doubt about who is content and who isn't, and why.
Sound is a rather mixed bag. On the one hand, the sound effects do a really nice job. You know when a syndicate member has left his room and started on the path of mischief immediately. Lose an apartment and it won't just be the shuddering screen that alerts you; there will be a loud explosion. Similarly, when fireworks announce that you're doing a particularly good job, you'll hear it. The problem is that the music in this game is so generically Capcom that it grates on the nerves. It has a slight techno sound to it and drones on endlessly in a chipper fashion that wears out its welcome from the first chord.
What saves this game from the rubbish heap, then, is the general bit of fun you'll have with it. Though it's not a looker in the grand sense, it does its job nicely. Though the sound is sometimes irritating, it's again quite effective in the areas that count most. I can forgive a lousy story, too. And when one looks past all of that, what's left beneath is a clever little title that is absolutely perfect for an afternoon rental. Two or three hours later you'll probably be tired of everything One Piece Mansion offers. But up until that point, you'll be having enough fun that you won't feel stupid playing it. The puzzle genre is crowded with Tetris clones, and One Piece Mansion is a faint breath of fresh air. Just don't be expecting a sequel.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 05, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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