"As you wander throughout the island, you'll come across all sorts of 'ingredients' that can be taken back to camp and turned into useful items. For example, you might hack down some scraggly trees to acquire lumber, or slash at low-hanging vines to obtain a vine rope. That's neat, except that you must backtrack to camp to do anything with your goodies except convert them to magical energy. This requirement gets old quickly, especially if in the process you forget where you were on your to-do list."
Perhaps you're familiar with Luffy, but I wasn't when I started playing One Piece: Unlimited Adventure. If you had told me that he's a noble, selfless hero who always puts his needs after those of others, I'd have believed you. Of course, you'd have been lying.
The Luffy that appears at the start of One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, the latest in a string of games based upon the Shonen Jump comic and cartoon, isn't like that at all. You could even say he's an energetic troublemaker. Adventure and treasure are all he seeks, and those are the two things he finds quite readily when he fishes a mysterious pearl out of the ocean. Before long, his crew and ship are sent flying. When Luffy finally lands--with no ship in sight--he's alone on an island that has emerged from the watery depths. He must find his companions and embark with them on an adventure to discover the secret that even now keeps the paradise around them afloat.
As you progress through the game, there will be plenty of moments to become acquainted with the various folks from the show, even if you start out knowing as little about them as I did. That's because rather than simply serving as a fighting title the way some of its predecessors did, Unlimited Adventure makes a genuine attempt to weave together a tale of real mystery and adventure. Characters bicker, tease and fight through scenes quite effectively acted out by character models (and by voice actors that I can only presume worked on the English dub for the television series). For fans of the cartoon, just the fact that so many characters are so lovingly rendered--you can gather more than 40 and even pit them against one another in a multi-player versus mode--will be enough to make the game a must-buy. What about the rest of us, though? What is there to like beyond the opportunity to hang around once more with familiar characters?
Not much, as it turns out. That's not to say that One Piece: Unlimited Adventure isn't ambitious, just that sometimes its attempts to provide an in-depth experience fall short.
A ready example of this is the crafting system. As you wander throughout the island, you'll come across all sorts of 'ingredients' that can be taken back to camp and turned into useful items. For example, you might hack down some scraggly trees to acquire lumber, or slash at low-hanging vines to obtain a vine rope. That's neat, except that you must backtrack to camp to do anything with your goodies except convert them to magical energy. This requirement gets old quickly, especially if in the process you forget where you were on your to-do list. It's frustrating to find yourself stuck simply because you lack an item and have no idea where to find its ingredients.
That situation actually comes up rather frequently, since much of your progression comes down to satisfying magical barriers. To cause a series of leafy platforms to rise from a bottomless pit so that you can cross over to the other side, you might have to gather a set number of leafs. To produce the item necessary to pass another point, you might have to capture a bee that buzzes away from a flower as you approach (which itself requires that you gather the items to create a net). The whole system, which perhaps could've been a selling point, is relied upon far too much.
Not all of the game revolves around gathering and crafting items, though. Unlimited Adventure is equal parts busy work, exploration and combat. The last of those three points is naturally what most players will like, since suddenly they'll have an excuse to learn and master special moves for each of their favorite characters.
The way the game works is that you'll early on build up a team of eight beloved characters. Once they are in your party, you can then switch between them any time you like, just as long as they remain conscious. So if one guy bites the dust because you got careless in a boss encounter, you can simply switch to a different warrior. Since each possesses his or her own specialties (which in turn must be unlocked through repeated use of that individual warrior), some of that will happen even if you're slicing and dicing your foes without taking any damage at all. The last thing you want is to reach a boss who knocks Luffy around like a puppet, only to find when you call on Zoro for support that he hasn't mastered any but his most basic of offensive maneuvers.
Though boss struggles and even the numerous 'regular' encounters that pepper the island landscape can get hectic at times, the Wii Remote and Nunchuck for the most part handle the action pretty well. The camera generally takes care of itself, plus you can 'Z' target to focus your attention on particularly troublesome adversaries or to align yourself behind a character's shoulders. Crazy Wii Remote swings aren't required unless you're using items that call for it, so mostly this feels like a game that could have been handled by any console you care to name. Few people are likely to complain about how standard everything feels here, though, you can be sure.
They aren't likely to have any issues with the visuals and sound, either, which bring the island vividly to life. Shafts of sunlight filter down through leafy jungle canopies, roaring waterfalls live up to their name, and there are the sounds of insects and birds throughout. Selections from the soundtrack also work well, conjuring up that perfect balance between 'mysterious' and 'peppy island themes' that defies exact description but sounds right when you hear it pumping from your television speakers. The development team spent a lot of time turning Unlimited Adventure into a game it could be proud of.
The result of that effort is that One Piece: Unlimited Adventure feels like, if you'll pardon the old cliché, a love letter to “One Piece” fans everywhere. Unfortunately for the rest of us, too many of the noble experiments the developers made simply didn't work. While there's an occasionally deep game here, working through it is likely to prove tedious to any but those who hang on the possibility that their efforts will result in more story sequences involving their favorite characters. If that's you, the title is certainly worth a shot. Otherwise, you're better off holding out for something tailored to gameplay first and the license second, rather than the other way around.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 14, 2008)
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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