Mario Party practically invented the party game, a sort of video board game where winning relied almost as much on luck as actual skill. Love it or hate it, the thing sold gangbusters, inspiring a legion of clones often based on kiddy anime licences. One Piece: Pirates' Carnival is the latest of these, featuring the lovable and wacky cast of Shonen Jump's famous "One Piece" manga / anime. But unlike most of its peers, Pirates' Carnival does enough stuff right to actually make it worth a play or three for dedicated series fans.
Instead of a Candy Land-style loop, Pirates' Carnival is played on a small grid of squares. Each of the four players takes turns flipping over tiles, which lead to either mini-games or one-time, random events which affect the board. The winner of a mini-game captures the tile and scores a bunch of cash, and play continues until all of the tiles are flipped, at which point cash is tallied.
However, a bit of strategy comes in with Othello -style tile stealing. Surround a foe's tiles with your own and those tiles -- and their cash values -- are instantly yours. This being a typical party game, however, other random occurrences can and do pop up to turn the tables and make you curse your foul luck.
Pirates' Carnival features a healthy selection of 35 or so mini-games, and unlike Mario Party, these aren't button mashers that'll wear out your controllers. The mini-games include standard brawling, boss fights versus pirate captains, parachuting onto boats, firing canons at moving targets, a simple first-person shooter, and sports-based contests like basketball and dodgeball. A few are a bit confusing, but overall they're easy to pick up and decent fun to play.
This is a good-looking game, too. It's not technologically impressive but it runs smoothly and really captures the distinctive look of the "One Piece" characters, albeit in super-deformed style. There's lots of nifty voice-acting and situation-specific dialogue, too, which fans should appreciate.
Unfortunately, load times put a bit of a damper on the action; the game is constantly pausing to load voice conversations, mini-games, and unskippable instruction screens.
The loading isn't nearly as awful as in the Dreamcast's vile Sonic Shuffle, but it does add up and the lengthy gaps between actual gameplay still rankle. It can take upwards of an hour to finish a single game.
That said, kids probably won't mind much, and they're definitely the target audience here. Pirates' Carnival isn't spectacular in any one sense, but the solid mini-games and well-used license are enough to put it near the top of the distinctly uncompetitive party game genre.