Pirates with superpowers. Sounds pretty cool, right? That's what makes the world of One Piece unique: Captains and crews battle each other with the powers of fire, ice, lightning, and smoke. This makes for a spin-off game that's great fun for fans of the manga and anime. For those not familiar with the tale's ocean of content, One Piece Unlimited World Red is still a great example of beat 'em up action.
World Red features an original, non-canon story from series author Eiichiro Oda--this isn't lame filler. Lead character Luffy's crewmates are abducted, so he sets out to rescue them with the help of Pato, a way-too-cute raccoon who brings drawings to life. The series has a long history of manga and anime chapters--seeing old adversaries and friends is a treat for longtime fans, and the whole thing is coated in a gorgeous cel-shaded art style.
When it comes to actually exploring the game, World Red's levels aren't as engaging. You'll venture across islands from the series--whether alone or in co-op--in this action-brawler, battling marines, rival pirates, bloodthirsty wildlife, and a few bosses. While it's neat that you get to revisit memorable locations from the story (Fishman Island and Alabasta are highlights here), they don't feel quite as original as they do in the manga, due to their uninspired design. Most of the time, the only discernable difference between levels is what plant life you'll find or what color palettes are used. They feel like different terrain types rather than different environments.
While the locations are dull, combat itself is enjoyable. Every character uses unique weapons and combos. Trying to master swordsman Zoro's samurai moves is entirely different from cyborg Frankie's cannonballs and lasers--you can't fall into using the same attack patterns for every character, which forces you to learn and adapt. To help you learn each character's moves, a list of combos is displayed in every battle. Execute each one, and you'll enter a "rush mode," dealing out heavier damage for a limited time. A new list of combos is then displayed--this pushes you to try out new attacks in battle without being bogged down with tutorials and strings of button inputs.
After finishing a mission, you'll return to Trans Town, a new island that serves as your home base. Your job here is to expand the town with buildings like factories, pharmacies, and music halls. Each one allows you to further tweak your characters, with items that heal or buff them, making these side activities worth your time instead of wasting it with meaningless fluff. Since expansion requires materials found during missions or won in minigames, you're encouraged to do more than just punch through a few stages. It's fun and rewarding to actually play those minigames--especially Card Rush, which is a great trivia test for fans of the manga.
Paired with the story mode is Battle Coliseum, where you'll have the most fun battling waves of enemies and bosses, again alone or with a friend. You cannot go against each other, however--it's baffling and disappointing that a series that evolved from a fighter doesn't include a competitive mode. The flipside is that Battle Coliseum allows you to play as more than just Luffy's crew, with newcomers like the gas-bodied Caesar Clown or the gravity-controlling Fujitora as standouts. Battling in any of the coliseum's modes raises your rank, allowing you to eventually challenge the puppeteering Donquixote Doflamingo. Considering this is almost exactly the plot of the manga's current arc, the game's timeliness is praiseworthy.
Manga game adaptations are frequent--and frequently disappointing--but One Piece Unlimited World Red surprised me by actually being fun to play. The combat is a blast, even if it takes place in unremarkable locations. Battle Coliseum is a great diversion, and although you can't take on your friends, you can still experience the series' latest events with a variety of unique fighters. This all comes together in a package that will delight fans of the manga--but if you play it with someone who doesn't read One Piece, prepare to hear "Who is that?" a bunch.
This game was reviewed on PS3.