Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: September 12, 2006
Ever since Mario Party came out, party games have slowly become more and more popular. It seems like every series from Sonic the Hedgehog to Rayman was rushing to get out a party game of its own, and One Piece is no exception. One Piece: Pirates' Carnival takes things in a slightly different direction; rather than working against other pirates, Luffy D. Monkey's Straw Hat crew has split up and is competing to see who will be the true King of the Pirates by recruiting their own pirate crews.
One thing should be made clear right off the bat: One Piece: Pirates' Carnival is a party game, so it's designed for the multiplayer experience. Even die-hard One Piece fans are best off avoiding this unless they have fellow One Piece fans with whom to play it. The single-player AI is lackluster, even on the Hard setting, and the party atmosphere is lost without friends. Those One Piece fans looking for a quick fix of their favorite characters would be wise to check elsewhere.
The gameplay of One Piece: Pirates' Carnival is simple. You pick one of six members of the Straw Hats, from the captain Luffy D. Monkey to the ship's chef, Sanji, and your chosen character and three of the other Straw Hats compete to control the board. A notable difference from the Mario Party series is that instead of a classic game board, the stages in One Piece are actually much more like a game of Othello than Monopoly. One Piece's stages are set up in symmetrical shapes, from a basic square to more esoteric figures. The stages are composed of a number of blank panels and four "home base" panels for each of the four players. Instead of moving spaces, each player uses his turn to choose a panel, which flips over to reveal a card featuring one of One Piece's characters.
Each card has a value (measured in Berries, the currency of the One Piece world) and a panel type. When a player flips over a Normal panel – the most common – all four players are thrust into a mini-game to determine who controls the panel. A Captain panel features a major villain from one of One Piece's storylines, such as Buggy the Clown or the cat-like Captain Kuro. Like the Normal panels, the players play a mini-game to determine who gets that panel, but instead of four equal players, the player who flipped the panel controls the Captain, who has a significant advantage over the other players. There are two of each Captain panel on the map, and whoever wins one also gets the other, making them the most valuable pieces. Event panels are the only panels not to lead to a mini-game; instead, they have varying attributes, from granting an extra turn to the player who selected them, to taking away their Berries. The final kind of panel is the rare Davy Back, which allows the player who picks this may choose to steal a panel from another player, while the chosen player defends his territory in a character-specific mini-game.
Even if a player wins a panel, however, it is not safe. If an opposing player surrounds that panel with his own, he can steal it away, a la Othello. On top of that, random events can turn the tide incredibly quickly. Captains may mutiny against their player, Django the Hypnotist may force a halftime game, or a sudden sea squall may destroy a hard-earned panel. Even if a player is significantly in the lead, it can only take a turn for everything to be reversed. The winning player is chosen by whoever has the most Berries, so having the most panels isn't always a guaranteed win. Even if you have the most Berries at the outset, the game awards bonuses for how each person played, so the winner is not decided until the very final moments.
The real meat of the title is in the mini-games. Each is based on a One Piece episode, be it kung-fu training with woodchucks or parachuting with an octopus. The mini-games are fun and usually well designed; a few are a bit frustrating due to sloppy controls, but overall, they are a lot of fun when played against human opponents. The one major issue with playing the games is actually the instructions, which are vague and poorly worded. The player is not given a chance to practice the games before playing them for the first time, and while a veteran player won't have an issue with this, it's difficult for a new player to jump in. A newbie will very likely end up losing because he can't catch up once finally understanding the objective, which is a real problem in a party game.
While the game appears built for rapid activity, things don't always work out that way. One Piece: Pirates' Carnival features long loading times after each action – not just the gameplay actions, but even small things, such as quotations that are displayed prior to a battle. Getting to a mini-game often takes longer than the experience itself. For a party game, this is a pretty unforgivable sin, since it makes things so slow that few people will want to sit through an entire game. To make matters worse, the mini-games suffer from a significant lack of variety. Even including the Davy Back and Captain games, there are only roughly 40 different games in total. Even though you have to option of picking from three different mini-games on each turn, the constant repetition means that even on the smaller boards, you'll end up playing the same games multiple times, which, when combined with the incredibly slow pace, ruins the party atmosphere.
One Piece: Pirates' Carnival has fairly nice graphics for a party game. The characters (drawn in the "super-deformed" big-head, small-body style) look incredibly adorable, and it's easy to tell them all apart, even in a hectic mini-game. They're well animated, and most of your favorite moves make the transition in some form or another, adding variety to the characters. The backgrounds are a bit bland and noticeably poorly textured, but your attention is going to be on the characters most of the time, so it's a minor annoyance at most. The character's actions are expressed by still artwork, which is a bit weird but easy to get used to. The art is big, well drawn, and there is a significant amount of different poses to give character to the different Straw Hats. It won't win awards, but it does a fine job for what it is.
The sound, on the other hand, is a bit weak. All the characters are voiced by their television actors, who do a passable job of voicing the characters, although some sound a bit at odds with their looks. (Sanji the Chef is apparently from New York City.) The big problem with the sound is that outside of the pre-game cut scenes, each character only has a few voice clips. You'll hear these same clips over and over, to the point where muting your TV is less frustrating. The music is peppy and inoffensive but features few really memorable tracks, and the volume is often on the low side, muted by the character's voice clips.
One Piece: Pirates' Carnival is that special frustrating brand of game that comes close to excellence, but falls just short of its goal. With more polish and a wider variety of mini-games, One Piece would make an excellent addition to any party. Unfortunately, it falls just too short of its mark to appeal to any but the most die-hard of One Piece fans. Non-fans looking for a good party game would be better off investigating elsewhere.
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