IGN Review of One Piece: Pirates Carnival
There's never any real shortage of licensed games on the GameCube, but every once in a while a franchise will come out and really represent itself well in the gaming world, forcing us (sometimes kicking and screaming against our perceptions) to look past the marketing machine and truly enjoy what the title can bring to the table. In two very similar cases, there are two anime series that are managing to truly help the gaming world rather than hurt it. Both Naruto and One Piece, two Japanese anime franchises that have made the move across the pond to America, have brought along a few awesome games as well, specifically in the fighting genre. The Clash of Ninja series (by Naruto) has sought the help of eighting studios (famous for the Bloody Roar series) to perfect the classic 3D fighter similar to that of Tekken, DOA, or Soulcalibur. On the opposite side of the spectrum, One Piece: Grand Adventure (as well as Grand Battle) brings more of an action/arcade feel to brawlers, taking after games like Power Stone to deliver both the speed and attitude needed for the One Piece franchise. Unfortunately, One Piece: Pirate's Carnival, releasing mere weeks after the acclaimed fighter, just doesn't have the edge of its predecessors, as it seems much more like a genre-swapping cash-in than a full-fledged attempt at solid gameplay.
One Piece: Pirate's Carnival attempts to take a few lessons from the Mario Party franchise, giving players a chance to dive into the world of One Piece with an adaptation of the odd (but popular) "party/board game" genre. Whether you've dismissed the Mario Party series years ago, or are still an avid follower, everyone with gaming console seems to know the score when it comes to the mini-game madness of party titles. Simply grab some friends, select your character, and start cranking out mini-game after mini-game. With Pirate's Carnival, the team has included over 30 mini-games to play, each featuring four players (you can't play with less), set in a variety of environments and situations linked to popular episodes of the One Piece show.
Players will dive for sunken treasure, defeat bosses, dig in the desert for water, or compete in an all-out battle royal with basic melee combat. The entire game features chibi character art, so all of the one piece members are shown in their super-deformed versions, gigantic heads and all. The overall look is borrowed directly from the previous games, however, as all of the characters and levels are cell-shaded, allowing for a much simpler look and feel to the game.
As an interesting little twist, Pirate's Carnival takes the mini-game experience we've all grown to love (or loathe), and mixes it with the popular board game Othello. When entering the game board, players will find any number of "blank" board spaces, ranging from 25 on up. Each of these spots is actually a turned over card, which holds a pirate icon, card type, and amount of cash on it. Gameplay is pretty self-explanatory, having players choose a spot on the table, flip it over, and follow the directions. In some cases, the card is simply theirs to keep (giving them the cash for the character, and the space on the board). Other times, the space will be awarded to the player who wins a randomized mini-game or captain challenge (which is essentially a 1v3 with the advantage in favor of the person whose turn it is, as they act as a boss character). After the mini-game or challenge is complete, the space is awarded to one of the four players based on the outcome, and the next turn begins. If the space happens to box in a line of cards by having like colors on the ends (such as: Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Red), any of the spaces between the colors will be flipped for that player to capture, giving not only the space, but also all the monetary value of each card to that player. Not a bad little system.
In fact, if the actual flow of the game and overall gameplay was more entertaining, One Piece: Pirate's Carnival could have been a serious contender. Instead, the serious lack of mini-games (factoring all special games and "half time" games, there's still only around 40 total) hurts the experience, as every game ends up feeling the same after a half dozen turns. In addition, the gameplay for most of the challenges is re-hashed ideas from previous mini-games we've all played. You can only play red light/green light so many times, and button mashing games have (arguably) seen their peak in the days of NES Track and Field. The ability to tailor-fit the games to the One Piece franchise was a good idea, but the execution really doesn't set the game apart from other party titles, making it just another licensed game that comes up short in its delivery. Factor in load times between each player turn and mini-game (both before, and after), and you've got a game that moves too slow to be the life of the party, and plays too simplistic to truly make a splash.
In an attempt to add more of the franchise feel to the game, One Piece includes a good deal of recorded character dialogue, using each of the seven playable characters to set-up basic blurbs before and after each of the challenges. While it's great to see the voice actors shouting out their catch phrases every few minutes, the actual dialogue sessions occur way too often, and since they're used as both an intro and finale to each game, players are going to be doing a ton of sitting, and not a whole lot of playing. The character skits weren't a bad idea, but it gets amazingly frustrating to sit through commentary from all four characters nearly every time you want to engage in a challenge. The graphical presentation is also fairly basic since the game uses smaller character models and cell shading, and it results in a large appearance of annoying "jaggies" that line the characters and world objects. The game runs in 4:3 resolution, and no progressive scan support was included for the Cube version, so the overall presentation has a definite aged look to it.
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