One Piece Treasure Battle is not your standard crazy Jap game. No. As crazy Japanese stuff goes, this is away with the fairies. From the moment you turn the machine on it is clear that Bandai's multiplayer is aimed squarely at fans of the From TV Animation anime series, One Piece. The anime revolves around Luffy and his group of Pirates, and how their friendships develop during their searches for treasure. However, there is absolutely no need to have seen said anime to appreciate the Gamecube version because the game is simply a series of mini-games using characters from the series.
The game's vague plot revolves around some guitar-playing, hooded-top-wearing, yellow-hair-sporting guy who has challenged Luffy's pirate team to a "Treasure Battle" to win their...well...treasure. This is explained in comic book style with Japanese voiceovers, while introducing the main characters, and with names like Roronoa Zoro, Monkey D Luffy and Tony Tony Chopper, they all have character, and all have huge mouths and eyes to accentuate their expressions. Quite why Luffy agrees to the challenge is not clear, but since the treasure in question is a card collection, I doubt he is too distressed about the possibility of losing.
Each mini-game is four-player at all times, so if there are less than four people playing, the computer controls the other characters. They are all viewed from the third person. The title game, "Treasure Battle" is a (two-player-in-each) team game, and has players grabbing a treasure chest and putting it into a boxing ring at the end of each island level, then literally waiting for their ship to come in. Once their pirate ship arrives, that team wins. A team can throw the chest to each other over a limited distance, lob it in the direction they are facing over a greater distance, or even use it to attack the members of the opposite team who are doing their best to grab the treasure chest and take it back to their own boxing ring, and their awaiting pirate vessel.
To make things more exciting, the characters can beat each other senseless, wiping the huge smiles off their faces using the amazing extending arm pincer smash and other equally astonishing moves, which can sometimes be blocked or ducked-under. The move selected with each button press is dependent on running speed, with a more powerful move occurring if full speed has been reached, as indicated by a speed bar for each player. If knocked to the floor, a player becomes incapacitated, with recovery time dependent on hammering the A button as quickly as possibly. Twirling the control stick during the hammering will turn the recover into a spinning attack. This recovery time gives the opposing team a short-lived advantage where one person can concentrate on grabbing the chest and the other player protects them on the dash to the boxing ring. Chest carriers go slower and cannot jump, so the other team can catch up by jumping over buildings, 'as the crow flies'. If a player falls or is thrown into the sea, an absolutely huge dog/dragon/whale/thing, again with an enormous smile, tosses you back on to dry land, but this time with a harsh, fixed ten second penalty.
The screen is split in the "Treasure Battle" according to how many human players are involved. In one-player mode, the full screen allows a decent view of the action, but the 2- and 4-player splits reduce the action to an extremely small view that makes it very hard to determine what is really happening, especially when all four characters are lamping each other right next to the chest, in a style reminiscent of a game of schoolboy football (only slightly more violent). The characters are all displayed in cello-vision and look very similar to their anime counterparts, with real style and some good-looking attack moves. The play area looks functional, and neither catches the eye nor puts it off.
"Battle Royal" is a similar game, except there is no chest and the arena is more confined. Each team just bashes the opposition about, as much as possible, for just under 3 minutes. All players are displayed on the full screen, which will zoom in and out depending on the spread of the action. The fairly small variety of controls limits the appeal of this game. It is neither deep enough to bother getting good at, or simple enough to instantly pick up and play.
"Kung Fu Survival" pushes the craziness to new levels. It is most easily described as a "Seal Clubbing" game (potentially amusing depending on your point of view). Both teams are placed on to a very small island inhabited by large numbers of seals. Whichever team beats up the most seals within the time limit wins. You can walk right up to a seal and kick it in the face, or if you prefer, choose Roronoa and have him beat them with a couple of sticks. The seals are basically defenceless, but if you are standing around doing very little, the seals will wander over and either headbutt the player or knock them down with a flipper. Swift retaliation with a combo of attacks soon sorts out the cheeky ones. The seals are dressed in green outfits that make them look like ninja turtles, but unfortunately for them, they have no ninja skills to back up their tough dress code.
It's amusing for a while purely because of the subject matter, but after that, there is so much going on in such a confined area that it becomes tiresome unless you sit right next to the screen. Even then, it is possible to lose where your character is on the screen, when someone starts flinging five seals into the air at once.
"Teamwork Rally" has each team passing the chest to each other across gaps that can't be jumped over whilst carrying the chest, and kicking the opposition if the occasion arises. It is actually immensely frustrating because, if you drop the chest into one of the gaps, you have to start all over again. The race to the finish is a careful balance between taking risks to get the edge over the opposition and being careful at other points to avert disaster.
"Cross Country" is an individual race to the end of each stage of a longer race. Each player gets a score based on their position at each intermediate stage and the team scores are totalled at the end of the whole race. The race is conducted along a series of different jumps, ladders, islands and narrow passageways, and can be quite fun in the right company.
"Pirate Soccer" is pirates playing soccer. Except the ball is enormous and can crush the players if they fall under it. They have to use their attack moves to push the ball through goals at each end. Each half is 90 seconds. There is nothing to stop you attacking the other team members instead of the ball - since there is no referee - and should be encouraged at all times. It sounds fun, but the ball blocks the action some of the time and, therefore, it is difficult to judge the angle of attack. It is too contrived and not quite playable enough to ensure long term enjoyment.
"Treasure Hunt" has players wondering around randomly until an arrow appears, directing them to hidden treasure, and is very dull due to the random nature of the game. No skill is required apart from remembering which parts of the bland landscape have already been visited.
Most of the games have items that can be picked up and used to gain an advantage - for example, a throwable grenade that leaves pins all over the ground. Anyone stepping on the pins hops around for a bit, nursing their sore foot. Each of the games is accompanied by a variety of tunes that vary from typical anime themes to bizarre marching anthems and wild guitar solos. The reward for winning the games, if playing against a computer-controlled team, is a chest of treasure, which contains collector cards. Collect enough cards and new characters are unlocked, all of whom have slightly different strengths and weaknesses. There are 288 cards to collect, and a large number of characters to unlock, so if you own the game, it's worth unlocking them, just to see what crazy special moves they have.
Note that this game is fairly import friendly. The main menu is English, and a bit of common sense can work out the sub-menus. The plot is almost completely incomprehensible to those who cannot speak Japanese, but then again, it is probably completely bizarre even to those who are completely fluent. The manual explains all the moves graphically, so there are no problems figuring out how to play.
One Piece Treasure Battle is trying to be a serious contender in the multiplayer game market. It has a lot of style and originality, but there is just not enough variety between the games to keep the interest levels up. This is mostly due to the fighting game mechanic that underlies all the mini-games. And a football game that requires you to punch a giant ball around doesn't really cut it. Also off-putting is the difficulty in actually seeing the action properly in the split-screen modes. The camera is never quite where you want it to be and it is too fiddly to alter on the fly (using the c-stick) during the frenzied short games.
As a game to bring out occasionally when friends are round it might have worked a bit better if the controls were even simpler than they already are, so that complete novices could play instantly without having to practice for twenty minutes. It is also fairly one-sided in three-player mode; the team with the computer player normally wins because the computer can "see" what is going on. In single player mode, the full screen makes everything a lot easier and actually becomes enjoyable, but single player is not really what this game is about. It is not a bad game, but a bit more variety would have lifted it above the average status it currently holds. It is, however, quite crazy.
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