Tremendously revered in Japan, yet – like the vast majority of animé — enjoying more of a cult following in the West, One Piece follows the story of Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates in their tumultuous quest to locate the titular treasure. After a lengthy history of translation to video games, the series' most recent Wii instalment, One Piece: Unlimited Cruise was split into two episodes: Treasure Beneath the Waves and Awakening of a Hero, both released to European audiences in 2009. In May of last year, the two episodes were crammed onto one 3DS cartridge in the form of One Piece: Unlimited Cruise Special for a Japanese release. Now, after nine months, Namco Bandai has finally localised the Straw Hat Pirates' latest adventure for European 3DS owners.
However, the shame for European 3DS owners and One Piece fans alike is that this version contains only half the content of its Japanese brethren: while Japanese players got both Treasure Beneath the Waves and Awakening of a Hero included on one cartridge, due to “localisation issues” the European version has seen the latter episode cut from the game entirely.
Despite this setback, first impressions aren't bad at all. Unlimited Cruise Special opens with the pirates suddenly being whisked away to a mysterious island before finding themselves tasked with exploring the island — and three others –overcoming "ordeals" along the way with the promise of a special present after every challenge is complete. The islands themselves are a joy to behold, if a tad generic – there's a beach island, ice island, volcano island and desert island – with impressive draw distances and vibrant visuals combining with some fantastic 3D effects to make the four aesthetically distinctive islands extremely easy on the eyes.
Character models are also sharp and well animated; series protagonist Luffy pummelling enemies with his elasticated limbs is exhilarating to watch, for example. Likewise, Unlimited Cruise Special's sparse yet entertaining dialogue absolutely nails the vibe of the animé, delivering lines laced with wit and humour with pleasing regularity.
Unfortunately, its good production values are where Unlimited Cruise Special's aptitude shudders to a grinding halt, giving way to gameplay that is anything but entertaining. Observing Luffy in all his high-kicking, limb-stretching glory might very well be positively delightful, but performing his moves is another matter altogether; it's a clunky, plodding and entirely unentertaining endeavour. Eight other characters are playable throughout the adventure – you can switch to whichever one you like at almost any point in the game – and each one possesses their own strengths, weaknesses and movesets, which are upgradeable through continued use.
The cumbersome combat unfortunately applies to all nine characters, however, so whether you're using Usopp's slingshot to pick off enemies from afar or swashbuckling as afro-haired skeleton Brook, dispatching enemies never feels anywhere near as fluid as it should. Getting around the islands is equally tiresome, as they're brimming with infuriating platforming sections that don't gel well with the galumphing and often off-kilter way the characters jump around. Dodgy collision detection also causes issues, with characters jumping high enough to reach ledges but not actually standing on them as desired, along with instances where they inexplicably bounce off walls or become stuck on bits of the terrain.
As detrimental to the overall experience as they are, the unwieldy fighting and platforming might have at least been partially forgiveable had they been enveloped within additional mechanics that actually provided a modicum of pleasure, but this isn't the case. Progression revolves almost entirely around the unrelentingly tedious collecting of every single item either scattered throughout the various environments or those dropped by the limited set of sailors, zombies, enormous carnivorous plants and mud monster things that set themselves upon the player at every given opportunity, continuously respawing whenever you leave and subsequently re-enter an area.
All too often your progress will be impeded by a giant pillar, giant rock or giant something or other and you'll be forced to painfully trudge through previously explored areas – battling the same old adversaries while doing so – to scour them further for seemingly trivial and inconsequential items to convert into points: then it's a long slog back to the giant obstacle to remove it. This process is rinsed and repeated for umpteen painfully boring hours, encroaching itself on other tasks such as building bridges or other means of progression, rendered increasingly monotonous by the overall story being, despite the maintained snappiness of its dialogue, regrettably formulaic and ultimately forgettable.
Pointless item collecting is also required to craft healing items and items that allow you to craft further items. Even worse, you may come across an obstacle that you can't pass because your character's item-crafting skill hasn't reached the required level, forcing you to traipse around already well-trodden areas to – yes, you guessed it – collect more items with which to craft further items that you don't even need, just so you can level up your item-crafting skill. It's a vicious cycle that exists solely to artificially extend an already over-long rigmarole.
Occasionally Unlimited Cruise Special will attempt to spice up proceedings by introducing an antagonist from the TV show, whom you'll be required to beat in a boss battle. These too fall foul to Unlimited Cruise Special's shortcomings, more often than not seeing your characters frustratingly shunted around an area by ridiculously overpowered attacks, simultaneously fighting a losing battle with Unlimited Cruise Special's clunkiness
However, the real kick in the teeth is the fact this is only one of the two episodes included on the Japanese release, meaning you're essentially paying full retail price for only half the content that should have been present in the first place. Granted, an extra Marineford mode is also included, which lets players engage in one-on-one arena bouts as they play out scenes from the Marineford arc of the animé, but this mode suffers from all the shortcomings of the main game and as such comes as no consolation whatsoever.
In its defence, One Piece fans might very well get a kick out of the dialogue, picturesque environments and re-enacting of the Marineford arc. However, taking its incommodious take on “action”, uncompromisingly repetitive progression, occasional technical issues, forgettable plot or the fact that half of its intended content has been needlessly misplaced into account, the number of reasons to recommend a purchase of One Piece: Unlimited Cruise Special is woefully insufficient. Nothing about this game provides enough fun to make it a worthwhile investment, and thus we'd advise you to steer well clear of it.