When you have an unparalleled power at your disposal to the point that whatever dares to stand up to you goes down in a mere flash, life can get pretty boring. More than that, it becomes a challenge to create a game based off that idea. There has to be some level of difficulty, right? One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows tries to go a 3D fighting route and even attempts to go a little bit bolder by trying out some new ideas.
Bandai Namco and Spike Chunsoft try to blend together a 3D fighting game with a more open world presentation. They certainly get points for trying something different and a few more for the way it presents its source material. However, the game's grindy nature and a slew of technical hiccups means this punch doesn't fully connect.
Just a guy doing this for fun
The first bold design choice at work in A Hero Nobody Knows involves the main playable character not being the title character. As noted earlier, it would be pretty boring if the main character is somebody who can't even be scratched and finishes fights in the blink of an eye. Instead, players put together a custom character, their own fictional contribution to a world filled with heroes. Players start as a Class C hero and work to climb the ranks of the Hero Association. Let's put a pin in this idea for now and go a little more into the source material.
So here's where I confess that I am no otaku and where I confess that I have never watched an episode of the One Punch Man anime. As a newcomer, this is where I laud Bandai Namco and Spike Chunsoft for the manner in which the game's story is presented. It sets up the world, establishes how it works, introduces the various supporting characters, and it introduces Saitama in a competent way. Various story missions will see the One Punch Man simply stroll by and join the fight. After going toe-to-toe with different monsters, getting to play as Saitama actually becomes a novelty. And it's hard not to get a good laugh out of a big bad monster running straight at him and going down in a single-punch while screaming, "GYAAAAAARGH!"
If one of the goals of A Hero Nobody Knows is to get people interested in the anime, I call it a success. After playing the game, I watched the pilot and came to enjoy the parallels. Those who are already familiar with the anime will be heading into familiar territory, because many of the storylines look to be lifted straight from the show, including the pilot episode's confrontation with Vaccine Man.
A hero's work is never done
It would be easy (and for some, appreciated) if A Hero Nobody Knows was divided into different game modes accessible from the main menu, like one for multiplayer and one for the story. That's not how this game rolls. Instead, the entirety of the game and all of its supplemental game modes are contained within the single-player open world. After a lengthy intro and a run through a serviceable character creator, players can jump into multiplayer sessions and interact with other online players via the Hero Association hub world. It's a different sort of presentation, though one that's not necessarily welcome.
Another innovation that may not be a welcome one is the RPG approach. Characters progress after taking part in various fights. They can level up their personal stats, their Hero Association ranking, and their fighting style ranking, while also personalizing their stats. The idea isn't a bad one in itself. The problem is that it gets grindy and repetitive. The world is filled with Hero Association quests, side quests handed out by citizens, and quests handed out by recognizable heroes from the anime. Unfortunately, many of the missions are too similar to one another and the experience starts to feel samey. AI difficulty spikes only make things worse, especially as the story gets farther along.
It doesn't help that getting to the next story mission often involves grinding through about a dozen of these side missions and going from place-to-place to move things forward. And A Hero Nobody Knows' strengths do not involve going from place-to-place, because the game takes its biggest performance hits in the open world. It's unavoidable to find frame rate hitches, stilted animations, and texture pop-up when exploring the world. That's on top of other performance hiccups, like long load times and audio inconsistencies. The voice actors standing too close to their mics, those are the real monsters.
Coming to save the day
A lot's been said about A Hero Nobody Knows before even diving into the fights themselves. Fights can unfold in different ways, often in a 1v1 fashion on a 3D field. However, there will be battles where either side can receive backup, which is the game's most novel idea. A picture-in-picture box will show a character comically running towards the scene of the fight and if their timer reaches zero, they'll join the fray. That gives one side an incentive to finish the fight quickly, since fights just end if one side loses before their backup arrives, and the other side a reason to play defensively. While it's possible to run away or stall, the timer can also be cut by performing combos, so it doesn't fully encourage one side to cheese this feature.
Fights can also be influenced by different events. Sometimes, crates will drop on the field and offer bonuses. Other times, random occurances can affect one or both players. For example, a lightning storm can zap anything in its path, meteors can fall on fighters and inflict heavy damage, or Subterraneans can stick players neck-deep into the dirt. That gives fights a bit of an RNG element, but one that makes them a little more interesting.
After progressing through single-player, different heroes can be unlocked for multiplayer Ranked battles. Unfortunately, online play feels clunky. A laggy experience is bad enough, but it's made all the worse when defensive mechanics are largely based on timing. With the timing windows all over the place in online play, it sucks a lot of the fun out of multiplayer.
Up, up, and away
It would have been easy to present One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows as a generic tie-in with little to no effort. But to Spike Chunsoft's effort, they tried something different. Did it work? Well... no, not really. I think there were enough interesting ideas tossed into the actual fights that if this had been presented as a straightforward fighting game, it might have had some legs. As it is, it's a poor RPG experience that gets boring and repetitive, something Saitama can relate to.
That doesn't mean this game is a total fail. It's a strong introduction to the One Punch Man mythos and when this fighting game gets down to the actual fighting, it's actually pretty fun. And there are enough different ideas at work to make it stand out from other anime and fighting games. It's a novel effort, but nothing else beyond that.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It is available now for $59.99. The game is rated T.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows
- Strong introduction to the source material
- Interesting mechanics that are unlike anything in other fighters
- Great artwork, faithful to the series
- Saitama is a fun novelty fighter
- RPG gameplay gets repetitive and grindy
- AI difficulty spikes
- Many performance hitches
- Poor online experience
- Basic character creator with nothing special to offer
- Uneven and grating audio
- Arena design is dull and basic