They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but in the case of One Punch Man’s Saitama, absolute power is boring as hell. How are you able to feel satisfaction in your life if all the obstacles you face can be obliterated in a single blow? It’s an interesting concept, and a novel take on the superhero formula, but one that doesn’t translate too well to One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows.
A Hero Nobody Knows is a 3v3 arena brawler with simple controls, combos and special moves. X is for basic combos while Y is for strong attacks, B is to block and A to jump. Y with different directions performs different attacks, with up and Y hitting a launcher while down and Y is a low sweep. Time a block correctly and you’ll teleport behind your opponent, ready to dish out massive damage.
As the fight progresses, you’ll fill up your move gauge up to nine times, which can be used to access Killer Moves. These are special attacks that can either deal massive damage to your opponent or give you a powerful buff, and are performed by holding the left trigger and pressing either X, Y or B. You can also hold the left trigger and A to charge your move gauge, which is useful when your opponent is down.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re wondering how the hell they actually balanced your boy Saitama, the short answer is they kind of didn’t. During versus matches, or as a random occurrence in story missions where Saitama is a teammate, he will arrive late to the fight, meaning you have to survive a set amount of time before he’ll appear to one shot the enemy.
Hitting long combos and perfect guards will lessen the amount of time you’re waiting for a hero to save you, meaning you’re better off getting stuck into action if you want a better chance of surviving long enough to actually see the Baldy One win the fight for you. It’s a unique system that works well enough, and there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with holding on long enough for Saitama to come in and dispose of any threat.
The combat starts to get a little bit samey once you realise you can cancel the basic “mash X” combo into a launcher, then juggle the opponent with the same basic combo. There’s still room for experimentation when it comes to implementing Killer Moves as combo enders, but for the most part, you’re repeating the same combo over and over again in order to win. Jump kick into combo, into launcher, into juggle combo and Killer Move ender. Lather, rinse and repeat until you win. It’s cool once you discover that combo early on, but by hour 10, it becomes quite old.
There’s also some really wonky aspects to the combat. Throw animations are so long that you often get blown up before you can even land them, while the game is often inconsistent regarding when you can damage a grounded enemy. The low sweep is also a mostly useless tool, in my experience at least. Other Y attacks can be charged and they’ll break a block, but not sweeps, making them a strange addition overall. You can also click the left stick to dash directly at your opponent, but it leaves you so open to attack that you shouldn’t even bother.
During fights, a series of random events can occur that can change the outcome of the battle. These events range from high damage meteors coating the arena, to interfering characters and random item drops. As you’d expect, these can be either incredibly hype, or incredibly frustrating. When a battered enemy manages to grab a dropped item that restores half their health, you can’t help but get a little bit angry. Maybe not Ninja angry, but a little annoyed, nonetheless. Either way, the random good fortune often comes back round, so it’s nothing too infuriating.
The actual story mode sees you create a hero of your own, joining the Hero Association because Saitama rescued you once. That’s about all the backstory you get, which is a bit weak. In amongst the chaos and general ridiculousness of the world of One Punch Man, your main character is just an incredibly bland mute, their character defined only by whatever garish adornment you happen to place onto them.
The story is a recreation of the biggest events from the first series of the anime, reframed through the eyes of your character. All those times heroes were battered before Saitama rocked up to save the say, your character was right there along with them, getting pounded into the dirt. It’s a bit of a contrivance, honestly, but as premises go, it’s not the worst.
As for the overall presentation, the animation quality for the cutscenes is below par. Aside from the opening cutscene before the press start menu, the story cutscenes feature random canned animations and expressions, which makes the game feel a bit cheap and disjointed. Some instances even use still screenshots from the anime, with no voiceover, to explain certain events.
Throughout the game, you’ll face the same few varieties of enemies, and all of them were created using the in-game character creation tools and accessories, making them feel unoriginal and tiring once you’ve seen the same archetypes mission after mission. It feels like the game wasn’t given the same amount of budget as a game like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, as there, but that’s just speculation.
One Punch Man’s story mode also features moments where you can play as other characters, including Saitama, and it’s here where the game feels less satisfying. When Saitama is a hero rushing to arrive at a battle, you feel like you’re locked in a tense fight for survival, but when he’s available from the start of the fight, it feels less satisfying, as all you have to do is hit X to win.
It also robs some of the nuance from certain fights in the series, particularly the climactic fight against Boros towards the end of the game. Instead of a constantly escalating conflict between two powerful entities, it’s a fight that’s over before it even has a chance to get going. The actual fight in the anime felt more impactful, but here it feels like an afterthought.
The core gameplay loop sees you running around a small hub world, completing missions for the Hero Association and levelling up. Missions you complete at the Hero Association Branch, along with any quests you encounter, will raise your City Contribution rating, which in turn unlocks more missions and main quests at the Hero Association HQ. It’s repetitive, but the majority of the missions are short enough that you can jump in and out for quick sessions without getting bored, while still making significant progress.
The main game isn’t too long, with the game’s 11 chapters breezing by in a matter of hours, but if you’re planning on reaching the highest Hero Class and player level, along with completing every single mission and side quest, you’ll be playing for a while. That said, your patience might give out before you get there.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows, but the obvious gameplay and presentation flaws make the game hard to recommend at full price. Fans of the series might get a kick out of it, but there’s not enough decent meat on the game’s bones to warrant any long-term attention.
A copy of One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is a decent debut for the Baldy Hero, but the host of gameplay and story problems get in the way.
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