It’s important to get something out of the way right from the jump — One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows probably won’t impress anyone who seriously enjoys arena fighters. In fact, it may not win over fans of the manga and anime. Additionally, people who’ve never played an arena fighter or who couldn’t care less about One Punch Man will take one look at this clunky, choppy, occasionally frustrating experience and boldly proclaim, “Who in their right mind would waste an entire afternoon playing this game?” And while these statements and speculations may ring true, for the life of me, I can’t stop playing One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows. Of course, I also play Jump Force without a hint of irony, so make of that what you will.
Also, if you had a problem with the way developer Spike Chunsoft handled Jump Force, then One Punch Man won’t bring you back into the fold. No, if anything, A Hero Nobody Knows takes that Xenoverse/hub-world-brawler formula and slaps it together as though they only had a few months and a limited budget to get it finished. Very little about the game feels polished, and if you want to make that to feel exponentially worse, take your experience online. By doing so, you’ll increase the frequency of pop-ins, frame-rate hitches, and random freezes when you’re trying to perform mundane tasks, such as buying a mustache for your all-red hipster-esque character. I waited for three whole minutes (I timed it!) while the game attempted to load the apparel shop’s menu so I could buy one measly mustache. I just wanted the mustache!
Of course, the big question: How can anyone create an entertaining brawler centered around a character who defeats his opponents with a single punch? The answer: You allow the player to create a side character who serves as a bit player in the aforementioned hero’s saga. It’s the same approach taken by Attack on Titan 2 last year, and for the most part, it serves as a good way to tell a familiar story from a slightly different perspective. In One Punch Man’s case, it’s truly the only way the developers could possibly make a game that doesn’t become incredibly boring after the first five minutes. Naturally, that generates an entirely separate question: Will playing as a side character in a story that’s really about another individual make for a satisfying experience? Well, yes and no. While it’s fun to create your own hero and defeat scores of monsters and villains, it often feels that Saitama acts as a side character in what is ultimately his story. Although I enjoyed this take, it will no doubt ruffle the feathers of fans who wanted to spend more time with Saitama.
As mentioned, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows borrows heavily from the Xenoverse/Jump Force playbook. After creating your avatar/budding hero, you’re dumped into the middle of a hub world, where you can accept quests, talk to NPCs, purchase apparel and items, and watch other players do the same thing. Unlike Jump Force, however, the hub doesn’t feel unnecessarily large, though it does feel very clunky. Sadly, it’s also the area where players will encounter the most hiccups, including substantial frame-rate drops and quest givers who take several seconds to appear. To make matters even more infuriating, these issues seem to increase once you hop online. My advice: If you couldn’t give two Mumem Riders about playing the game with other people, opt to experience the journey offline. It won’t completely erase these issues, but you won’t pull out your hair while waiting to buy a mustache. I really wanted that mustache.
Accepting quests from NPCs in the hub world, or grabbing assignments from mission boards, will help you level up your character using a very basic RPG system. You can boost your health, strength, the power of your so-called “killer moves,” and various other factors that help make your hero someone who strikes fear into the twisted hearts of both monsters and men. NPC quests will also help you procure additional items and accessories that you can use to dress up your hero. Sometimes, however, you’ll play a very familiar game of “take item to person,” foregoing any fights whatsoever. While it’s always nice to have the occasional breather, these fetch quests feel half-baked and downright boring. Coming from a guy who honestly doesn’t mind doing the odd fetch quest, trust me when I say that One Punch Man gets them all wrong. At least the dialogue provides a few chuckles, even when the jokes start to become stale.
So far, we’ve established that the hub world and the quests found tucked inside A Hero Nobody Knows don’t exactly inspire confidence, but what about the combat? At least the combat makes up for the rest of the shortcomings, right? Eh, not quite. Calling the fighting mechanics “serviceable” may seem like an insult to other “serviceable” brawlers, but it gets the job done well enough. Sometimes. The game takes a very simplistic approach to fighting, giving you two attack buttons (light and heavy) and a guard button. You can also build up a “move” counter that allows you to unleash “killer moves,” which, in theory, deal massive amounts of damage to your opponents — assuming your foe doesn’t magically block them with surprising easy when you know you have them dead to rights. However, if you try to block the same move, sit back and watch in abject irritation as your guard breaks and your poor hero receives an unfair amount of punishment for doing things correctly.
What’s more, when you hit the ground, your hero will take several seconds to return to his or her feet. During this time, your enemy (assuming they haven’t started running brainlessly around the stage), will zero in, begin dishing out attacks, and beat the tar out of your sorry behind while you attempt to regain your composure. That said, you can turn around and game this mechanic yourself to unfairly win against opponents who outrank you by several levels. The game also allows you to switch between different fighting styles — e.g., weapons, psychokinesis, etc. — though certain ones definitely feel unbalanced compared to others. For example, I stuck with the default style for the duration of my game (outside missions that required a specific style) because I learned which combos worked best across the board. While I enjoyed mashing buttons and defeating some extremely odd monsters, it’s not a very nuanced system.
Despite these irritating flaws, I actually enjoyed playing One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows. I also have a habit of enjoying less-than-stellar fighting games, including Jump Force. I loved reading the dialogue between the characters, even if it often felt like someone trying to parrot the Yakuza series’ inherent silliness. And, yes, I spent a bizarre amount of time furnishing my hero’s apartment despite the fact that it contributed nothing whatsoever to the story. Additionally, I liked increasing my friendship levels with other superheroes so they would creep like a stalker into my apartment and provide me with a pointless gift that I would never use. What’s more, I dutifully performed all of these inane tasks in-between changing up my outfit every hour or so. Sometimes, for better or for worse, a game just connects with you on a level that you cannot explain to someone who sees it as a stain on the source material and the genre. For whatever reason, this particular stain looks more like a beauty mark to me. With a mustache, of course. Don’t forget the mustache.
I should strongly dislike One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows, but despite its many flaws, balance issues, frame rate problems, and overall clumsiness, the damned thing charmed me. In fact, I’ve pretty much unlocked most of the achievements, and I’m slowly but surely working my way to level 99. As an arena fighter, it lacks the depth and polish required for hardcore players to take it very seriously. However, if you want to create your own bizarre superhero (such as my beloved Red Stache), kick back, and smack the crap out of monsters for an hour or so, it’s solid fun. Granted, the glaring issues will prompt most people to look elsewhere for a new brawler, but it’s worth looking into if you’ve ever dreamed of defeating bad guys alongside the supremely awesome Saitama — shopping trips and all.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A copy was provided by Bandai Namco.
Although it's super clunky and very unpolished, there's a weird charm to One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows. It may not satisfy brawler aficionados or hardcore OPM fanatics, but it should amuse those who want to experience life as a flamboyant superhero.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows