Sunday, May 30, 2010

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: May

Okay, so my favorite local second hand, MUST HAVE MUSIC AND MORE, has a slew of Playstation 2 games and recently I discovered that a great number of them are being sold for the low, low price of $4.95.  For those of you who have been following along at home, this is how I came across Pryzm , Chapter One: The Last Unicorn, that little gem that I alone made famous last year!  As I was browsing through the stacks the other day I saw a good number of these $5 games that looked at the very least interesting, if not potential diamonds in the rough.  After thinking it over I came to a conclusion:  The PS2 has a vast library and very few catch the attention of the popular culture, but lots and lots of games get released. Somewhere in those stacks of discarded, unloved games must be some really great games just looking for someone to play them and at the risk of five dollars a go, I think it’s worth finding just what is out there.  The result is this on-going experiment, a journey that you and I are going to take through the unwanted library of the PS2.  So strap in, kiddies, we’ve got twelve months, sixty dollars, and a Playstation2 and we’re about to discover what we’ve been missing!

One Piece: Pirate’s Carnival  

Bandai Namco

Why are these games always so poorly executed?  Why?  I mean, Mario Party is an amazing game and a consistently fun franchise, but no one else seems to be able to get the formula right.  Long time fans of my Closer Look article will fondly remember my treatise on Sonic Shuffle for the Dreamcast.  Well, One Piece: Pirate’s Carnival is no Sonic Shuffle, but it’s no Mario Party either.

Before we get too far into all of this, allow me to mention that I have virtually NO knowledge of anime whatsoever.  If you have been reading this from the get-go then you know that I am roughly familiar with Robotech and I have seen Akira and maybe two episodes of Dragonball Z (in which Goku ran across clouds for nearly thirty minutes), but that is about it. So when I picked this game up, I had no idea that it was based on yet another widely successful anime program.  Furthermore, if I am to understand the game’s interpretation of the show, it’s some kind of Gilligan’s Island gone wrong with tentacled pirates and giant, flesh-eating rabbits and something called Jugons.  But I don’t think knowing the content of the program really helps untangle what is going on in this game.

Much like Mario Party, One Piece: Pirates Carnival (OPPC) is a board game that is constructed of a barrage of mini-games, events and other party-game bric-a-brac.  Characters vie for control of a gridded game board by taking control of certain squares on the board.  Taking control is achieved by battling the other players in various contests and succeeding.  Success will not only net you the square up for grabs, but it will also net you other squares in classic Othello fashion.  At least that part is simple.  Playing the main game makes sense and seems doable.  However, to play the main game you must constantly engage in the mini-games.  To be fair many of the mini-games are quite playable and fun, however the ones that are not are nearly incomprehensible.  It seems that the most playable games are the ones that are rooted in games I already know: Concentration, Seek & Find, and others.  One of the better games asks you to take a periscope and hunt through a crowd for someone called “Panda Man.”  Good luck, turns out “Panda Man” is a bare-chested man with heart tattoos on his pecs and a panda mask.  Another game I enjoyed was Kung-Fu Jugon Battle, in which the object is to “have the fewest jugons at the end of the match.”  Hilarious jargon aside, basically you just have to push (fight) all of these strangle little walruses into your opponents part of the playfield while they do the same to you.  These parts of the game are very fun and engaging.  Heck, even the snowy mountain climb where you have to show your respect to bears by bowing is interesting once you figure out what the point is.  (Fail to show proper respect and you’ll get a lecture from the bear, I promise.)

It’s the games that are very hard to understand and thus play that create speed bumps in the enjoyment of the overall game.  Some games have baffling objectives, like the one where you have to catch food the opponent characters throw excepting that they rarely do and while you wait everything else in the world is also happening.  Other games are simple, but nearly impossible to execute: a certain stilt battle game comes to mind.  This means that some mini-games will be competitive and others will be incomprehensible messes and you’re ultimate success will be given partly to chance.  I am sure that most of the games can be tackled with enough experience, but games like this need to be instantly accessible to pretty much everyone and not require dense study to master.  That is the nature of the party game, particularly if they are going to be played by casual gamers.

The other major stumbling block for OPPC is the story.  For whatever reason all of these party games feel the need to clutter up what is otherwise a board game with some manner of asinine story.  It’s a board game.  The story is: TAKE TURNS, TRY TO WIN THE GAME. THE END.  That is all you need.  I promise.  But no, OPPC makes a half-assed attempt at giving the characters things to say and do before and after every single game event.  Every single game event.  And they aren’t quick little quips, they are oft lengthy diatribes about being “merman” or cooking or something else irrelevant to anything at all.  Compound that with absolutely ridiculous load times for each diatribe and you end up with a game that takes nearly two hours, half of which is “story.”

All in all, I paid $5 for One Piece: Pirate’s Carnival and just playing the game once pretty much means I got my money’s worth.  I don’t think I’ll be playing it regularly and if a party breaks out in my living room I’m pretty sure this won’t be what causes it. If you are a big One Piece fan, then you will probably have fun checking this out just by virtue of you know what is going on and who these characters are.  If you are not a One Piece fan, just go get Mario Party 50 or whatever and be done with it.