One Punch Man was something of a revelation when its first anime season aired back in 2005. Based on a manga series, that is in turn based on a web comic by creator ONE, One Punch Man is a satirical take on the typical Shonen manga/anime style found in series like Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece. Its premise is both simple and brilliant: What if the protagonist was so insanely powerful that they could obliterate every threat with a single punch? How would they react, how would the world react and how the hell do you make an engaging story out of that? ONE has definitely done that, creating a world filled with interesting characters and dilemmas, which haven’t quite been translated over into an engaging game by Spike Chunsoft.
At its core, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is the typical anime team arena fighter we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years: Bland and empty 3D arenas, with muddy controls that stop fights from feeling particularly exciting. In the game’s story mode, it often feels like a bit of a mashy mess, bashing out combos made almost entirely of two button inputs, with little reason to deviate from the same one of two combos. I spent most of my time relatively effortlessly progressing through the story repeatedly using two combos and one killer move (special attacks unleashed by holding L2 and pushing a button on PlayStation 4). Killer moves also lack some of the explosive pomp and grandeur seen in similar game’s like My Hero One’s Justice, leaving battles feeling a bit flat as a result.
Obviously you won’t be able to get away with this when playing online, but you’ll need to play through A Hero Nobody Knows story mode to unlock characters to use in its online and offline versus modes. What this means is that even if you don’t want to engage with the story mode, you’ll have to put in an effort to unlock the vast majority of its roster. In fact, until you’ve completed the in-story tutorials, you’re completely locked out from engaging with the game’s online modes. While this only takes an hour or two, there’s no doubt going to be some frustration from players who were just looking for a new fighting game to play competitively online.
While One Punch Man focuses on Saitama, the part-time hero-for-fun that nobody knows, A Hero Nobody Knows instead has you take control of a brand-new custom created Hero. While you might be expecting some cool choices of powers upfront, your initial choices are all cosmetic, as you’re forced into the ‘Standard’ power type. You’ll unlock more power types as you progress through the story, such as Genos’ and Terrible Tornado’s signature combat styles, but you’re basically relegated to having the most boring combat type possible in the early running. And while you gain those more interesting styles as you progress, the story mode also progressively becomes more of a grind, forcing you to complete an ever increasing number of side-quests and samey battles to make your ‘Contribution’ amount tick up to the next threshold and unlock the next story mission.
Given you’re not taking control of the monster destroyer Saitama, A Hero Nobody Knows doesn’t have to deal with how to create an engaging game out of a hero killing everything in one hit. Instead, your hero battles alongside the other heroes from One Punch Man, as they take on those same monsters that Saitama himself destroyed. Much like the source material, some of these story sequences involve simply surviving for long enough that other, more powerful, heroes arrive. Completing combos, perfect guards and other actions will help reduce the time it takes those other heroes to arrive, meaning a faster end to the battle. What this really results in, however, is battles where you do little to no damage do an enemy who can quickly wipe you out, only for the other hero to arrive and for you to annihilate the opponent within 10 seconds. It’s hardly an engaging style, although the more standard battles fare a little better.
Outside of battles, you’ll find yourself traversing an ever-expanding open environment to pick up missions, talk to characters, purchase items and furnish your apartment. Talking to heroes on the streets results in some of the more interesting missions you’ll find in the game, while many of the side quests triggered by no-name NPCs are the type of fetch quests to put you to sleep. Items, equipment and skills can largely be ignored through the game unless you’re particularly invested in them; I never faced any issues progressing without getting too deep into those. It’s fun seeing heroes out on the streets, but the open environment suffers some mind-bogglingly poor performance. Frame-rate dips are constant, despite the game that the game isn’t doing anything special graphically. There are similarly confounding issues with the game’s English voicetrack, which suffers from the type of warped and blown out audio that I haven’t seen for at least a couple of console generations.
At the end of the day, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows takes a satirical source material and manages to create a functional game from it. However, unlike its source material, there’s nothing particularly special or engaging here, so unless you’re a massive fan of One Punch Man, I’d suggest looking elsewhere for your anime fighter fix.
- Saitama's goofiness comes across perfectly - Character customisation options mid-late game are great
- Combat feels muddy and lacks much of the flashiness of other anime fighters - Constant frame rate drops in the open environment - Heaps of grinding required, especially later in the story - Some of the worst audio quality I've heard in years