One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is a great idea with some fun combat that is bogged down by repetitive and dull missions that lock the best content away.
It’s a new year and that means it’s time for a new arena fighter based on a popular series from Bandai Namco. One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows, a new title based on the popular satirical series, has now been one of the first of these games in the calendar year to enter the ring.
The anime and manga are based around a hero named Saitama, a bald superhero clad in yellow, that can defeat any villain in a single punch. This one-punch approach doesn’t translate well when you want to make a video game, though. To keep fights from being “hit square to win”, the developers have made it to where most of the time, you won’t be playing as Saitama. Instead, you will be creating your own hero from scratch and raise them through the ranks of the Hero Association, from level C all the way to S.
Your custom hero can adopt a number of battle types such as psychic or machine type. These will allow your character to utilize different killer moves, A Hero Nobody Knows’ term for special attacks. These moves are focused around existing characters in the series. The machine type, for instance, will allow you to use attacks from the cyborg Genos. This also includes the Weapon Type for weapon-based moves like hero Metal Bat, and so on. Each type can be leveled up four times, unlocking additional combo potential and killer move slots.
Creating your own superhero should be more fun and exciting than it is. Players should have tons of options for their outfits or the moves that they can use — options that will really let them be creative. That’s why it’s disappointing that One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows locks 95% of the customization options from the start. When you boot up the game, you have access to a single pre-selected attack type, a single killer move, and a scant offering of visual customization items. I hope you like one of those three face and hair options for your hero. If you wanted to make a character based on your favorite character from the series, plan for the long haul. You will be spending a good number of hours playing before you can do so. This would be a lot more palatable if playing the game was more fun.
A majority of your time will be spent running around Hero Town, speaking to people, doing missions, and visiting stores. If you have played any of the other anime arena fighters from Bandai Namco, you’ll know what to expect. Unlike those games though, you can’t zoom around like Goku or run on the walls like Naruto. Your character is confined to the ground running from point A to point B. It makes the whole experience feel much more mundane in comparison. Completing missions will unlock additional areas of the city but besides a new shop or person to talk to, there aren’t many reasons to explore the new areas. And when playing offline, Hero Town is more like Ghost Town.
Missions fall into one of two basic types, the first of which will have you defeating the villains. While it may sound exciting on paper, these villains rarely are the notable ones from the series. Instead, they are generic character-created ones with the odd accessory placed here or there to make them “unique.” You will beat up and see the same generic “delinquent” or “monster” on your quest to raise up the ranks of the Hero Association. The other are quests that task you with running from point A in town to a person at point B, only to then run back to A. On the very rare occasion, you will be treated to a quiz where you have to answer a few questions instead. Neither is of these are particularly enjoyable after a few hours, though. At least the running back and forth kinds are a bit quicker.
Things get more exciting when tackling main story missions. The story will take you through the first couple of seasons of the show, with your custom hero now a part of the huge plot battles. Fans of the show will get a kick out of it and while they may all play out similarly, with Saitama finishing things off, these special missions are one of the best parts of the game.
Combat takes place in an open arena with a similar pacing and control setup to the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games. You have light and heavy attack buttons, a jump, and a block. With the left trigger held down, you can swap to your killer move list, with a move tied to each of the face buttons once the slots are unlocked. A fun inclusion is that of a mode change, allowing you to swap from one outfit into another. It’s great if you want to role-play as a mild-manner business person, starting your fights off in a suit, only to dramatically change into your heroic persona. It’s a really nifty feature that I would love to see in future hero-centric games.
There are a couple of unique aspects in One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows that occur during combat that helps differentiate this title. The first of these is that of the hero arrival system. There is a chance that a random hero will attempt to rush to your aid, including the one-hit-wonder, Saitama himself. By dealing damage and landing combos on your opponent, time will be shaved off and the heroes will arrive sooner. The arriving heroes will run in, attack, and then you will have the ability to swap your playable character in for the one who just arrived. When Saitama shows up, he is as laughably overpowered as he is in the show. One punch to your foe and they are dead.
The combat system has enough depth to it that players will be able to figure out strategies and combos with their characters while remaining approachable enough for non-fighting game players. It’s perfect for those that are looking more to play a One Punch Man game, as opposed to a fighter specifically. Combos boil down to a series of light attacks and adding a heavy attack somewhere on the attack string to produce various results. You can also follow right after with a dash to the enemy you knocked away to continue with more light attacks or a killer move. It worked fairly well in single-player, but it’s a system where once you find one or two combos that work for you, there’s little reason to do much else. You will need to be a bit more on your toes if you go online or fight your friends, but eventually, it will boil down to taking advantage of the same combos.
When it comes to A Hero Nobody Knows’ presentation, the game does a good job capturing the art style and designs of the show. Existing characters have been faithfully recreated and look great. Your custom character will look good too, but during cutscenes will suffer from what I’ve coined as “flailing-hands syndrome.” Instead of speaking lines, the character will flail their arms around, implying a response. When your character actually speaks though isn’t much better, as the mouth just opens and closes and there is no change from the nose up on your face. It’s a bit unsettling.
On the audio front, fans of both the dub and subtitled version of One Punch Man will be happy here. Both the English and Japanese audio options are available. You don’t get the option to select either at the main screen though and you will have to change the option once you get into the game proper. The performances are solid and done by the voice actors from the anime.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows biggest shortcomings stem from just how much is locked behind progression and just how repetitive and generic quests are. Creating a game where you can make your own hero in an imaginative world like One Punch Man is brilliant. Giving players very few options to make said character and instead locking moves, outfits, styles and more behind aforementioned repetitive quests is just a bad idea, though. Even if you had no desire to play the story but just wanted a game night with your friends to play multiplayer, you will be disappointed with A Hero Nobody Knows. All of the multiplayer’s offerings are locked behind having to progress in the story, too. And once you unlock these new avenues, you will also have to unlock all of the fighters as well.
It’s a shame because One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows could have been a great game. The developers have proved they a strong grasp on the style and flair of the series. The hero arrival mechanic also lends itself perfectly to the lore and separates this from other anime arena fighters. Sadly, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows lands a glancing smack instead of a one-hit knockout.