When I previewed ONE PUNCH MAN: A HERO NOBODY KNOWS last year, I played a limited build of the game that only showcased the game’s VS mode offering. After enjoying the non-stop 3v3 action, I left the event optimistic and excited for the full release. It seemed like developer Spike Chunsoft had successfully captured the soul of the anime in a simple, yet satisfying, 3D team fighter. I was also impressed with the mechanic that helped to contain Saitama’s overpowered strength. These elements still remain, but they are unfortunately pulled down by pretty much everything else in the game. Here are the full details in our One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows review.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | Prepare to RPG!
The story follows the first season of the show, though with the player controlling a voiceless, custom character who starts out as the lowest C Class hero. This character is sometimes aided by heroes of the anime, but the player will often be left fighting alone, or with some random online avatars provided as backup. When key fights of the show happen in-game, Saitama will make his appearance to save the day. It’s these moments that stand out as actually entertaining, as you get to control a number of familiar faces, before ultimately resorting to that famous one-punch strike.
When you aren’t reliving those awesome anime moments, however, you’re instead grinding through the rankings at the Hero Association via a variety of missions and side content. This is where the charm is quickly lost, with cinematics and voice acting sacrificed for bursts of exposition text and too-small subtitles.
The game demands that you reach a certain reputation milestone before allowing you to continue with the next main mission. This would be fine if character missions (where you can learn new moves) and higher difficulty fights (where you earn more reputation) were more unique, but enemies are repeated and mission conditions remain mostly the same.
When it sticks to the show, it’s good, but when it strays into predictable RPG padding, with long loading times between scenes, this One Punch Man game becomes a tedious slog. I’d say two out of my 15 hours spent with the game were enjoyable, while the others just felt needlessly grindy and resulted in little satisfaction.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | The struggle continues
Despite playing One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows on a PS4 Pro, the game still managed to look poor. After coming from Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, whose stylized visuals really delivered, I was taken aback by the bland textures and rough aliasing (jagged edges) found in Saitama’s world. It’s perhaps an unfair comparison, but even without Kakarot to compare to, One Punch Man isn’t a looker.
What’s more, the sound is also bad. In fact, it’s downright offensive to the ears if you dare to put headphones on. Many voice lines suffer from distortion, either from being too loud or too low quality (or both). If you’ve ever tried to record audio with a mic that’s too hot, then you’ll know the effect of clipping. This is a major issue when the same lines are being repeated over and over again in fights.
Adding insult to injury are the frame drops. On PS4 Pro, the frame-rate can get real choppy, real fast, especially when you enable online. Thankfully, this only really affects the areas outside of battle, so it isn’t a game-breaking problem. Battles only occasionally experience slowdown when another hero shows up or a field effect triggers. It’s kind of like Smash Bros., only with unintentional slow motion through chugging frames. Off-putting, but rare.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | Now this is one-punching!
When you aren’t completing dull fetch quests or shopping to customize your character or room, you’ll be experiencing the better part of this fighting game: the actual fighting!
To spice up the battles, you’re provided with a number of conditions to complete. Achieve all three and you’ll win an item to help boost your reputation, gold, etc. These conditions don’t vary enough for my liking, but it’s nice to have an additional challenge to add to the repeated spamming of special moves.
While I could beat most CPU opponents with the same button spam, other enemy types demanded that I think a little differently about my approach. Esper enemies use psychic powers, while Cyborgs have backpacks full of mechanical atrocities. Massive spider legs erupt from the latter’s bag, which in a flash can turn into a laser beam launcher. The player character can also employ Psychic and Cyborg battle styles, as well as many other forms that come with their own moves. I grew fond of the Monster style, in particular.
Disappointingly, unique encounters are few and far between, with most fights best approached in the same way, regardless of how you customize your own character.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | 3v3 me, bro!
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows’ VS mode is where this game starts to shine and where it won me over a little. This is what I experienced during a preview event last year and it’s still the same, fun experience.
While you rarely control the titular hero during the single-player story, you’re able to take full advantage of the character in VS. The greatest achievement of this game is how Saitama is implemented without being compromised by a major nerf.
You see, in order for a player to use the One Punch Man in battle, they must first wait for him to arrive on the scene. This means that in a 3v3 encounter, you have to survive against the opponent’s three characters while you are a fighter down. It’s a risk and reward mechanic that actually adds a lot of tension. The need to dodge and avoid powerful strikes, as you wait for Saitama to appear, makes for a truly interesting challenge.
It’s very well done, and I have to give props to the developers for coming up with the idea, but unfortunately the gimmick does wear off after a couple of hours. I quickly found myself abandoning Saitama and choosing one of the other 20-odd characters instead, which are unlocked through story progression.
My main highlights in the game come from the online VS battles. Though the combat mechanics are shallow, when compared to other fighting titles, the variety of characters and battle types made things interesting for a handful of hours. What’s more, I didn’t experience any lag during my launch weekend testing, which is definitely a good sign. There is also a local option so you can fight friends on the couch, which is a nice (albeit basic) option to see.
It’s worth noting that you will need to create a character and go through the introduction sequences to be able to access the VS mode, which is a little annoying.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | Wrong place, wrong genre
It’s a shame that One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows cripples itself with RPG elements that just don’t need to exist. Opting for quantity over quality has really caused this game to suffer.
I think the strength of the VS mode encapsulates what this game does right and it would have been good to see that expanded upon with a traditional hour-long fighting game Story Mode, with new characters unlocked through repeated completion. A Challenge Mode utilizing different mutators to keep things fresh, while a Survival Mode forces players to keep on fighting while backup arrives, would have also been great to see. Funny cinematics to break up the epic battles, with known heroes and villains chipping in with unique voice lines, could have helped mirror the vibe of the anime further.
Adopting that classic Tekken/Street Fighter-like structure would have resulted in a much stronger execution, I feel. Saitama could have been made to shine more often, with the genius “buying time” mechanic used for unique challenges against ridiculously powerful enemies.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review | Wait for Bargain Day at the supermarket
Sadly, we instead have a game that is largely built around wasting the player’s time, with half-baked RPG mechanics doing little to enhance the experience, ultimately hindering the better parts and drawing attention to the lost potential.
I understand that the budget for niche titles like this is going to be limited, but this is still a $60 title with a $19.99 Character Pass and needs to be reviewed as such. Perhaps a severe drop in price would make this worth a look, but for now only extremely hardcore One Punch Man fans should consider making a purchase.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows was reviewed on a PS4 Pro with code provided by the publisher.