One Piece: Pirates Carnival Hands-On

We play minigames with pirates as we check out this anime-inspired party game from Namco Bandai.

Currently scheduled for release on the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube this fall, One Piece: Pirates' Carnival is a party game inspired by the popular One Piece anime. One Piece: Pirates' Carnival comprises over 30 different minigames, which support up to four players, and includes an Othello-like board game mode in which winning minigames lets you take control of squares and recruit pirates for your ship's crew. We recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a PS2 work-in-progress version of the game, and we can report that it retains the look and feel of the anime in a way that should appeal to the fans without alienating players who have no prior knowledge of Luffy's Straw Hat Pirates and company.

Although One Piece: Pirates' Carnival supports up to four players, you can have the CPU--for which four difficulty levels are available--take control of up to three of those if you don't have enough friends to fill a game. You'll each choose to play as a different Straw Hat Pirate, and the characters on the roster (for those of you to whom these names will mean something) include Luffy, Zolo, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, and Robin. Dozens of other characters from One Piece appear in the game, as well, and captains such as Buggy, Kuro, Don Krieg, and Arlong even have their own minigames in which three players get to gang up on them.

The first time you play One Piece: Pirates' Carnival, you have the option to check out a brief tutorial that explains the workings of the board game, which is slightly more complex than it looks. It's not that the game is difficult to play (although some of the minigames can take a little getting used to), but every time you attempt to take control of a square on the board, you'll be presented with a character card, a captain card, a Davy back card, or an event card, all of which do different things. Character cards let you choose one of three minigames to play against your opponents for control of the square, captain cards let you play as a powerful captain character in a minigame against all of the other players, Davy back cards give you a chance to capture an opponent's square by beating them in a captain game, and event cards award you a square automatically before hitting you with a random penalty or bonus.

The minigames are every bit as varied as their bizarre titles suggest.

Every time you initiate a minigame, you'll have an opportunity to check out its goals and controls before you start, which is just as well since many of them are anything but intuitive. So far, we've unlocked more than 20 of One Piece: Pirates' Carnival's minigames after just a couple of hours play, which include such memorably titled offerings as Cooking Fighter, Chop Chop Festival, Kung Fu Jugon Punch Out, Balloon Dive Chicken Race, Battle of the Long Stilts, and Where Is Panda Man? These games are every bit as varied as their titles suggest, and perhaps the only thing they all have in common is that they go from being mind-boggling to simple within just a few seconds when attempting to play them for the first time. For example, figuring out the subtleties of the controls in the Supersonic Ledge Race minigame, which required us to ride supersonic ducks up a vertical cliff face by mashing two buttons in turn and using a third button to grab onto ledges occasionally, took us just long enough to ensure that we had very little chance of winning the first time we played.

One Piece: Pirates' Carnival looks quite promising right now, and while it's clearly aimed at younger players and fans of the One Piece anime, there really doesn't appear to be any reason why any of you who don't fit into one of the aforementioned pigeonholes shouldn't have some fun with it. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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