If you need a new fighting game to have with you on the go, here's One. Featuring some pretty nice-looking 3D graphics and a good create-a-fighter system, One definitely has its share of distinguishing features. But the quality of the action itself doesn't compare to that which can be found in console fighting games, though it's fairly satisfying for what it is.
The title of the game refers to the moniker given to whomever is the greatest fighter around. There's a story mode that tracks your quest to become the "one," and before you begin it, you must create your own fighter, who essentially becomes your sole playable character throughout the game. You can customize your fighter as often as you wish, but you're limited to cosmetic changes to your character's clothing and hairstyle. The game gives you lots of options for different clothes and accessories right from the start, and many more are unlocked as you progress through the story mode. The quality of One's visuals makes even some fairly subtle differences, like shoes and gloves, quite noticeable even in practice.
Despite the seemingly limitless options you've got in terms of tweaking your fighter's appearance, you're stuck using largely the same variety of moves over and over. One attempts to add depth to its one-on-one fighting system by letting you easily switch between three different fighting styles at the touch of a button, and each style has its own moves. The offensive stance is focused on quick strikes and combos; the defensive stance deals with grapples and counterattacks; and the normal stance is a balanced combination of the other two. You'll face a variety of computer-controlled opponents over the course of the story, and chances are you'll quickly find one stance or another that lets you beat them down. Sure enough, the offensive stance is your best bet more often than not, because the easiest way to defend against a string of fast punches and kicks is by responding in kind. The computer's ability to easily break out of throws also discourages you from messing with some of the more powerful grappling moves available from the defensive stance.
The action itself moves at a decent enough frame rate and is relatively responsive. Some of the martial arts moves do look quite good, but the action still feels rather flat, especially because defeated opponents don't actually fall over--they just stand there, and even if you throw them down at the end of a round, they'll get back up. The sounds of punches and kicks are pretty bland, too, and there's no background music that plays during a typical batch. The game's textured 3D backgrounds are probably the nicest aspect of the presentation, but you can't help but wonder if simpler backgrounds could have allowed for smoother hand-to-hand combat. One other technical issue worth mentioning is that the story mode autosaves your progress after each batch of several opponents. It's odd and not very conducive to the game's portable format that you can't just save your progress after every battle. Noticeably long loading times between fights also detract from One's pick-up-and-play quality.
As you win and lose matches, your character's ranking changes accordingly. The idea is that beating a much more experienced opponent will make you rank up more than if you trash someone who's barely ever fought, and conversely, your rank will take a nosedive if you lose to a weak fighter. It's a pretty good idea in theory, especially because One features Bluetooth multiplayer support as well as an N-Gage Arena mode, which presumably means you'd be able to pit your fighter against multiple human opponents. However, in practice, this might be difficult to accomplish. Over a week of playing, we never could log into the N-Gage Arena servers, for example, and the game, manual, and official message boards offered little recourse. Even so, the lack of substantial variety in the combat makes us wonder whether One would really be all that much more entertaining when played against strangers.
The idea of having a portable fighting game in which you can create your own unique character and use him or her to compete against other players from around the world, anytime and anywhere, is definitely exciting. But One just doesn't quite live up to these promises, whether through limitations of the N-Gage's technology or through some of its own shortcomings. It's still an unusual game that's suggestive of how other fighting games might continue to evolve, but most fighting game fans would be better off sticking to whatever they've been playing on consoles lately.