An underlying simplicity and addictive playability are the hallmarks of the puzzle genre. Visual style and unique concepts or tweaks are arguably just icing on the cake. Capcom's new puzzler certainly isn't lacking in playability, and it's heaped with a few layers of tasty icing for good measure. As the landlord of a budding apartment building, you'll need to strategically manage a menagerie of eccentric tenants while constantly expanding so that you can rake in the rent money. Welcome to One Piece Mansion.
While not absolutely groundbreaking, the gameplay is really quite fresh. Unlike what we've come to expect from the many incarnations and mutations of Tetris, irregularly shaped apartments don't drop from the sky, and lining up three tenants of the same type will not make them disappear. You'll have to carefully assign and routinely switch around roommates to ensure any measure of peace and happiness in your building. Rather than trying to clear the screen, you'll be attempting to fill it with tenants to create the most congenial arrangements possible. And for safety's sake, make sure that each floor has access to at least one elevator.
New rooms can be built adjacent to any existing room, and renters can be freely swapped between living spaces. Each resident has a stress gauge, and his or her room radiates red (stress) or blue (positive) mood arrows that indicate how tenants are relating to one another. Harnessing and achieving balance between the positive and negative effects is the absolute key to a smoothly operated building.
As an example, Tobimaru--a ninja committed to tireless training--will repeatedly toss shuriken into the corners of his apartment, increasing the stress gauge of rooms diagonal to his. To counteract this stress, you can place the mysterious physician Dr. Ope to the right of an afflicted apartment, which will ensure that he periodically stick an oversized syringe through the wall to administer a stress-alleviating booster shot. Just watch out for the tenant who resides on the other side of the doctor, because what's in the other syringe isn't quite as pleasant.
The mood arrows of characters also varies depending on the amount of stress they're under. Ai-chan the love girl will always send out positive vibes in all directions, but her encouragement will grow weaker if she's surrounded by inconsiderate flatmates. Naturally, the happier you keep this young lady, the happier her neighbors will be.
Other characters undergo more drastic changes under pressure. The reclusive Rounin is normally too busy studying for his college entrance exams to emit any mood arrows, but if DJ Carlos upstairs cranks up his sound system too many notches, the reclusive owl will soon go stark raving mad and send some heavy angst to adjacent rooms. You'll need to switch occupants often if you want to avoid such scenarios, and things will get real frantic real fast if you let incompatible living arrangements remain unchanged.
In addition to normal residents whom you can freely assign to any available room, a rival mansion across the street will send so-called trouble tenants and eventually rivals/boss characters to make your life miserable. You can't move these characters to a different room, so the only way to be rid of them is to cause them so much stress that they are literally blown out of the building.
Aside from bringing ill will to those nearby, enemies will sometimes leave their apartments to wreak havoc on others, so you'll have to take direct control of your landlord in security mode to send them back to their rooms or thwart the occasional arson attempt with your trusty fire extinguisher.
By observing the wacky antics that take place in One Piece Mansion, the personality that the artists have injected into the denizens of your mansion is apparent. The comical, slightly off-kilter characters will cycle through fluidly animated routines and react to events around them. Shaggy, a vainglorious hairstylist, is visually reminiscent of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands as he chops away with his dual shears.
Other colorful occupants include an alien named Mee, who changes neighbors into cows or giant stone heads out of boredom; a mechanical horse-riding cowboy; and Kinokio, a familiar-looking boy carved out of wood. Some of the most difficult to manage include the gaseous, trash-eating monster Soudaigorou and the P-11 model quadrupedal robot--classically outfitted with machine gun and missiles. Not exactly the ideal neighbors. Boss characters are equally colorful, like an abrasive conductor who spawns noisy orchestra members or a spoon-wielding psychic.
That the people who populate your building have such personality and are not mere pieces in the puzzle undoubtedly gives One Piece Mansion more charm than a game that stars blocks, sticks, or tiles. The design and flavor of the game is very quirky and distinctly Japanese, but since there's no universal art style that appeals to everyone, the important thing is that it's well executed and adds flavor to the game, which is certainly the case here.
Appropriate sound effects accompany the onscreen actions, and a catchy synth soundtrack urges you on. Both can be somewhat repetitive--but fit in very well with the game's overall style--and can also come across as typical, functional puzzle fare. Volume and sound effects can't be adjusted individually, so to get the audio clues that the game provides (which are helpful since you can't always see your entire building at once), you'll need to have the sound on.
You'll manage your mansion through one of two camera angles, which you can freely toggle between. While the close-up look at the action provides a crisp, clear look at the tenants and really shows off the game's artistic flair, as your apartment rises above the height of three or four floors; however, this view becomes increasingly impractical. There is a minimap displayed in the lower right corner of the screen, which allows you to keep track of roaming problem tenants and the disasters they may have caused, but to effectively gauge how well your neighbors are getting along on a large scale, you'll need to zoom out.
Unfortunately, the far view of the action gives the game a slightly blurry look, and the camera is far enough away that it's hard to distinguish the details of the entertaining animations; therefore, it might be a bit tough to tell one similar character from another. The fact that this less-aesthetic view is often necessary to manage your building effectively is a bit irksome. Perhaps a midrange view would have made a nice addition, but as it is, you'll spend a vast majority of the time observing from afar and getting up close and personal only when you have some downtime.
The same basic mechanics apply in the game's two modes of play, story and endless. Story mode follows the diminutive landlord Polpo, then his sister Putica, through a series of seven challenges set forth by a rival mansion owner. Each level has its own objective, like making a certain amount of money or building to a certain height. While entertaining, story mode seems far too short and doesn't offer many different objectives. An experienced puzzle player may even blow through it in one sitting.
Fortunately, the aptly named endless mode has a little more life to it. You'll select from three levels of difficulty, which will determine how fast the game will flow, and simply keep things going for as long as your building can turn a profit. You're ranked by the number of trouble tenants you kicked out and the duration of time you managed to continue operating. While endless mode will easily provide lengthy and satisfying gaming sessions, the lack of an option to end or save your game on short notice can lead to some frustration.
The lack of a more extensive story mode or any kind of versus play is a red mark for the title, but the game remains a value at a bargain price. Most software merchants offer the game for $30, and the game can be ordered directly from Capcom for a mere $20. Offering an unfamiliar style of addictive puzzle gameplay and boasting the personality of a vast assortment of wacky characters, One Piece Mansion is a fine buy for fans of the genre.