By Levi . September 6, 2007 . 7:15pm
If there's one thing that can't be denied about One Piece Gear Spirit, it's that it's very pretty. Indeed, the game sports some of the cleanest 3D graphics I've seen on the DS. It also sports quite the heavy roster, weighing in at 20 characters. On the gameplay side of things, however, One Piece Gear Spirit doesn't quite live up to it's potential. It's a fun game, mind you, but there's so much more that it could have done.
The meat of the game is the Story Mode, in which you select a character and play through six stages, plus two extra stages if you so choose. Battles in Story Mode consist of anywhere between two and four characters duking it out in one of eight stages. After a match, your character's bounty rises depending on how well you do in the fight. This allows you to unlock more cards to use during matches (more on cards in a bit). After completing the initial six stages in a character's Story Mode, you unlock a new character and possibly other things, like new stages. You're then given the choice to go back to the map screen and play an additional two stages, though aside from a higher bounty, there's really no incentive to play these. Story Mode really feels quite limited compared to that of other DS fighters. It's very straightforward, with no hidden stages or branching paths. Adding these would have given Story Mode far more substance than it has.
One Piece Gear Spirit features a card system much like the one in the Bleach DS series. Inbetween stages in Story Mode, or from the Deck Edit menu selection on the title screen, you can edit your deck and add new cards that you've unlocked. Cards have effects like restoring your health, giving you extra speed or attack power, or triggering your super moves. New cards are unlocked by increasing your character's bounty, which can be done by winning matches in either Story Mode or Battle Mode (essentially Versus Mode). There are over 130 cards in the game (133, to be exact), so collecting them all will take players quite some time.
The game plays kinda like a "Smash Bros. Lite". There's two attack buttons, a jump button, and a block button. You can also do different attacks with the strong attack button by holding up or down while pressing the button. However, the weak attack button only does one attack. The fighting system feels quite limited because of this. Each character only has eight normal moves, counting aerial attacks, plus three super moves. Also, it's quite easy to corner an opponent and simply spam weak attacks until they're KO'ed. Super moves are triggered by touching a super move card on the touchscreen. Your character will be surrounded by blue energy for a few seconds and during this time you can press the strong attack button to make your character charge forward. If you connect with an opponent, you'll trigger a super move cutscene. These cutscenes are really quite cool looking, as well.
One Piece Gear Spirit also features both single-card and multi-card multiplayer, though I unfortunately haven't been able to test these features out yet. While Wi-Fi support would have been nice, I doubt that the game's fighting engine would lend itself well to competitive play. There's simply not enough difference in the characters to support a large competitive player base like Jump Ultimate Stars or Bleach DS 2nd have. Another issue that plagues the game is a lack of modes. Aside from the Story and Battle modes, there's…well, nothing else. A Survival Mode or even a Training Mode would have been nice.
Overall, One Piece Gear Spirit is not a bad game. It just doesn't live up to the potential that it has. If the fighting engine were more refined, it would be the best 3D fighter on the DS. Well, actually, considering that it's only competition in that area is the abysmal Naruto: Shinobi Retsuden, it IS the best 3D fighter on the DS. Still, that's not really saying much. But if you're a One Piece fan, you'll love this game. The nice graphics, hefty roster, and detailed backgrounds will certainly appeal to fans of the series. If you're just looking for a good fighter to play on the DS, and you've already gotten Bleach DS 2nd and Jump Ultimate Stars, then One Piece Gear Spirit is definitely worth a look, as well. Let's all just hope that Namco Bandai and Matrix Software give us a sequel. There's definite room for improvement here, and if the developers really address the gameplay issues, then a sequel could very well be the best fighter on the DS. Here's hoping!