Anime spin-off games always feel like a bit of a gamble sometimes. Predictably, it's hard to toe the line between fanservice and creating a mechanical experience that holds up when compared to the double and triple-A titles that saturate the market. After a whole gamut of Dragonball Z games, it feels like Bandai Namco has only just hit the jackpot with Kakarot this year. One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is light-hearted fun for fans but it feels like it's just one step on the evolutionary ladder of what a great spin-off title for the series could be.
For those who aren't familiar with the One Punch Man media franchise, well, there's really not a whole lot to explain. It's quite safe to take the name of it literally - the webcomic and popular anime revolve around a superhero who can KO his enemies with a single punch.
However, in A Hero Nobody Knows, you're taking the Sonic Forces approach: you create an OC who exists in the same universe as One Punch Man and a bunch of other superheroes, and your job is basically to kick butt and take names until you rank up. It's essentially about taking part in fights where you stall until more accomplished heroes can make it to your location to deliver the butt-kicking that your foes deserve.
Of course, what's important for fans here is the "bunch of other superheroes" bit. Yes, that flock includes Saitama. Mechanically, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows bears a lot of resemblance to the Dragon Ball spin-off games in the sense that they have mostly extraneous window dressing narratives that show up to provide memorable characters with cameo opportunities.
As the rookie hero that nobody knows, your job is essentially to provide stages for well-known heroes from the series to show up. It's all about fighting to buy time until someone like Saitama can show up to punch your enemy's lights out. After all, you're an amateur. The fact that the story mode is geared towards providing fanservice opportunities is, well, incredibly obvious; some enemies will simply be too much for you and will be impossible to defeat without Saitama king-hitting them.
There's nothing wrong with this approach if you're a die-hard fan of the franchise. After all, you're not here to look at your own OC. You're probably playing a One Punch Man game because you want to see said One Punch Man as well as other classic favorites from the series like Mumen Rider. You'll likely be perfectly fine with operating as a glorified meat bag to buy time until the characters you care about can make appearances.
And a glorified meat bag you are. The story mode and online mode will allow you to scour the streets around you for things to loot and by things, we just mean straight-up cash money. You'll be able to use this money to dress your character up, get furniture, and pick up more weapons. It's a neat little touch to how being a hero works in the franchise - it's not all glamor and the Avengers, it's mostly beating up street gangsters and making rent while occasionally treating yourself.
Those looking for an experience that's a bit more bombastic, though, we reckon will have a hard time feeling compelled by a gameplay loot that seems to hinge on you being Not Too Powerful, Not Too Fashionable, and Not Too Good at Saving People.
However, it's not that the game rewards you for being innately unskilled. If you're landing the necessary combos on your foes, being careful not to get wiped, and generally playing smart like this is any other fighting game match-up against a real person, you'll find that help from the cool heroes comes quicker. This mechanic rewards those who are old hats at action and fighting games and takes some of the sting out of being cannon fodder in the fight against crime.
Online multiplayer allows for a little more freedom once you've taken care of the story mode, which we don't think should take you longer than 20 hours even if you're a genre novice. There's a 3v3 mode in particular which is pretty fun, where your godsend killer (Saitama) shows up on a timer against your opponents and the only solution to such an assault is another Saitama. This sort of brevity translates well from the story and from the series as a whole, and we definitely enjoyed a chuckle or two trying to race against time to one-hit foes.
Multiplayer matches were decently easy to find considering that the title hasn't been out for long, and there weren't any game-breaking connection issues to detract from the smooth fighting experience offered throughout the rest of the game. No need for day one patches here to make the title playable - it's ready to go right out of the gate if you and some mates are enthusiasts of the series who already know what you want out of this experience.
For those who are wanting the most high-stakes mechanical experience, the 3v3 VS mode is definitely what you're going to gravitate to. However, just like the rest of the pretty package that One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is, your enjoyment of the mode definitely rests pretty heavily on continuing to be stoked, match after match, when Saitama rides in to save the day. That might be a tall order for those who have stumbled upon this looking for a pure fighting experience.
The VS mode is only unlockable once you've made a character for the main story mode and also cleared the tutorial, so we would advise that you take the time to gun through that anyway. It's fine as you don't mind slightly clumsy RPG interactions and trees which feel a little like roadblocks to the real fun of the chaotic, team-fighting action that the main story reaches for and which the multiplayer encapsulates.
One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows looks decent enough, plays decent enough, and offers enough to entertain both fans of the series and total newcomers for a time. However, whether or not you're going to go all the way when pursuing Saitama and greatness is a situation where your mileage will vary. Out of all the anime spin-off titles that are on the market, it's not quite the king hit that Spike Chunsoft may have been hoping for.