Maritime piracy, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, consists of any unlawfulness committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship that is directed on the high seas against another ship or against persons or property on board another ship. In other words naughty, swash-buckling, thigh-slapping, rum-tankard-clanking fun.
Sid Meier originally released this title back in 1987 and has reincarnated it many times since. In this game the possibilities are endless and pretty much everything is customisable – from the era in which you play, to the figurehead on your boat. Every game is different and the only form of predetermined end is when your character has grown old and is too fragile and decrepit to continue running your fleet. So how the game pans out fully depends on your choices – you are the chief, boss and large cheese. You’ll need to flex your tactical and strategic thinking abilities in many ways, including choosing a marriage partner, deciding which products to trade and which ships to entice to battle.
You actually learn a little bit about history from this game too, as the different eras (that range from 1560 through to 1680 in twenty year instalments) alter the game drastically in that they provide different challenges as the political and economic situations shift through the times. You can find out how the Spanish, Dutch, French and English fared at different points in history in conquering the Caribbean islands, and then completely rewrite history as you work for your chosen nationality.
You’re introduced to the game by an opening scene where you discover that your character (in my case Mr SquirrelFace) was once part of a newly prosperous family living in the beautiful Caribbean until one fateful evening when pirates burst in, rudely pillaged the house and enslaved your family members. You, however, luckily manage to escape and become a vagabond, roaming the streets searching for scraps and sleeping in the gutter until (eventually), ten years down the line, you are a fully grown man and decide to take vengeance for your family. You sign up to a pirate outfit and start the search for your enemy, the evil Marquis de la Montalban (the dude who stole your family away).
Once you have taken part in a mutiny on-board your ship and been elected as captain, you start sailing around the seas, visiting different ports and cities, conquering and trading at will. As soon as you select ‘attack’ on a passing vessel the screen goes into close-up combat mode and the cannon-ball lobbing commences. The balls do tend to have a mind of their own when in battle and the ship can get sluggish, so actually consistently striking your opponent isn’t very likely, but this is a Wii game – it’s not going to be deadly accurate. At least when your balls are missing the opponent and theirs are hitting you it doesn’t really matter as the health bars are so incredibly inaccurate that a cannon-full of balls can do a teensy bit of damage, while one single one can nearly capsize you, so you can win pretty much every battle until you reach the harder difficulty levels. If you are fighting a particularly cowardly ship and they try and sail away from you the battle is cancelled and you have to find someone else to pick on – fair enough, but there is a bug that when you are fighting a fleet, which you do ship by ship, the battle is cancelled when another ship in the fleet sails too far away from you – even though you’re fighting one right next to you.
Personally, I prefer ramming into the opposing ship and climbing aboard for some face-to-face action. You select your sword and then the fencing combat starts, or frantic remote wiggling as my play often boils down to. There are several little touches in this game that I really like, for instance you can dance with the ladies, try and pick the lock to get out of jail and when fencing you can grab the second controller and get your parrot to attack your foe by pecking them, flying around their heads and generally getting in the way. Heehee.
In the different ports and cities you can go into the local tavern and recruit more crew members, talk to the bar-wench or bartender about that day’s gossip and learn where the top ten pirates have been spotted, or talk to the mysterious stranger sitting in the corner who will try and flog you some interesting stuff even when you haven’t got enough gold. This is a good layout, but it has the drawback that the same tavern appears in each city, with the same tired characters just with different hair colours. One thing that did make me chortle was the new governor that I’d just appointed in one particular port said to me “Well I hear that you’ve elected a new governor in one of your ports”… yeah, you – you eijit.
I enjoyed this game. As with many games it has little foibles and laughable moments but I think that adds to it. It has good quests that are neither too hard nor too easy and I especially like the way you control what’s going on. I recently played a different game of a completely separate nature and it kept telling me what to do and what to click on and I got so frustrated! But Pirates! isn’t like that, you get to decide what goes on and that in my book is a major plus. So my opinion is this: Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a top-notch game if ever there was one, well worth the money and time. Arrr (sorry, I had to – come on, it’s a game about pirates).
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