There must be a trend going on at the moment in WiiU eStore games. Having just played ‘Gravity Badgers’ I’m now moving onto a different animal with a certain characteristic in ‘Monkey Pirates’, a multiplayer focussed voyage on the high seas. What next? Karate Chinchillas. Shopping Ostrich? Doctor Squirrel?
Dressed up in a graphical style not entirely dissimilar to Wind Waker, this is a no-frills battle strategy game as you take a bird’s eye look over a map and attack your enemies using your ship. The fact that you are a monkey is pretty much incidental to the plot aside from the purpose of collecting bananas, but we’ll gloss over that for the moment as a way of a catchy title to pull in the casual gaming crowd.
The game is split into two primary modes – challenge and verses, and verses further more into two flavours.
You play the game by seeing above that action as your ship traverses the seven seas. The wind direction changes at the start of each game so depending on which direction you sail, as depicted on a range of colours surrounding your boat, your speed of travel will change from standing still to full steam ahead. The landscape is littered with rocks and other obstacles as well as everything from mines to exploding volcanoes depending on the level. You can also pick up chests and other bonuses for extra rewards and tricks as well as, naturally as a pirate, fire cannonballs, three at a time from your boat with a limited range, and you get bananas – the games version of points – for every opponent you hit. You also lose lives for hitting obstacles three times, with each mode offering slight variations on the basic ideas.
The challenges menu is the most straight forward. With a choice of four challenges – including collect the treasures and ones that testing your drifting, shooting and destruction skills. Successful challenge completion leads to a place on the high score board as well as medals.
Onto verses and there are two modes. ‘Classic’, which is for up to four players, solely uses the wiimotes so you can throw your GamePad away for this (well, not literally, it’s an expensive piece of kit!). Here you can pick one of four monkey-based characters – and not all have to be unique – as well as having AI players making up the numbers if you don’t have enough friends. Each monkey has a different advantage to play, from being faster to having a better shooting range. You can also pick one of eleven different feints which gives you a certain advantage in a particular situation, giving the game even more of a technical slant.
You can pick one of nine maps to play – or have one selected randomly – and one of three game styles, including ‘Stand by the board’, the regular game; ‘Jolly Rodger’, a spin on keep the flag, in this case a literal skull and cross bones, where you gain more bananas the longer you avoid being bumped which loses you the flag; and ‘Bananas Race’ a collect-a-thon of floating banana chests, though one that feels a little hollow as crashing out loses you all your bananas, so it’s often a game down to the last few seconds mattering rather than the whole game. You can also tweak the time length of play or the target points if you wish as well as which bonuses appear during play, either a theme or personal preference.
Bonuses include view-obstructing voodoo masks, invincibility sheets and the coconut juice, which reverses your controls temporarily and makes the map go all drunk and wobbling, like in Yoshi’s Island’s ‘Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy’. Also watch out for the typhoon which swaps players positions around.
Control wise the tank-style operation gets a bit of getting used to but it’s never as easy to control as you’d hope, the wind direction, speed and general avoidance of obstacles all playing their part in making it a frustrating experience. Throw in the fact that power-ups are plentiful and regular and it all gets a bit messy and confusing, like a game of Mario Kart if you received a blue shell or green shell every five seconds. As much as there is skill involved in playing, there is a lot of luck in play as well and you never quite feel like you’re fully in control of your vehicle and you’re just a, well, monkey pressing the controls.
There’s also the Sea King mode, which is arguably the best mode to play, where one player is the Sea King (read: God) with the GamePad overseeing the map. The other players, up to four, with AI characters filling in the gaps where required and if desired, continue battling as on the regular game but the Sea King gets a choice of three objectives from which they can choose one, using a series of bonuses on a player of their choice to fulfil it, the options available to them refilling over time after they’ve been used, and they score points for every fulfilled objectives. Though this is quite an inspired mode it ends up meaning the majority of efforts from the other players have little impact on the game, with the Sea King all but shaping the entire performance, and at the end the God-like player doesn’t even get to appear on the main scoreboard for their troubles, invalidating much of their efforts.
Outside of the main game there is a tutorial mode which simply and easily teases you into the game, as well as a multi-page, perhaps too-multi-page, ‘How to Play’ menu. But with many spelling errors scattered through it – including ‘lose’ spelt both as ‘loose’ and ‘losse’ as well as many rogue apostrophes – you wonder how much time has been spent play testing this game which is fun while it lasts, but that’s not for long. Throw in some dodgy accented monkeys and an occasionally game opener that sounds quite close to ‘Always up to get some sluts’, and it leaves you scratching your head a little, like an orang-utan with a hair complaint.
There are limited options outside with two volume controls and a choice of – steady – two different languages (my French isn’t good enough to know if that’s as mangled) alongside the credits and some limited statistics.
The music is jaunty and very much pirate influenced and providing you don’t hover on the menus too long or concentrate on its repetitive nature, it’ll do. The cel-shaded Wind Waker-esque style suits the piece but it doesn’t particularly test the power of the WiiU, and it also experiences slow down at points when there’s a lot going on, which doesn’t sound right.
But it’s the game play that lets the package down. At times crazy, at times confusing, you’re often unsure what’s going on, lacking in control and experiencing confusion over which coloured character you are, often because of the regularity and scattergun approach of power-ups. A classic example of showing how little impact a player has was when one player put down the controller and seemingly was still scoring points from the random sailings of their cut-loose boat. Weird.
Naturally it’s a game to enjoy with friends so we sat down and experienced ‘Monkey Pirates’ in its full multiplayer glory. Here is, in a nutshell, what my friends had to say:
CARL: “What on earth is going on?”
RACHAEL: “I don’t think it’ll get much replay after today. There’s too much pot luck in actual playing than gaming.”
IAN: “It’s a very party orientated game for people who don’t care about winning or losing. It’s not for your actual gamers as no sense of skill is needed. As opposed to, say, Mario Kart which requires skill, this just goes round in circles.”
For under a fiver it’s not an entirely dislikeable eStore game. There’s enough in it to justify the purchase, the graphical style is nice and there’s a good selection of modes and styles, and a high score system that will keep you wanting to come back to beat your previous efforts, if you can stomach the frustrations of the set-up.
The gameplay feels too manic and uncontrollable and the sheer volume and frequency of power-ups just kills the game. ‘Monkey Pirates’ is a game that’s good enough for the price and size of the package, but it’s a game lacking in polish that needed more play testing and a good spell checker, and a simian based theme which feels tacked on for the sake of a memorable name. It hardly uses the GamePad and its lack of Miiverse optimisation and internet high scores a shame.
It’s not completely bananas, but hardly the King Kong of eStore games out there. Maybe with a quick dictionary friendly patch with some tweaks to the overall formula it could gather up a few more points.
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