Ahoy there me hearties, Cap’n Sophie here. I got me a parrot and cut off a leg and now I is bringing you a review of this ‘ere game called Overboard. A game that you lily livered, barnacle bottomed, so-called gamers is shamefully neglecting, damn your eyes! And no criticising the way I speaks, cos Overboard is a Pirate game. And ever since Pirates.. er, begins, Pirates only speaks in the present tense. First person ‘ere that uses a past or pluperfect tense dies where he stands!! OoArr!!
Coff!! Hack.. Sorry I can’t keep the voice up. My remaining leg hurts and the parrot keeps biting my ear. Guess I’m not cut out to be a pirate after all. But at least I can be a virtual pirate thanks to this superb little gem of a PlayStation game released by Psygnosis back in 1997.
Describing Overboard is quite tricky. It sort of a puzzle game, sort of an action game, sort of a maze game and there’s a hefty dose of strategy game thrown in as well. You’re in command of a Pirate galleon and your objective is to collect all of the message-in-a-bottles that are floating around each level. Every time you find one you will unlock another section of sea to explore, the final bottle will bring you into a confrontation with a Boss character for that level. You have a health bar that is diminished if you take damage from a trap or an enemy. You also collect treasure chests to unlock secret areas as well as power-ups, ammo and health via the marked containers also bobbing about in the sea. The controls are very simple, you steer with the d-pad, use R1 to go forwards. L2 and R2 toggle different weapons and circle and cross to fire your weapons in different directions.
The actual playing area is the sea, but split into a maze-like network of small harbours. These are locked off sequentially until you solve a simple puzzle and can progress to the next area. These are generally not too taxing, you’ll simply have to destroy all the enemies in one section or shoot a buoy or collect the relevant bottle. There are obstacles and traps to be avoided, including humorously OTT spinning saw-blades (yes in the sea, heh) and flame cannons. Getting caught by the flames is particularly amusing as you desperately drive your boat round in circles trying to put out your flaming sails and collecting your crew who start to jump overboard. There are also enemies in the form of sinister grey rival galleons, and fantastic wooden airships.
There are five levels, Caribbean, Artic, Inca, Industrial and Middle Eastern. Once you reach the end of the level you’ll face off against a bizarre creature like the killer octopus or the exploding dinosaur. There is also a fun multi-player option that supports up to five players (with multi-tap). In this mode you are all dropped into one arena and have to scramble for the best power-ups before blasting each other out of the water. It’s an amusing and well-thought out extra mode that add some longevity to an already pretty challenging single-player game.
Considering the age of the game its graphics have aged very well. Its cartoony nature has not rendered as dated as other offerings from that time. Although your galleon moves unrealistically, zooming about at high speed, turning quickly and stopping suddenly it still looks real. It tilts and rocks on the waves in the way a huge galleon would. It leaves foamy trails in the water and even its tiny sails move in the wind. The game also handles lots of teeny weeny galleons, airships and kamikaze sharks etc on screen at once with no slow-down or choppiness. The galleon is very responsive to your controls and basically, if you get hit by the spinning saw blades or set on fire you only really have yourself to blame.
The pitched battles against multiple opponents can be trickier. Often you will lose a life or two while you’re learning which weapons are the best to use. Luckily there are passwords for each section and a quick save option for fast restarts, you can also accumulate plenty of extra lives as you progress in the game. The animation of the various weapons is very distinctive; you really notice the difference between firing a broadside of five cannonballs into another ship or shooting a rocket into a circling zeppelin.
The music and sound effects are perfect for the game. The music is a mellow combination of Spanish guitars and hot xylophone action. This will subtly change with each area, in the Caribbean level they throw in few steel drums and maracas. In the Middle-Eastern level there is a gentle almost ambient feel to the relaxing wind chimes plinking away in the background. On top of this are some fabulous sound effects. Mostly variations on an explosions theme it has to be said, but very meaty and satisfying. In fact at one point I nearly jumped out of my skin when lulled by the relaxed music I turned the volume up on my TV louder than I thought. A huge bang signalled the onslaught of some enemy ships and I had to pick up the pad that had flown out of my hand in shock.
In an age where games seem to be trying to outdo each other in seeing how cynically they can pander to a perceived desire for sick violence. Or exploiting consumers with poorly thought out clones and licensed crap it is refreshing to find a true original. Overboard isn’t violent, it isn’t flashy; it has no deep plots or grand pretensions. It’s a sweet little game that mixes simple puzzling with great graphics and sound and genuinely captures the essence and feel of our traditional view of what it must have been like to be a pirate back in the Olden Days.