Pirates: Duels on the High Seas
The life of a pirate is often glamourised, but I don’t think it was all it was cracked up to be. Spending months out at sea, risking life and limb for booty and then leaving it on some deserted island seems somewhat stupid to me. Then there’s the fact that you’re a wanted criminal and if captured will most likely end up dead. Still, pirates are big business; just looking at the success of the recent Pirates of The Caribbean trilogy is enough to tell you that. The latest company to cash in on this revival is Oxygen with their game Pirates: Duels on the High Seas for the Nintendo DS, which is a sequel to the Wiiware’s Pirates: The Key of Dreams.
As an out-of-luck captain with a crew ready to mutiny, you’re confronted by a salty seadog who claims to have the answer to every captain’s prayers on a parchment and is willing to give it you for the price of his next tipple. Using the parchment you find treasure but wouldn’t you believe it, turns out to be cursed. The only chance to save your and your crew’s lives is by finding seven keys in seven seas in seven days. Ok, so the story sounds like it’s straight from the bin of a Pirates of the Caribbean scriptwriter. If this was the only problem I’d be happy, sadly it’s not.
The game sees you navigating a ship from a top-down perspective, attacking the Navy, merchants and the odd mythical creature amongst others along the way. Initial battles start off well, trying to out position opponents so you can fire without risk of being shot. Unfortunately it’s soon apparent that this isn’t necessary and battles end up taking the form of button bashing, firing the cannons or special weapons as quickly as possible before moving onto the next opponent. On occasions the sinking ships leave behind crates or even crewmembers. Whilst the crates improve the score, crewmembers will provide power-ups in four key areas; range, navigation, cartography and shipwright. These provide the only real tactical choice in the game, but you’ll probably only use range and shipwright.
There are other flaws as well, like the fact that most of the ‘action’ takes place in rivers and harbours, which makes the level design extraordinary linear; anybody looking for open sea exploration will be out of luck. Then there are the controls which make little use of the DS’s touch screen features and are used solely to select the crew’s ability. Instead the shoulder buttons are used to propel the ship not only forward but also curiously backward as well. The D-pad is used to steer, with the face buttons used to fire the ship’s weapons. Finally there’s the woeful A.I which on occasions takes little notice of your presence, finds friendly fire acceptable and thinks nothing of slamming into obstacles. There is also a skirmish mode, which pits you against either three other players or A.I players, but considering the A.I is as poor as the main game, it leaves you wanting to find somebody else willing to play this game (good luck there).
I was hoping that Pirates: Duels on the High Seas would be a strategic game. Using the wind and terrain to your advantage, firing the cannons at the perfect time to launch the perfect assault; it could have been amazing. Disappointingly, with poor A.I, little replay value and poor use of the systems trademark features it’s turns out to be as entertaining as scurvy.