Sid Meier’s Pirates!ESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Action Games
Publisher: 2K Games
1-2 players local player (cooperative)
Supports play with just the Wii Remote
Includes several mini-games
Chances are that no matter your age, if you’re a gamer you’ve heard of Sid Meier’s Pirates! Originally released in 1987 and ported to pretty much every platform in existence around that time, Pirates was remade in 2004 and released on PC, Xbox and PSP. The Xbox title was re-released on Xbox Live on the 360 and now it comes to the Wii. Despite being heavily into gaming even in the late ‘80’s this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to play any Pirates game. For that reason, this review will focus not on the differences between this and other versions, but rather simply my experience with the game, which was pretty good.
For a Wii title the graphics are pretty good. It’s a very good sized world and there’s plenty of detail on screen. The water effects are relatively good. I’m talking about how they look here, not how the water acts. There’s plenty of customizable detail for both your character (mullet for the win) and your ships. Everything moves along nice and fluidly and the colours are bright, vibrant and fun. Towns blend together from one port to the next and everyone’s pub seems to have an identical interior and same core generic people in them. I’m willing to overlook that because that part of the game really isn’t about how it looks. Where the game looks its best is at sea and I think that’s where it counts.
I’m not sure if the original game or any of its myriad of platform releases ever had voice acting but this Wii version simply does not. Even bad voice acting is better than none. Instead, any speaking is a slim set of Sims-like gibberish. Thumbs down. Fortunately the rest of the game’s sound is pretty good and the music is charming and varied enough that I didn’t get sick of it during my time with the game.
Pirates has a relatively simply story that surrounds your efforts to find your family who were thought to be lost at sea after an encounter with pirates. After a relatively brief somewhat playable intro that sets the difficulty and a couple of other things, you find yourself as a pirate sailing your ship around the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean is essentially your world map. The game plays out with you sailing your ship (and fleet eventually) around to different ports and participating in various mini-games. Since this is a Wii game, several of these mini-games have been tweaked for motion control. This is both good and bad but more on that later.
The entire game is played simply with the Wii Remote. You can play the game entirely one-handed which makes for a pretty fun “kick back with your legs up” gaming experience. Even the motion controls are simple flicks of the wrist.
You sail around the main map using the directional pad to turn your ship left and right. You can raise or lower your sails to adjust your speed but for the most part you’re at the mercy of the wind which is shown clearly on-screen. It’s simple stuff but it works pretty much like any other sandbox game. The sea is alive with activity with ships of all kinds going about their business. If you want to attack any of them go right ahead and you launch into a naval battle mini-game where you can shoot different types of cannon shot to damage or sink the other ship. During this mini-game, if you can get close enough to the other ship you trigger another mini-game that either captures that ship for you to plunder or puts you into a simple sword fight with the ship’s captain.
The sword fighting controls are extremely basic and really don’t do much to enhance the game. You swipe left, right or up with the Remote for attacks and there are some button presses for defensive parries, jumping and taunting. I often found it easy enough with just the gesture attacks to win most fights which aren’t limited to fighting ship captains. You will encounter various foes during your quest and in the various towns and ports that you visit.
Mini-games aside, the bulk of the game play in Pirates is spent visiting the various ports and finding more information to progress the main plot along with various side quests. You might be asked to bring a certain someone who is in hiding to justice, escort ships to other ports, dance with the mayor’s daughter (sans any GTA’esque ending thankfully). You earn money through various means such as plundering captured vessels, finding buried treasure (found by pointing the Remote at the screen and using it as a spyglass) and trading goods in the various ports and taking advantage of favourable buy/sell values. The trading aspect part of the game wasn’t really my bag but I didn’t find it necessary to get through the game. In-game currency can be used to upgrade your ship and fleet with things like better armour, better firepower, enhanced speed or agility or the ability to carry more crew men. You can also customize the ships in your fleet with various items which can be fun and gives things a little identity.
There are a couple of mini-games that are exclusive to the Wii. One has you picking locks if you’ve been thrown in jail or bombarding unfriendly towns whom you’ve peeved off earlier the game. These games are fun in that they’re not simply waving the remote around from side to side. When’s all said and done I don’t feel the motion controls add much, if anything, to the overall game play. Their use falls squarely in the category of a novelty to me. Thankfully, the rest of the game can be pretty addicting.
I should also mention that Pirates supports two player cooperative play. I wasn’t able to try this out but a second player can join at any time and support the main player during various elements of the game play. There’s not a ton for the second player to do but it’s still nice to see. I have to mention the pitiful game manual which is really nothing more than a two page description of the controls. This is horrible and gives the player absolutely no direction on what to do in the game or how things work. This will by all means frustrate some players who might not be willing to take the time to get through the steep learning curve and is a pretty lame oversight on the part of the developers.
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