Reviewed: August 5, 2005
Released: July 7, 2005
Back in the late 80's and early 90's when arcades where still flourishing there was a brief period when “laserdisc games” were quite popular. This fad started with the highly addictive Dragon’s Lair game, and literally exploded from there.
Even after arcades started to vanish from the local malls, these laserdisc games persisted in their popularity, spilling over into the PC world in the form of chopped up versions on floppy and eventually CD-ROM’s. Now that DVD-ROM’s have become the unspoken standard on most gaming PC’s is it really any surprise that Digital Leisure is once again trying to milk the genre one more time on this new format?
I must mention that this game, along with the rest of the titles in the rapidly growing Digital Leisure library are not designed specifically for any gaming system. You may see stickers claiming they are compatible for the PS2 or the Xbox, but they are DVD video games, and as such will play on any DVD player whether it be a PS2, Xbox, PC, or a standalone component player in your home theater rig.
None of these games have been endorsed by Sony or Microsoft - they just simply happen to work on these systems because they support the DVD format. Do NOT be fooled into thinking these are special versions or that they make use of any of your system-specific features.
Space Pirates was one of the few laser games I never played when it first came out. It was only several years later at a "Dave & Busters" up in Chicago when I found the game stuck off in a lonely corner, and blew a few dozen tokens on it. The premise is much like American Laser Games other title, Mad Dog McCree where you have a video shooting gallery full of B and C-grade actors. This time, instead of western attire they are decked out in futuristic clothing and gear that looks like a biker bar spilled over into a truck stop.
We have a bunch of grizzled thugs dressed in modified body armor who are playing space pirates. They've captured a ship full of colonists and it's up to you, the Star Ranger to knock them off one at a time as you free rescue the colonists, and explore several planets in search of Star Crystals to power the star splitter cannon, the only weapon capable of defeating the Space Pirates once and for all.
The PS2 version of Space Pirates is pretty much a direct port of the arcade original with one glaring exception. This was a light gun game and now you are trying to play it with your gamepad. I am confident that if this were still a light gun game it would be much more enjoyable than it ends up being. In a failed attempt to let you play this game without a gun, the designers have overlaid an invisible grid over the screen that is 7-8 clicks across and 4-5 clicks up and down. You move your targeting crosshair around the screen using the D-pad.
The first problem is that this grid is only comprised of maybe 30-40 possible locations, so in order to give the player enough time to move the cursor from one corner to the other the game will pause for 3-5 seconds at each moment of possible interaction. This basically freezes the action (and the movie) allowing you time to move from point A to B and try to shoot the next bad buy. Ultimately, the game boils down to memorization rather than reflexes. You'll play, see the guys pop out, shoot, likely miss, die, and restart that section, Now you know where they are in advance so you can have the cursor on that spot waiting for them. Take that space pirate!
One major improvement over Mad Dog McCree is that you can now shoot the enemy in multiple locations. Previously, each enemy had only one "hit" location even if the cursor appeared over the target in other places. This resulted in a lot of what-looked-like hits but ultimately resulted in your death.
Timing is another issue. The 3-5 second gaps are a bit unsettling and you'll hit the fire button and it might be another 2-3 seconds before the video continues. Thinking that your shot might not have registered you'll instinctively hit the fire button a second time only to find that your first shot did hit and now you have fired a second time in the same location. Enemies seldom appear in the same strike zone twice in a row.
Space Pirates offers an Easy and Normal mode and you have unlimited continues. The game checkpoints often, at each new room, so if and when you die you won't have to replay too much. The game is actually all about learning the locations of the lurking space pirates and in the case of this version, having the cursor already in place waiting for them. There are a few decoys thrown into the mix, mainly innocent civilians who pop onto the screen shouting words of warning or encouragement. In the spur of the moment in the light gun arcade game these would likely trigger a few casualties, but when you have several seconds to analyze the target while your positioning the cursor, these are only a minor inconvenience.
You can't deny the game looks stunning and is probably even better than the original laserdisc version. The video is crystal clear and looks just like any shot-for-TV movie, or at least a very low budget movie. This is the kind of camp you'd likely see on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and there were times where I was looking for those familiar shadows in the lower corner. The special effects are goofy but fun and the laser blasts are terribly primitive.
The sets are pretty interesting, with some nice details that look like a college production or something from the BBC like Dr. Who. What's most interesting is how they sets all seem to not-so-cleverly conceal mattresses and padding for the actors to plunge into when you shoot them. And I have never seen so many ropes hanging from the ceiling of a spaceship in my life; all for the purpose of swinging or climbing into frame. The acting is way over the top, both physical and spoken, but it matches the nature of the game.
The music is pretty standard sci-fi stuff that you hear during the opening then it slips into the background for the sound and voice work. The dialogue is laughable at best and delivered by some of the worst stuntman-wannabe-actors I have ever seen. While these guys can certainly swing, fall, and scowl with the best of them they should never be allowed to open their mouths and speak.
Sound effects are pretty lame with the exception of some nice ambient and environmental sounds. Your laser sounds like a piece of electronics shorting out while theirs is not much better. You'll mainly be hearing the groans, screams, and cries as you shoot these bumbling pirates as they pop into view.
If you can tolerate the lack of any real substance or gameplay, you can finish this game in under an hour. It’s all memorization, and even though some encounters are randomized you can easily learn their “locations” and figure out subtle patterns to blaze through this game in record time.
With so many amazing games already available for the PS2 and more on the way, it is impossible for me to recommend Space Pirates to anyone other than a true fan of the laser disc genre or someone wanting to desperately relive their misspent youth. I have trouble even calling it a game. It's more of an interactive movie that pauses every 10 seconds. Unless you are some sort of collector that must have every possible format of every niche game ever made, stay away from this title.