Reviewed: October 14, 2010
Released: September 28, 2010
There is no question Sid Meier’s Pirates! was an excellent game. With the original released in 1987 and the its remake hitting the shelves in 2004, the original Pirates! came out before genre for video games had really settled down, creating the kind of broad, experiential game you hardly see anymore, packing an array of activities into its open world for the player’s enjoyment. Now, with its re-release as a port to the Wii, the only question is how well the game managed to capture the quintessential pirate experience.|
Sadly, the answer is not very well at all. The core of the PC original is still there, sending the player out to explore an open Caribbean as the English, Dutch, French and Spanish trade with and war against one another, and try to improve their fortunes. Looming in the background all the while is the game’s admittedly vestigial plot, asking the player to find the kidnapped members of his family and punish Marquès Montalban for his crimes in classic swashbuckling fashion. However, the addition of motion controls, and the awkward experience the regular controls provide, combined with an array of technical issues sink this game in the harbor.
Outside of navigating the sea and towns, practically every action in Pirates! is handled through mini-games. There are mini-games for wooing a governor’s daughter, attacking and boarding ships at sea, bombarding ports, and breaking out of captivity, in case you get captured. Sadly, gone is the old strategy mini-game for assaulting a port by land, replaced by the new light gun shooter-inspired bombardment game, which, while better-suited for the Wii, reduces the variety present by adding another reflex-based game.
Unfortunately, the controls for each of these games are spotty at best, and tutorials only flash briefly on the screen to explain them. The sea battle game ignores motion control entirely, and is almost certainly the strongest, though controlling the game through the D-pad and number buttons on an upright remote is somewhat awkward. The fencing in the boarding mini-game no longer requires you to read your opponent’s movements, and can usually be won just by being vigorous enough with your waggling. The dancing mini-game has been simplified to directional flicks on time with onscreen queues.
The two new Wii-exclusive mini-games are both fairly strong, but you’ll also see them much more rarely than the dancing, ship battles, and fencing. Along with the new mini-games, is a two-player mode, which allows a second player to join the action in a manner similar to Super Mario Galaxy’s co-star mode, letting the second player assist in the mini-games without direct intervention. While it won’t revolutionize the game, it should help extend the game’s life, or let a more casual player in to what’s usually a lengthy, in-depth experience.
It’s not all bad, however. Though the tutorials are scant and the manual absurdly slim for such an expansive game, the progression through the game’s narrative has been streamlined. While objectives like ‘find buried treasure’ or ‘marry a governor’s daughter’ don’t make much narrative sense in terms of leading directly to finding your family and getting revenge, and the game doesn’t attempt to explain it, it certainly beats the old method of slowly assembling dozens of map pieces over the course of the game to try and locate your objectives. Additionally, character creation now includes hints as to what nations and choices are easier than others when setting up your character at the very beginning, meaning that you’ll be able to make a more informed decision rather than choosing the Dutch just because you like red-headed governor’s daughters.
The game’s graphics are functional, but they certainly aren’t fantastic. The camera sticks too close to your ship even at its furthest zoom out, making it hard to see what’s in the distance, and forcing use of the fickle, difficult to read spyglass to see into the distance. The world and ships seem muddy and plain, with only occasional non-interactive doodads on the shore to differentiate the world. The map of the world is hidden deep in the menus, and the most accessible map doesn’t even show locations of cities, which makes navigating by anything other than landmark, memory, and the onscreen prompts for nearby cities difficult.
Despite all of these issues, the amazing, engaging core of Sid Meier’s Pirates! shines through from time to time, reminding the player why the game has lasted long enough to get ported onto various systems over the years. Still, unless you’re intensely averse to PC gaming, or you only have a Wii, despite the new additions, you’d be better off getting Pirates! on another platform. Despite the game’s inherent charm, the Wii port does a lot to drag this game down to Davy Jones’ locker.