Publisher: Oxygen GamesDeveloper: Oxygen Interactive Studios Ltd
If Pirates: Duels on the High Seas was an album, it would be something by Big Country. Can’t fault any song, but why are they all so alike? If it were a meal, it would be pie and chips every night for a week. Delicious, but repetitive. If it were a TV show, it would be Sharpe, or maybe Columbo. Great entertainment, until you realise you’re watching the same episode over and again. Instead, it’s a videogame where every level is thoroughly enjoyable, but exactly like the one before it. Get the picture?
Pirates (as I’ll call it from now on) sees you taking charge of a sailing boat of old, plundering the high seas for treasure. Or more accurately, making your way down what look like flooded corridors, taking out enemy ships, cannon turrets and end-of-level sea monsters as you go. Don’t expect anything approaching realism here. You ‘sail’ (a term I use loosely) by rotating your craft on the spot with the D-pad and moving forwards and backwards with the shoulder buttons, giving the impression your ship has a reverse gear. I wonder which way the wind’s blowing? Still, Pirates was never meant to be a simulation in the Sid Meier’s Pirates! mould (it actually plays more like the PSone game Overboard!), and works well as an action game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun.
Trouble is, there’s no sense of progress here. The game boasts 70 stages set across seven ‘seas’, but by the time you’ve conquered the first territory (about half an hour’s work), you’ve seen everything it has to offer. The enemy ships undergo a graphical make-over to reflect the part of the world you’re in, but they behave exactly the same throughout. The end-of-level sea monsters are reused, forcing you to fight them over and again, and each stage is a series of corridors to be tackled in a very linear way, with no exploration or choice of route involved.
Sure, you pick up the odd crate of limited-supply, forward-firing special weapons to go with your infinite-ammo broadsides, but the difference between them is largely graphical (with the exception of the mines, which are as useless as mines in any other combat game). You can improve your craft by hiring sailors picked up from sunken enemy vessels, but this just serves to maintain the status quo between you and your foes, who are invariably slightly-tougher versions of the enemies from the previous level. Where’s the variety?
Pirates: Duels on the High Seas is a great multiplayer game which can be played with only one cart, though not over WiFi. It’s fun in single-player mode too, even if it is seriously lacking in surprises. But with such a wealth of really great NDS titles already on the shelves, why would you pick this over a Mario or Zelda game? It’s worth a blast at budget prices, but don’t even think of paying more than around £10-£15 for it. At full price, definitely look elsewhere. What’s here is good, but there are plenty of other titles which can offer more.