Pirates: Duels on the High SeasESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: Oxygen Interactive
Publisher: Oxygen Games
Wireless DS Single-Card Play
Wireless DS Multi-Card Play
When Pirates: Duels on the High Seas arrived on my desk for review, I have to honestly say that I didn’t know what this game had to offer. This latest Oxygen Published title for the Nintendo DS was nowhere near my radar when I got it. Well I have to say after some time with the title that I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer, but the game is not without some issues.
Visually speaking Pirates is not a bad looking game at all. Sure, it is not the most technically superior game on the Nintendo DS, but it really does manage to get the job done. The game provides some pretty neat 3D graphics to show all the action that you are involved in. This is all displayed on the top screen with different boats, landscapes (e.g. shores, harbours or ports of call) and whatnot. The textures used to put forth the visual representation of your battles are not the highest quality, but you can make out each and every detail that is offered up on the top screen. The explosions that result from your attacks, the water effects, the clouds, and even the seagulls that fly around the ocean sky, although they are small they manage to look pretty good. I should also note that the game’s story is presented in the form of illustrated panels which manage display a pretty decent representation of what is going on. Technically speaking, the game manages to run pretty smooth, although I did notice some pretty obvious slowdown/framerate issues when the screen got really busy.
For me, the audio was a bit of a let down. There is no doubt that the DS does have its share of limitations in this department, from the storage medium to the tinny speakers, but that being said it is still a handheld that can belt out some pretty good sound. Unfortunately Pirates is not a game that takes advantage of any sound whatsoever. There is no music playing during the hectic battles that you find yourself involved in. This was quite a shocker to me given that music can help set the mood of the battles at hand in a game of this nature. The only thing you will find during battle is the sounds of weapons, the odd pirate saying (e.g. Arrrrr) and of course the sound of seagulls in the air. This is too bad as you will find that you hear the same sound effect quite often and they can get old pretty quick. The only music that is notable is that which is played during the story scenes between levels, and that which you hear once you ‘clear’ an area of all enemies. I think that game could have benefited from more effort in the audio area.
Pirates’ storyline is not the deepest or most engaging story ever offered, and some might even find it stereotypical for a game about virtual buccaneers. You are the captain of, you guessed it, a pirate ship, and you are at a point in your life where things are not going as well as you wish, but this is about to change. You hear rumour of a map that can lead you to seven keys spread across seven seas. These keys are your ticket to opening riches beyond one’s imagination. So of course, as would be expected in a pirate game, you go off in search of these seven keys and thus your journey begins. There is a slight twist to finding these keys, but I am not going to give that away here, but trust me, you will have incentive to find the keys as quickly as possible.
You play the game through a top down perspective. Both the screens of the DS are utilized, but not for the reasons you’d think. The top screen offers up all your action while the bottom screen is like a status area. What really caught me off guard was the control scheme used. Traditional button presses are utilized to control the majority of the action that you are in charge of. You steer your ship with the D-pad, the shoulder buttons are used for moving forward and backward, and the face buttons are used to fire your weapons. I was some what shocked that the touch screen was not implemented for moving your ship across the various levels you face. A game like this pretty much screams for touch screen support of such. The touch screen is used to repair your ship after battle. Don’t get me wrong, you will find that the control is not awful, but the unique features of the DS could have been used to make the control even better.
As you battle the various enemy ships and bosses that you come across, you will be rewarded in various ways including gold or even new crew members. The latter is somewhat interesting as when you destroy enemy ships they will sometimes leave behind a crew member who you can pick up. These characters are specialists who, if you pay them, will actually boost certain attributes of your ship. However, for those thinking that they will just power up their ship with these crewmen should be forewarned, they are not found that frequently and given this fact they really do feel like a bonus when it happens.
I found that as I played through the game it was clear that the majority of the gameplay really did come down to who could manoeuvre their ship more efficiently all the while firing your cannons at the enemy while dodging your enemies cannon fire. The computer AI could, to some extent, provide a challenge, but the majority of the battles were not that difficult. There were even a few times that I was just able to out fire smaller ships resulting in their demise. Of course once I started to get some efficient and useful power-ups this became the case more often then not. Things were a bit different when I faced more formidable foes (e.g. a sea dragon or much larger enemy ships) who were able to take a lot of my fire, however I was still able to survive most of my battles given that I could heal (repair) my ship’s health on quite a frequent basis during play.
For the relative rookie of real-time action/strategy games, there will be only the smallest of learning curves as you learn what to upgrade as well as how you want to fight the various foes you’ll battle all at once. There seems to be very minimal resource management or strategy involved though. For those veterans to the genre, or diehard gamers, the learning curve is pretty much non-existent and many will be able to handle the challenge that Pirates presents right from the beginning.
The single player game is pretty enjoyable in short spurts and it is not something that anyone will just walk through in one sitting. That being said, I don’t think this game should be played during long sessions given that it can become repetitive when played over long stretches. Repeated short bursts of the game make it more amenable to be enjoyed in the long run as you won’t get as bored as quickly. Coming back now and then for one more campaign will allow you to take pleasure in everything Pirates has to offer.
Along with the single player campaign, there is a multiplayer mode offered as well. Here you can play a battle mode that is designed to support one to four players. An added bonus here is that you can play using only one copy of the game. Playing against humans makes for a whole different experience as nothing is able to recreate the unpredictability of human nature. That being said, the multiplayer single DS card experience was somewhat a test of my patience. There were what seemed to be major load times, and there were no AI opponents added into our multiplayer mix. It was just me and my buddies. This was not nearly as exciting as I hoped given that an all out battle against lots of boats could have been so fun. As well, it would have been neat to see a co-operative battle mode where my friends and I could have teamed up against the computer AI using the single DS card option.
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