Review: Pirates: Duels on the High Seas
Posted 24 Sep 2008 at 20:10 by Simeon Paskell
The temptation to start this review speaking in 'Pirate' is strongl; a few 'Argh, Jim lad!'s here, a couple of 'Shiver me timbers!' there, although a bit obvious, would have done a great job of setting the tone of the review as well as giving you, the reader, an idea of the type of game we're dealing with. But, being the restrained professionals that we are, refrain we shall - and those of you that have a problem with that can walk the plank, ya filthy land lubbers! Davey Jones' locker awaits ye! Arrghhh, matees!
Ahem. So... onto the review, me hearties. Pirates: Duels on the High Seas from Oxygen Games arrives on the DS with probably zero expectation from gamers. It's not a release that DS fans would have had marked on their calendars and, as we're uncertain what the take up of DS' is among the pirating community, even that most obvious of demographics may pass it by. However, as gaming fans of taste will know, there is always the potential for smaller, lower profile releases to offer up gaming gold and discovering such hidden gems can give you a great sense of satisfaction. So, does Pirates: Duels on the High Seas fit into this category?
Essentially a (strangely) fast-paced Pirate 'em Up, the title shuns the the more serious tone of the likes of 'Sid Meyer's Pirates' for an action orientated experience. Before setting sail on a discussion of the gameplay mechanics, let's skim over the plot. After a chance meeting in a bar, a 'haggard ol' see dog' informs you (sorry, 'tells ye'!) of a hidden treasure that can only be discovered upon the collection of 'The Seven Keys of the Seven Seas'. And thus begins your adventure, set over (surprise, surprise) seven levels.
The basic gameplay is easy to pick up and, in all honesty, not really very engaging. Played from an overhead viewpoint, it is best described as 'dog-fighting in boats' - work your way through the various stages, battle other ships, collect loot and weapon upgrades and... well… that's about it. Combat can be moderately distracting for a while - with the revolving-ballet of naval combat initially feeling fairly fresh - and there is a margin of skill required. However, the severe lack of depth to the action (generally, quickly circling your enemy while plugging them with cannonballs seems to work), the level design and the degree of challenge presented means that you quickly tire of the relentlessness of it all. The slow firing speed of your cannons, though obviously keeping in line with the reality of gunpowder based weaponry, also frustrates, mainly as this conflicts with the otherwise fast pace of the gameplay. Imagine playing Geometry Wars but only being able to shoot sideways every 3 or 4 seconds and you're half-way there!
The game's title, 'Duels on the High Seas' suggest that a vast ocean may lie ahead waiting to be explored. Unfortunately, any hopes of an epic open-world adventure are quickly dashed when you are presented with what can only be described as a series of canals. Now, as far as we know, you don't get many pirates rampaging through the waterways of the world in river-barges festooned with Skull and Crossbones, but 'Pirates' seems to think otherwise. The first world is particularly guilty of this, and although later levels do open up somewhat, you feel less like a heavily bearded, cold blooded, gold-fixated scurvy sea-dog; and more like David Essex in 80's BBC sitcom 'The River', but with more cannons and triangular hats.
A multiplayer mode is available (either dual-cart or game-sharing from a single cart), but this will in all likelihood provide minutes rather than hours of multiplayer entertainment, with the weakness of the core gameplay mechanics being carried over in full.
To its credit, the title has actually been produced with a fair amount of polish. Visuals, though strangely washed out at times, are on the whole crisp and attractive. Small touches such as wisps of cloud, seagulls and parrots drifting past in the foreground impress, and the narrative cut-scenes between levels are presented through beautifully painted stills.
Sonically it is undeniably rudimentary, with in-game music being at times woefully minimal (often relying on looping the same piece of music to pad it out) and the constant 'Arghs' quickly begin to grate. The faint lapping of the waves and cawing of gulls proves reasonably effective, but the game is far from an audio masterpiece.
There really isn't much more to say about Pirates: Duels on the High Seas, and that in itself speaks volumes. Although competently produced, there simply aren't enough ideas here to make it a worthwhile addition to your probably already overcrowded DS library. It is a game that you can admire in small ways before the realisation that you've seen nearly everything that it has to offer within half and hour or so of gameplay - then it's just rinse/repeat. A few hours spent playing leaves you with a sense of utter indifference, neither entertained nor disappointed. And, in our book, that is not indicative of time well spent.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Competently delivered yet frustratingly unambitious, Pirates: Duels on the High Seas will leave most gamers cold. Best left to drift away with the flotsam and jetsam.
Slick, if washed out, visuals
Beautifully painted cutscenes