Forgetting to Sharpen Their Cutlasses:
Why Pirate Game Creators are Missing the “Point” of Being a Pirate
First and most importantly, let’s all take a moment to reflect on how hilarious that title is. Get it?? “Point” because they’re not sharp and don’t.. have points… alright. If you didn’t laugh you must not be the type of person who would stop and take the time to learn to appreciate the subtle art of extreme hilarity, so whatever man, whatever, I don’t care, it was funny. Anyway, in this amazing feature article I am going to be discussing several games, and giving reasons as to why they are or aren’t piratey.
Pirates of the Caribbean (GBA): This game made me sick to my stomach. Unlike the Xbox version of the same title, this game was based (poorly and loosely) on the movie. This game set a new speed record for getting me to hate it (even faster than Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring — also for Game-Boy Advance) by making me nearly throw it out a window (of a moving car on a bridge 500,000 feet in the air) before I even started playing it. What could possibly make me so ill, you are thinking? Well, it was the complete RUINATION of the great Jack Sparrow by the heathens that made this game… ARRRRRRRRR!!
The Jack (It would be a crime to call the character in this game Captain Jack Sparrow) in this game was absolutely nothing like the real Captain Jack Sparrow.. hell, he wasn’t really even like a pirate at all. The game involves running around finding (not stealing) gold pieces that are lying on the ground (picture a faux 3D Pac-Man with coins instead of little dots) and fighting with crabs that happen to be crawling on the beach, as well as city guards and pirates a little later in the game. There is no creative Captain Jack Sparrow planning done here — just attack everything. None of the famous Captain Jack Sparrow wit to be had here either — not a bit. In fact, when Barbossa is throwing Jack overboard on a deserted island, all he has to say for himself is “You are a cruel man, Barbossa!” Like I said — sickening.
Not only does the Jack in this game not act like Captain Jack Sparrow, he doesn’t even look remotely similar to him. He looks like a short Mexican fellow with a head at the same size as his body, wearing a blue bandana instead of oh, I don’t know.. a CAPTAIN’S HAT maybe?? One of the most important Captain Jack Sparrow characteristics was his need to have his hat, but they decided a blue bandana would be better… they probably thought it would make him seem more piratey (never crossed their minds that making him act like a pirate would do the trick).
Alright, enough of my rant about Captain Jack Sparrow. The bottom line is they tried to make the game piratey by adding things like digging up treasure, collecting coins, fighting the “law men”, and ship-to-ship combat, and although those things can be considered piratey, they left out the whole “attitude” of the pirate. Without that, all you have is a Mexican guy with a large head running around the beach with a metal detector — not a pirate.
Pirates of the Caribbean (MXB): The main character of this game, much like its GBA counterpart, is not very piratey. In this game, however, it is actually understandable. Although you have a crew and a ship with working cannons that you use on more than one occasion to sink another ship, the pirates are actually the ones you are fighting against. Since the main character is not a pirate, although he may do some piratey things, he can’t fail at being a pirate. The actual pirates in the game do their job of attacking innocent people and stealing things, like a good pirate should, and since we can’t be watching them all the time, like the main character, who’s to say what pirate things they are doing when they aren’t in the spotlight? Overall this game kicked the the right parrot off the shoulder of the GBA title, and although it had nothing to do with the movie its named after, other than a name or two, it was still a good game with a piracy level of two parrots, two point four eyepatches, and one point six peg legs.
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (MXB): This game may be the least piratey of all the games I’m going over. It has a ship you can fight other ships with… and you collect treasure.. but that’s about it. Strangely enough, instead of going around stealing things from people and attacking merchant vessels, you go around battling evil monsters such as flying spikey things… just like a true pirate. You teleport (pirate teleport, I guess) around various islands and collect mystical tiki power (from tiki pirates, I suppose) to defeat demons and all the other normal things pirates do. This game turned way too much into a game about saving the world from evil demons and monsters and turned way too little into a game about pirates. They would have been better off taking the “Pirates” out of its title.
Sea Trader: The Rise of Taipan (GBA): This game may very well be the most piratey of the lot. The object in this game is to make as much money as you possibly can. That’s it — no saving the world, no fighting an evil demon from an alternate dimension — just make money. You do so in various fashions. As the name suggests, you can trade goods from one port to the next, buying goods cheaply at a port that has an excessive amount of that item, and selling to another port that is in desperate need of that item.
You can travel all over the world trading, from China to the Caribbean, although you don’t have to stay legal about it. If you pay a fee you can have a meeting with a corrupt government official to purchase illegal goods, such as gunpowder and ivory. While sailing, you may encounter several kinds of ships. Merchant ships will trade with you, pirate ships will attack you, bounty hunters’ ships will attack you if you have borrowed money and haven’t paid back for a while, and policing ships will try and search your hold for illegal goods, taking things from you as they do, even if you are all legal. With any of the ships, you can choose to ignore whatever is they are talking about and just attack. You can choose to board the ships and steal their cargo, or just think them.
The downfall of this game is not the lack of ability to act pirate; it’s the lack of content. You may be able to trade illegal goods and sink and steal from merchants and suck, but that’s all you can do. The game ends after you play for a certain amount of time, giving you a final score based on how much money you have. Fun to play every now and then for small amounts of time, and plenty piratey, but the lack of diversity in what you can do doesn’t make the game last for too long.
So, by looking at the different aspects, both good and bad, of these and all pirate games, it seems obvious that you need more than just a ship and an eyepatch to be a pirate. Too many games are putting the word “pirate” in their titles, or calling characters in their games pirates, simply because they have some of the things a stereotypical pirate would have. It doesn’t matter what a person looks like, although it is much cooler to have a parrot on your shoulder and a big hat on your head than to be wearing a business suit; what matters is what a person does. There are certain things a person must do in order to be a true pirate, and just doing one of them doesn’t work. To make things easier on everyone, I’ll make a list of five basic pirate elements, and reasons why only doing that one thing doesn’t make you a pirate, and why you need it in order to be a pirate.
1. Steal. Only stealing makes you a thief.*
2. Sail. Only sailing makes you a sailor.*
3. Disregard Authority. Only disregarding authority makes you a hooligan. Not disregarding authority makes stealing pretty much impossible, and ruins the whole pirate attitude.
4. Search for Treasure. Only searching for treasure makes you a treasure hunter. Not searching for treasure takes a lot of the fun away from the whole pirate lifestyle, thus lowering the morale of the crew and leading to a mutiny and probably even an untimely death for the captain. If the new captain, most likely the first mate, doesn’t start hunting treasure, the same will happen to him, and then the next guy and so on until there is only one left. The one guy probably wouldn’t even know how to sail the ship by himself, and even if he did he couldn’t dock it and he’d have nowhere to go and end up going crazy from lack of companionship and he’d probably shoot himself in despair. If you have no people, you have no pirates.
5. Wield a Sword. Only knowing how to use a sword makes you a swordsman. Not knowing how to use a sword makes you a corpse.
These five things aren’t everything pirates do (I don’t see raping and murdering as essential pirate elements; sorry), but they are things no wannabe pirate can afford to leave his cabin without. They are also things that many pirate games forget about, and that is why so many of them fall short of true piratedom.
*Stealing and Sailing make up the very core of piracy. If you don’t steal you are a sailor, if you don’t sail you are a thief. There is no way around it, you cannot be a pirate without doing these two things.
Jackasses please note: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell me or anyone at GameCola that you can be a pirate by running an illegal radio/TV station or making bootleg copies of CDs or whatever your hilarious self has thought of to prove me wrong. Keep it to yourself; you are truly the only one who cares. Thank you.
Final Thoughts: Just because a game is piratey doesn’t mean it’s a good game. It must also have the elements of a good game, which I am not about to discuss right now.