Man, it’s about friggin’ time. For what seems like the first time in all of videogame history, a game’s been remade without being completely ruined. Personally, I never thought I’d live to see the day.
Of course, it couldn’t be considered a proper remake if the game wasn’t at least slightly ruined. People might get angry, file lawsuits, that sort of thing. Sid Meier’s Pirates! makes sure to avoid lawsuits with the inclusion of a ballroom dancing minigame.
I’ll repeat that: A ballroom dancing minigame. In a game about pirates. …Urp?
The way it works is this: a button flashes on the screen, and you press it. It’s a lot like playing DDR with a standard controller instead of one of those nifty dance pads, except it’s more tedious than that, because you’re only pressing one button every several seconds or so. Pressing the correct button causes your little man to dance correctly with his fair maiden. If you’re a failure, she gets cheesed off and won’t tell you the vitally important bit of information than you can get from just about any old burly bartender who, generally speaking, does not ask you to dance.
But, that’s about the only problem I have with this game. The rest of the gameplay is so untampered with that there’s just not much to whine about.
Besides not ruining the game’s original formula, Pirates! does something else that shocks the world: It’s actually piratey, unlike certain other pirate games of this generation. You actually get to plunder towns, pillage ships, woo damsels and do all the other sorts of things those other pirate games wouldn’t let you do because they’re more concerned with, say, making you do battle with moderately sized crabs.
Like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Pirates! is a bit more menu-based than many of today’s gamers would prefer, though it does feature more action than that particular lawyer sim. You’re not poking through menus when you’re firing cannons and thrusting swords—you’re actually doing those things yourself, though the controls are so simple that you’ll find yourself wondering why modern-day controllers need all those consarned buttons, anyway.
And, by gum, you’re not about to hear me complain about that one! I don’t mind that my swordfighting controls consist of little more than “thrust” and “get the expletive out of the way because you’re about to be smitten by a friggin’ pirate.” I’m happy that, for once, I can plunge right into a current-gen videogame without constantly referencing an instruction manual. That’s a testament to how intuitive the game’s controls are, too.
Once you’ve played one game of Pirates!, you’ll have pretty much played it all. Seemingly paradoxically, you’ll want to play more. There are five different time periods in which you can buckle your swashes, though you’ll hardly note any differences among them. There are also five different levels of difficulty, though, and as with past editions of the game, anything more challenging than “Adventurer” is just too much.
But you’ll want to play it more. The game’s so simple and your missions are (if you’re on the right mode) so easy and the game itself is so much fun that you’ll want to play it again and again. And, depending on how you play the game, it can be different every time. You could just concentrate on your missions, or concentrate on rescuing your kidnapped family members. You could go at it GTA-style, jacking ships and stealing cash to your heart’s content. You could even play it as a game of Risk, taking over as many towns as you can before you’re forced to retire.
And you will be forced to retire, no matter how you play the game. Usually in your mid-fifties, though there are ways to get around that. It might’ve been nice if you could just go on indefinitely in the game, or at least if you could unlock a mode that allowed you to go on indefinitely.
Pirates!, to my amazement, has a multiplayer mode. The multiplayer mode, to my expectation, isn’t terribly fun. It’s seemingly ripped from the multiplayer mode of that other pirate game, which was seemingly ripped from the original version of Pirates!.
Allow me to just say this about multiplayer mode: Eh. It’s your basic ship-to-ship combat, with you and a buddy hurling cannonballs at one another until someone’s ship goes to a land down under. They could’ve done so much more with it (like a two-player mode of the real-time strategy town-pillaging minigame, for example), but you’re not buying Pirates! for the multiplayer mode, anyway.
You’d sort of think that any bugs in this game would’ve been realized and taken care of, considering the game’s lengthy development process, and…well…ha-ha! Guess not! Among several game-ending glitches is one that’s actually been passed down from generation of Pirates! to generation of Pirates!: that of your ship frequently getting permanently stuck on land. I’d almost have been sad to see it go if it didn’t keep mucking up my game.
But finally, we’ve got a game that gets it right: a game that realizes its look isn’t nearly as important as how it plays. Finally, we’ve got a remake that gets it right: Aside from dancing, the original formula was barely tampered with. Finally, we’ve got a pirate game that’s actually, well, piratey, and is actually fun to play.
Finally, we’ve got an Xbox game worth owning that isn’t called Fable or Jade Empire. Granted, we could’ve used it a little sooner than a few months before the release of Xbox 360, but I’ll take what I can get. You should too—this game is gold.