Pirates: Duels on the High Seas (Hands-On) (Nintendo DS) Preview

By Mike Mason 20.07.2008 1

Review for Pirates: Duels on the High Seas (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

There aren't nearly enough pirate games released nowadays, or ever, in fact. Sure, we've had the likes of Zack and Wiki on Nintendo systems recently, but being a cutesy puzzle-solving imp is not the same as being a true scurvy-addled seadog, sailing the seas and plundering from anybody that crosses your path. Oxygen's latest release aims to end this drought.

Upon popping the Pirates preview cartridge into our DS, instantly there are mixed impressions to be had. On one hand you're presented with a nice-looking menu that takes the form of a pirate's desk, but on the other, there appears to be a lack of options or general fanfare about the whole thing. No thing for it but to jump right in, really, so that we did. There are two gameplay modes beneath the single player option: the standard story mode and a skirmish mode. Story mode is what we went for first.

The pirates you take control of have made it their mission to get hold of a bunch of mysterious keys that are spread across the world's ocean in a bid to fill their boots with treasure - naturally - and, having had the chance to play through the first few levels, we're reasonably impressed. The game takes place entirely on the seas as you cruise your big ol' pirate ship around picking fights with the navy as you try to get on with your quest. The ship is moved forward by pressing the R shoulder button and is steered with the d-pad. Cannons are fired with a jab of A (don't forget to be side-on to your target!), while any special weaponry you manage to pinch from floating crates - from rockets, flamethrowers and, hilariously, circular saws - is activated with B (these ones are fired from the front of the ship). Bizarrely, you can also reverse by holding L. We're very interested in the pirates' grasp of technology allowing them to reverse the wind on the fly. Overall it all moves smoothly, but we have to say that we're a little disappointed by the lack of touch screen controls which may have made things even slicker.

Screenshot for Pirates: Duels on the High Seas (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

Actually, the touch screen does come into things, but in a sadly limited capacity. An icon adorns each of the four corners of the touch screen, each representing a different 'skill' - a flag for speed, a saw for repairs, a map for vision and a cannon for'well, have a guess. Each of these icons can be tapped at any time to improve your ship in that category; it will stay in this mode until it is changed. If you're in a hurry, for example, you'll tap the flag to give your ship a little edge in speed, whereas if you're in the middle of a fierce gun battle you're going to want to up the range of your weaponry so that you can give yourself some space. As you're traversing the seas and destroying foes you'll also be grabbing treasure - necessary for both score and to fund repairs if you have the saw icon selected - and new crew mates who have been tossed overboard other ships, who will join you for a fee and up the icons' abilities a bit more. The stats aren't visible, presumably to simplify things, but the results are just about noticeable; the improvements aren't enough to make you start destroying everything instantly, just literally enough to give you a slight leg-up.

The levels are relatively short and are interspersed with some gorgeous artwork, but we could see people getting through them quicker than a pirate could get through a mug of grog. It's a good job, then, that there is another option under the single player mode that will probably form the meat of the game - Skirmish. You're plonked on a map of your choosing (and there look to be quite a few) with three other ships and the entire aim is to blast each other to oblivion in ship-based death matches. With four of you ramming around a smallish map unloading cannons onto each other it's good fun, but in multiplayer with other proper human players is where it really comes into its own. It gets a bit frantic, when special weapons are collected it possibly gets a bit unfair to those not holding them, but it is a real laugh as you generally terrorise your opponents and watch them go down in big flaming messes. Unfortunately we've not heard anything about it being an online title, which seems like a big boat to miss we have to say. Nevertheless, in its current form the battling is satisfying and once we got into it the multiplayer and skirmish modes were a real blast. This is where most of the play of Pirates is going to be coming from.

Screenshot for Pirates: Duels on the High Seas (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

Final Thoughts

The story mode doesn't have anything particularly wrong with it, but it is a bit slow and basic. While still sharing the same mechanics and thus still on the simplistic side of things, Skirmish and the multiplayer modes play better by shedding off the attempt at a story and cramming the mechanics into a fun 'arena'-based naval combat game with decent results - it's these modes that have generally washed away the mixed impressions we garnered initially for more favourable ones. It's not a massive budget game, and it's certainly not going to be a top-rated AAA game unless things have changed drastically since this preview build was put on cartridge, so don't expect that from it - but do keep an eye on it and its just-released WiiWare brother if you're after a fun new multiplayer game.

Developer

Oxygen

Publisher

Oxygen

Genre

Action

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  n/a

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  2/10 (3 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

One to watch, maybe, but I couldn't get into it from the short time I spent with it...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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