Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Game Boy Advance) Review

By Mike Mason 06.08.2006

Another summer, another couple of blockbuster family films, another bundle of movie licensed games. It’s always a tough job picking out the few, if any, games that are decent amongst this bunch (games based on films have a bit of a bad reputation for a reason), but so far we’ve managed to sift through Cars on Gamecube and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest on DS. The latter didn’t receive such a great score, but of course it wasn’t the only version on offer – can it hope to be better implemented on Game Boy Advance?

Well, we're sure that most of you aren't at your most optimistic right now, and neither were we when we got a hold of it, but Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Game Boy Advance is actually a bit of an anomaly to the 'movie licence = instant crap' equation. See, while it's not the most delightful treat you're ever going to lay your fingers on, it certainly isn't the worst, and has enough good points about it for you to be tempted to do the piratey thing and steal it (note: please don't steal it). What you get here is a fairly simplistic side-scrolling platformer/slash 'em up for the most part, which, although pretty devoid of original ideas, isn't offensive at all.

It's a game of two halves, though, as land-based swashbuckling isn't the only thing you'll be doing. Also included is a sea-based ship sail-fest and battle-a-thon, which segues together nicely with the platforming elements to create a well-rounded title with enough variety to keep things interesting. The game takes place over 15 islands, each of which house a few stages, and all of these can be sailed to in any order that you like; the only thing for certain is that you have to break out of jail at the beginning, and otherwise you can do whatever you please.

Screenshot for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Game Boy Advance

You don’t even strictly have to follow the storyline, which is based upon the film’s: you take control of Johnny De- er, Captain Jack Sparrow, and try to evade the pirate Davy Jones, to whom you owe a blood debt for some reason (we think it’s to do with being captain of a ship for some years, but we can’t be entirely sure as we’ve not gotten round to seeing the film yet). Anywho, you can ignore that if you want (its only presence is in a few cutscenes consisting of still photographs every so often) and sail off and live the life of a pirate instead if you so wish, buying information off of barmen and going a-treasure hunting instead. If you do want to play through the storyline alone though, the game will unfortunately only last you a few hours; visit everywhere you can and try to collect all the treasure, and you might be able to double that. While it might be a tidy package, it certainly isn’t the most challenging or lengthy of games.

Let’s head back to have a gander at the side-scrolling parts, then. The first thing that should hit you is how good it looks – the GBA might be an old system, but it can still pull its weight if a developer puts a bit of time in, as proven here. The backgrounds and sprites are surprisingly detailed, and the characters have obvious black outlines around them which gives it a cartoony style that fits in well and lends a bit of character to the game, as does the animation. The animation on Sparrow is well done, even doing quite a good job of capturing his lumbering gait, and little touches such as a greedy finger-waggling of joy at finding some treasure give it some appeal that may have been washed over without a second thought by other developers. Things aren’t so well-set with the gameplay, however. It’s solid enough, but it can’t be denied that it’s rather basic and repetitive. All you’re doing is walking/running forward, attacking somebody with one of a few moves, defeating them, moving on. While new moves do become available every so often (more on that later), it’s often easier to just use the standard sword slash over and over again until you’ve cleared all your foes. All the usual platform elements are present as well, such as climbing vines and mid-air platforms, but there’s nothing new. There are a fair few nuisances as well, such as trying to get onto the platforms – not because they’re out of reach and you can’t get to them, but because enemies regularly walk on them and knock you away repeatedly as you try to leap up. Enemies, while varied (pirates, random jungle animals, British soldiers, zombies – the usual lot), are pretty terrible in terms of intelligence as well.

Screenshot for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Game Boy Advance

What really picks the game up are elements outside of the platforming adventure, the other parts of pirating – sea battles. You sail your boat where you want and will encounter opposing ships regularly, and from then you can enter into combat. This consists of the two of you sailing around a set area and blasting your cannons at each other until you can either board their ship to nick off with their booty (it’s a shame that this just leads into another platforming segment) or blow them to smithereens – guess which one’s more fun. If you steer too far away from the enemy, or they get cowardly and slink away after taking one shot too many, you can escape the battle, but this can affect your Notoriety Rating, which we’ll talk about in a tick. The sea battles help break up the game and pull it up from some of the bad parts of the land sections, easily being the most enjoyable part of the game – well worth playing. You don’t just have to use standard weaponry either, opting to modify your shots with a few clicks and holds of the shoulder buttons to fling things like bombs that you’ve found in levels (this kind of modification is also available on land but, understandably, with less cannons). This adds a further level of strategy – use your powerful weapons on a lowly pirate who’s beginning to make you want to walk the plank, or wait until they’re really needed for a stronger foe? – that couples with the crew system. Rule one when you’re head of a team: look after them. This means you can’t go starving your fellow pirates, or they’ll mutiny and land you right back in the jail from the start (where you’ll also go if you lose a sea battle). This can be irritating, but it’s your own fault if you don’t go stocking up and treat people inhumanely.

Screenshot for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Game Boy Advance

The final trick of the game is the aforementioned Notoriety system. Whenever you find some hidden treasure or best a foe, word spreads round that you are a fearsome cutthroat. Whenever you flee a battle or lose, cowardly words begin to swarm around about you. The rating of Notoriety you are given determines what you can do in the game, mainly in what moves you can use, as if you reach a certain rating a new combo will be unlocked for you to use, which you might not ever use, but it's nice to have the option. It's this, and things like the customisation of your weaponry, ship sails/hull/cannons that keep things interesting and let you experiment a bit, adding some extra depth.

It's a nice game, nothing too spectacular, but nothing that you'd throw back in somebody's face if they got it you as a present unless you were a person of particularly nasty sorts. Similarly, it's worth a random purchase if you can see it on the cheap and you fancy a few hours of fancy pirate frolics, though be warned that there is only a few hours worth of game. For some real pirating action, go for old adventure game The Curse Of Monkey Island or it's predecessors on PC (please ignore number 4), but as far as GBA pirate action goes, you can't go too far wrong with this. Yar!

Screenshot for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Game Boy Advance

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


If you’re in a bit of a piratey mood, you can do worse. It’s great when we can be a bit surprised by a movie game, and this is the second time we have been this summer, firstly with Cars and now with this. Good show, Amaze – with a little more time and variety in platforming levels, this could’ve been better, but as it is it’s not bad at all. She be a (fairly) fine vessel!




Buena Vista





C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

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

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date TBA   Australian release date Out now   


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