Back in July of last year, Sid Meier’s Pirates! for the iPad was released to the delight of many gamers. Now, almost a year later, it finally makes the transition to the iPhone thanks to 2K Games and Take-Two Interactive, and everyone should check this classic title out. Sid Meier’s Pirates! is an open ended adventure/strategy/RPG hybrid set in the seas of the Caribbean during the 1600s.
I should note that this is a port of the 2004 version, though a game of the same name was also released in the eighties. The game is full of locations to explore, cities to visit, sword duels to fight, and passing ships to plunder. Some aspects might feel a bit dated, and it can be rather buggy, but none of it is major and none of it ruins the experience.
After your family is enslaved by debtors with you narrowly escaping their grasp, you grow into an adult and join the crew of a ship in the navy of your choosing. Soon, you mutiny the captain for being a jerk face, and the ship and crew are yours. The cool thing about Pirates! is that you can choose whether to truly be a criminal. You can be a noble officer in the English, French, Dutch, or Spanish militaries, or you can be a dread pirate with a fleet that strikes fear in the heart of every man as soon as your banner is visible. The option to follow clues and seek out your family is always available, though you could also just ignore them and do your own thing.
There are a lot of complex interactions to be had here. As you plunder trade and/or pirate ships, you’ll accumulate gold, trading goods, crew-members, guns, and more. As you sail the seas, your crew will become weary and possibly desert you, with even your first mate leaving you to fend for yourself with many of your men. You may also grow in the ranks of each military, even simultaneously, although each is at war with certain nations more than others, so it’s hard to please everyone. You can visit ports, towns, and even small villages to trade, get information at the local tavern, upgrade and repair your ships, and even court the Governor’s daughter with your dancing moves in a silly Elite Beat Agents kind of mini-game.
The ship battles themselves are quite well done, and they can be very strategic. You can choose between three kinds of cannon ammunition in your assault, each with different effects, or just ram the ship and board it yourself to duel the enemy captain. You want to be careful not to sink their ship during the cannon phase though, or all the spoils will be lost to you. The duels themselves are fast and fun, but they become very repetitive. In fact, the biggest detriment of the game is that all the various mini-games become very repetitive after a while, though they get faster and easier with special items.
The graphics may seem a bit dated, and the lack of voice acting definitely adds to that feeling, but they do a good job of conveying everything to you. The music does a perfect job of setting the right tone at all times anyway. The aesthetics are simple and low res, and surprisingly fit the iPhone perfectly. In fact, the touch controls are so well implemented that one could easily mistake this for an original App Store release. The other flaw with the game is the amount of bugs you’ll likely run into, such as sounds cutting out or not functioning properly, mini-games bugging out and becoming unwinnable, etc. When this happens, make sure you have a recent auto-save and just restart the game, and all should be fine for a good while. Sadly, many people can’t even get the app working due to crashing issues. Game Center achievements and leaderboards are supported as well. This game is a classic that still holds up today in my opinion. It’s available for three dollars at the time of this review, while the iPad version is going for five dollars. At such a low price, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a deep and complex game that offers a lot of freedom and choice.