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Pirates: Duels on the High Seas

For: DS

Walk the plank

Product: Pirates: Duels on the High Seas | Publisher: Oxygen Interactive | Format: DS | Genre: Action | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe
Pirates: Duels on the High Seas DS, thumbnail 1
This may sound counter-intuitive but Pirates: Duels on the High Seas is so average it deserves less than an average score. Before we even get into the nitty gritty about what makes it so mind-numbingly bland we should point out that there's nothing particularly wrong with it – mechanically everything works pretty well, but as a game concept it's about as exciting as watching paint dry.

See that cliché we just used there? Well, this review deserves such eye-glazing over clichés because the designers didn't bother to treat us to anything beyond pallid go-there-and-collect-this design. It's so tedious you'll think it's some kind of in-joke to begin with. But as the game drags on from boring level to boring level you start to realise that it's no clever post-structuralist artefact but an insipid game bereft of any kind of fun.

See, we also used the word boring there. Actually twice. The word your teacher always tells you never to use. But in this instance nothing else quite describes the Pirates: Duels experience so precisely.

What game is there consists of moving your ship through a series of estuary-sized waterways, picking up crates and destroying the odd enemy boat or cannon emplacement along the way. Immediately you should realise that duelling on the 'high seas' is pretty deceptive as far as game descriptions go.

Movement is a bit awkward with turning assigned to the D-pad and forwards and backwards mapped onto the L and R triggers, respectively. You can also fire collectable weapons (such as rockets) directly ahead of you and broadside enemy vessels from the cannons at the side of your ship.

Combat is as clumsy as it sounds with you turning circle after circle, firing weapons when anything hones into range. Don't expect to use any kind of sophisticated navel strategy gleaned from your collection of Patrick O'Brian novels because this tactic works on every level and skirmish we played. Battles look a bit like several dogs chasing their own tails while shedding fleas in the process.

Destroy an enemy ship and it may drop some cargo – gold, weapons or a castaway able to boost some of your ship's capabilities. These castaways consist of a cartographer, shipwright, navigator or gunner and can enhance your ability to see more of the map, repair your ship, increase speed or boost the range of your weapons. But don't be fooled into thinking these extra features make the gameplay more nuanced or tactical as they largely feel feeble and bolted on.

In truth Pirates: Duels feels like it was designed for a mobile handset, given that the gameplay is so evidently limited (which in itself isn't a criticism of the mobile platform, obviously). However, the title was originally released for Nintendo's WiiWare channel, to a response so muted it practically came with mufflers. So essentially what you are getting is a very low budget title that's been lazily ported to DS for an increased price of £20. When put like that it sounds even less enticing.

There is a Skirmish mode that can also be played over wi-fi but it suffers from, if anything, even more basic design than the single-player campaign. In essence you have to circle each other firing your cannons in an attempt to stay afloat the longest. It's all a bit random and after two or three duels you will have exhausted the multiplayer possibilities.

The only positive is that it's presented in a reasonably quirky, comic-book style with polished art design and comes with high production values. As we mentioned at the opening there's nothing that you can conclusively point to and say it's fundamentally broken, but then given that it has limited scope you'd hope everything was honed to a reasonable standard.

The sad truth is that Pirates: Duels on the High Seas is about as much fun as eating a weevil infested biscuit, but a lot more expensive. We recommend you steer a course well clear.
Pirates: Duels on the High Seas
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 29 September 2008
A bland experienced robbed of energy and excitement by identikit missions and limited level design
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