Sid Meier’s Pirates! Review

Although the old sea dog clearly shows its age, the magic is still there.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 10/28/2010 15:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
a boundless classic that will ruin your social life and destroy your sleeping habits; competent Wii controls
Poison Mushroom for...
a largely quick-and-dirty port; minimal new content; load times; an excessive price tag for an old game

Wii sometimes feels like the Twilight Zone of gaming.  Only on Wii do blockbuster franchises suddenly become on-rails shooters.  Only on Wii do frivolous party games make millions in sales. Only on Wii would no one blink an eye if a blockbuster franchise was actually made into a frivolous party game.

And only on Wii does a basic port of a six year-old game constitute a major addition to the library.

To be sure, this isn’t just any six year-old game.  Sid Meier’s Pirates! — itself a re-imagining of a 1987 PC title — is a phenomenal adventure that is only fully understood by those who have played it.  This is one of those “just one more turn” games that ensnared countless gamers back in 2004, the sort of rarity that could keep a player up until 3 a.m. and destroy their soul in the process.  That said, this is also a game that is so long in the tooth that it is little more than a downloadable novelty on Xbox 360.  Its release as a full-fledged Wii retail title, then, is a surprise on many levels, and while it is a very good game and a welcome addition to Wii’s library, this port is probably the weakest of them all to date.

Sid Meier's Pirates! Screenshot

For those who didn’t play the 2004 PC version or its console and handheld descendants, here’s the brief rundown:  Sid Meier’s Pirates is an open-ended adventure that places the player in the role of a pirate.  From there, a player can literally do any one of a dozen things at any one time: attack, raid, or capture other ships, engage in swordplay at sea or on land, search for buried treasure, interact with various European powers, woo governors’ daughters, run escort missions, trade goods, take down notorious pirates, plunder enemy colonies, and so on.  None of this includes the main storyline of finding the player’s lost family, and indeed a player can choose to ignore the main story entirely.  Gameplay continues only until the player’s pirate retires, a decision eventually necessitated by the protagonist’s age.

On top of the game’s myriad options, there are other things to manage.  Players can capture, upgrade, and customize ships and fleets, manage personal items and upgrades, and deal in diplomacy with the various nations.  There are crew members to be recruited and placated, food stores to be kept up, and, every so often, money to be divided.   Add in achievements for special accomplishments and multiple difficulty levels, and this is a game that can suck up a lot of gaming hours.

Sid Meier's Pirates! Screenshot

The Wii version of this game brings a few unique elements to the equation.  The most unsurprising is, of course, the Wii Remote.  The IR controls ably fill the role of the mouse from the original, allowing for menu selection and navigation.  Motion control is tied to swordplay in the fencing sequences and to movement in the dancing sequences, and in both cases they usually work.  The swordplay tends to be the less consistent of the two, however, as it seems easy for the game to misread a swipe as a stab and vice versa.

In addition, there are two gameplay elements that are added to this version: lock picking and bombardment.  Lock picking is a minigame triggered when defeated by a pirate hunter, while bombardment allows players to assault a fortified city.  Bombardment is the more interesting of the two: using IR, players put the ship’s cannon to work by attacking gun emplacements and rival ships in the port of an enemy city.  Victory leads to a cash payout as well as the opportunity to replace the city’s government with that of another nation’s.

Sid Meier's Pirates! Screenshot

The game’s graphics and sounds are faithfully replicated, although nothing was done to account for their age.  Despite being a circa 2006 system, Wii does not appear to improve upon the graphics of the original version, although the game is still as colorful and charming as ever.  Also, the music is catchy, but it’s still MIDI, and the absence of voicework (outside of Sim-esque mumbling) seems more of a liability now than it was back in 2004.

There are a few other gripes.  One, the game only supports Wii Remote only — no nunchuck or classic configurations here.  Two, the game’s load times, while not obnoxious, are frequent; the 2-4 seconds it takes to get in and out of a harbor or a tavern is regrettable.  Last but not least is the Wii version’s price… the title released to retail at an MSRP of $40, a surprisingly steep cost for a game that is several years old and can be had on PC for $10.  This price might be more compelling if the Wii version offered a dramatic change over prior versions, but since the differences between earlier installments is minimal, it’s definitely a turnoff.

It’s always nice to see developers support Wii with quality titles, and certainly this fits the description of a quality title — Sid Meier’s Pirates is arguably one of the best games of the last decade.  At the same time, the Wii version is — despite the IR and motion controls — probably the weakest of the game’s many incarnations, despite being the most expensive.  Graded against the curve of its forebears, it doesn’t hold up as well as it really should.  For those with few other options, though, the game still holds its magic and is one of Wii’s better titles.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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