Pirates: Duels on the High Seas DS
I’d just about recovered from the severe seasickness induced by Pirates: Key of Dreams on the Wii when this landed on my lap. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. Could I stomach this horror once again? Maybe it would be different this time? Where do babies come from? All of these are questions that need answers, so for the first two answers, read on. As for the last question, go ask your parents.
First off, DotHS is very similar to KoD. Play as a buccaneer ship, fighting different navies with a small variety of weapons, achieving straightforward goals. The models, environments, level designs, enemies, even the lazy pirate ‘yar’ that characterised the WiiWare game, it’s all here. The major difference is how suitable it is for it’s platform. What felt underwhelming and mundane on the Wii becomes rather good on its handheld counterpart. Oxygen shot themselves in the foot with the pointless WiiWare version because it established a bad reputation for the series before the main title even hit the shelves. After playing that, I would definitely have avoided the DS game at all costs, which would’ve been a shame really.
I can recall playing KoD and wondering when the background would ever change. It felt like an old cartoon, with Scooby Doo and Shaggy running down the same 2 metre stretch of corridor repeatedly before escaping. On DS, the scenery is quite acceptable. It gets repetitive eventually, but for a handheld, it does an awful good job of decorating the pretty basic stage design. There’s seven locations to sail through, each with it’s obvious cultural and natural influences in the background to spice things up. Simple things that change between locations, such as enemy ship design, are enough to fend off boredom for a while. The driving force pushing you from location to location is the plot, involving 7 mystical keys hidden in 7 different seas which you and your pirate crew must obtain within 7 days, or be doomed. Simple enough, and an effective way to spread out the stages, a marked improvement on KoD’s plot. Using a different storyline than KoD is definitely of merit here. While it still isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it feels pretty solid and gives the game more purpose. DotHS has plenty of stages with just enough variation to make you keep your DS in your hand. Although the objectives don’t seem to differ much, the shortness of the stages staves off the tedium, keeping things relatively fresh. A happy medium between the ease of KoD and an insane hard has been found here, allowing pacey progress without selling itself short.
Playing DotHS starts with the initial letdown of no special touch screen controls. Using the stylus to navigate the ship would’ve seemed like the obvious way to go, but the touch screen has been shunned here, relegated to showing a map and holding a few different buttons. The control system of choice is a little fiddly, using the shoulder buttons to go forward or reverse, and the left and right arrows to steer. It’s not very instinctive and doesn’t come with a tutor level, pretty much dropping you straight in and hoping you know what your doing in an act not too dissimilar from dropping a baby into swimming pool and praying it’ll find it’s way to the side, although admittedly not as cruel or illegal. After learning the controls, manoeuvring your vessel is quite fun. There’s the same small selection of weapons as can be found in KoD, but with the addition of the ability to temporarily boost different attributes to make combat more satisfying.
Unlike it’s WiiWare counterpart, DotHS is actually not painful to play with friends. A multiplayer battle mixes skirmish fun with pirate flavour. What it lacks in weapon choice, it makes up for in arena choices. Much like the single player mode, there’s a good selection of stages, most of which are worth trying at least once. It’s also possible to play this mode without any friends in case you’re only looking for a quick blast of a pirate romp in the few free minutes you have. Pirates’ own brand of kooky pirating-about fills a special niche quite nicely, being well rounded in both solo and multiplayer modes.
Pirates: DotHS is a game that takes itself lightly and is presented with good humour. While it’s still a way off being a title to remember, it’s a massive improvement on KoD and shows promise for the franchise that appears to be on the up, addressing key areas like the difficulty. The Pirates series has found a home on DS and I hope to God that it stays there. A fair amount of new ideas and a bit of reshuffling is needed but otherwise, it’s an agreeable little frolic soaked in the salty water of the pirate universe.