Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Action, Fighting, Party & Multiplayer
Release Date: 13th of April, 2018 (EU & NA)
One of my favorite games of all time, is Sid Meier’s Pirates (more specifically, the Gold version that was released on the Sega Genesis.) Since that series hasn’t received an updated iteration since two generations ago, I’ve been on the lookout for an indie take on the classic Pirate simulator. When I first saw that Pirates: All Aboard! was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I got my hopes up that I would finally be getting my wish. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Pirates: All Aboard! is a party game, and it doesn’t present itself as anything other than that. So, my initial disappointment with this revelation won’t influence how I review this game, I will be utilizing Sid Meier’s Pirates as a reference point for how I feel the team at QubicGames could have made a more enjoyable experience by borrowing some more elements from that game without trying to make a clone. First of all, Pirates: All Aboard! is primarily focused on being a local multiplayer party game.
In it, you can choose to have up to four people controlling their own ship in cannon battles, on the coastal areas of what I’m assuming is the Caribbean. You use the analog stick to control your ship’s direction, and use the X and B buttons to speed up or slow down, respectively, and Y/L/ZL, A/R/ZR to fire your cannons left and right. You can also pick up various power-ups that enable you to ram or “board” your opponents by clicking in the left analog stick. Boarding is actually just a fancy way of doing damage by clicking the left stick while alongside your opponent’s ship, and ramming is done by clicking the stick while steering your ship directly into them.
While I understand that boarding wouldn’t mechanically work for a three or four player game in the way it did in Sid Meier’s Pirates, it would have been a nice inclusion for THE two player games. This could have been a 2D side-scrolling section that enabled you to deliver a killing blow to your opponent after a sword fight. The advantage of doing this in the classic game was so that if you were a skilled swordsman, you could close on a much larger and more powerful ship than your own and still claim a victory. Considering how slowly the more powerful ships move, and how much environmental damage you can take from not navigating tight corridors between small islands, that may have been a way to balance the game out. However, it’s not very satisfying to simply peck a little HP off of your opponent’s life bar when the alternative could have been a sword fighting mini-game. There is no flavor attached to boarding when compared to ramming.
There is a single player mode in Pirates: All Aboard! and it sells itself with the line “an endless treasure sail,” which is true, but it still feels lacking. This is understandable, considering the multiplayer focus of the game. Each endless treasure sail is navigating randomly generated maps where you collect as many coins as possible while avoiding obstacles that destroy your ship. While this is a simple, but mind-numbing way to waste time, it offers nothing else. It would be different if the coins collected could be used for ship upgrades, customization, or usable power-ups in the main game, but the only goal is to rack up a high score like an old arcade game, but without online leaderboards to compete against others. You can also play a single player practice mode that is identical to the main multiplayer portion of the game, but this still doesn’t offer much in the way of entertaining game play. I felt that they really could have spent a little more time developing the treasure sail into a more engaging experience by including maps that led you to buried or sunken treasure.
The game heavily leans on its multiplayer, but the novelty wears off quickly. The controls are fairly intuitive, but I would have happily preferred an option to remap the power-ups to the Z buttons, especially with the not yet mentioned anchor power-up that allows you to turn more quickly and precisely. This is a bit of a drawback when you consider that you have to click in the stick and turn your boat with the same stick. The graphics look decent enough, and the collision detection is spot on. Pirates: All Aboard! is almost a serviceable party game, but its utter lack of variety in gameplay makes it easier to avoid than to bother even trying out. 4/10
The game heavily leans on its multiplayer, but the novelty wears off quickly. The controls are fairly intuitive, but I would have happily preferred an option to remap the powerups to the Z buttons, especially with the not yet mentioned anchor power-up that allows you to turn more quickly and precisely. This is a bit of a drawback when you consider that you have to click in the stick and turn your boat with the same stick. The graphics look decent enough, and the collision detection is spot on. Pirates: All Aboard! is almost a serviceable party game, but its utter lack of variety in gameplay makes it easier to avoid than to bother even trying out.
THE VERDICT: 4/10
*Review Key Provided by QubicGames