Despite what the double entendre title and some of the screenshots may say, Pirates! Quest for Booty ($1.00) is a mostly serious attempt at an adventure game. And a legitimate one at that. Although the occasional skin and the entirely-text-based exploration aspect of it may bring to mind Team Shuriken, Bandana Games‘ newest take is a far more worthy (and far more lengthy1) idea.
Seems like a trap… Is a trap.
If you can get used to that idea. Though I’m old enough to remember the days when these games were the highlight of digital adventure, the thought of rummaging through lines of text placed over stock photographs isn’t exactly appealing to the modern palate. It’s no surprise then, that ‘playing’ Pirates! requires lots of reading, lots of staring at same-y, reused images, and even more ‘Go North / East / South / West’ directional commands. Oh, and a healthy imagination to fill in what the words on-screen can’t completely describe.
As Pirates!‘s anti-hero / scurvy… well, pirate, you’re saved from execution and given a task to recover the missing fragments of a magical mirror, one that supposedly holds the secret to eternal youth. This requires you to purchase a ship and crew, then explore several islands / locations, gathering up the pieces and completing several side quests. Even with the limitations of text, the game manages to create an ‘open world’ of sorts, allowing you to freely explore most islands in the order you choose, coming back to them later once you’ve acquired certain items or advanced the plot.
These places vary in size, ranging from large ports and smaller settlements, to zombie ships, or an island inhabited solely by women. The game does a good job of making each area feel different from the last, despite the similar theme that ties them together. To break up the monotony of the text, there are side activities, such as gambling, and even combat …in a way. Random encounters pit your crew against an enemy, with you winning out by having a numbers advantage and / or by choosing the correct attack (melee, ranged, sneak attack, etc.). It’s not a particularly deep system, but it does toss a light dose of RPG tactics into the mix.
As with any adventure game, though, there’s a fair amount of backtracking and wandering around, either looking for the next story ‘trigger’ or randomly stumbling into a quest you can now complete. A handy map fills in as you explore and marks important locations, but it’s still largely up to you to figure out what comes next, or where to go. That’s both a vital part of games like this, and a shortcoming. Not all clues and / or directions are straightforward, meaning you’ll need patience for some segments or puzzles.
With all that considered, Pirates! Quest for Booty is still better than most games of this type that I’ve tried. The emphasis on exploration— and your choices regarding that exploration— gives it more playability and weight, with some very capable voice-acting adding personality to the environments and characters. It’s a decent-sized adventure that’s totally worth a look …if you don’t mind all the text …and don’t shy away from cheesy pirate jokes2.