Pirates! review

Ahoy there mateys! Welcome back to Retro Freak Reviews. And before ye all send me down to Davy Jones’ locker for not posting a review during the entire summer, let me redeem my sinner soul by offering ye this fine review in this finest of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’m talking about Pirates! (the game, not in general…)

Pirates! (aka Sid Meier’s Pirates!) is an action-strategy game made by Microprose and originally released in 1987 for the Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore 64 and the PC Booter. It was re-released the following year for the Apple IIgs and the Macintosh. In 1989, it was again re-released for the Atari ST, PC-89 and the PC-98. In 1990, it was ported for the Amiga, in 1991, it was ported to the NES and in 1994, the PC Booter version was officially ported to DOS (earlier DOS versions were actually the PC Booter version modified and/or hacked to play on DOS).

Pirates! came to be when famous game designer Sid Meier along with fellow designer Arnold Hendrick wanted to make a roleplaying adventure game but Bill Stealey, Microprose’s co-founder, was skeptical because Microprose was only known back then by their vehicle simulations. Still, Meier and Hendrick were able to convince Stealey to take a chance at different genres and inspired by pirate novels, they created Pirates!

But as always, let’s first look at the covers:

19179-sid-meier-s-pirates-atari-st-front-coverFirst we have this cover which depicts a naval battle between a pirate ship and some other ship (probably some poor merchant’s). The artwork is good and action-packed but I’m not a big fan of the purple border, although I do like the title art.

531893-sid-meier-s-pirates-apple-ii-front-coverThen we have this cover which is one of my favourites, as it depicts a more swashbuckling action scene, reminiscent of an old Errol Flynn movie. It could perfectly be a pirate novel cover. It’s also the first game cover to include Sid Meier’s name, as Microprose thought his name would help increase sales.

309341-sid-meier-s-pirates-commodore-64-front-coverNow this cover isn’t that half-bad although it’s not as action-packed as the former covers  are but the background could be more colourful.

25319-sid-meier-s-pirates-pc-booter-front-coverNow I don’t oppose to the usage of photos (or realistic art) over traditional artwork, but I do wish this cover was, again, a bit more action-packed or the background more busy. Still it could be worse, I suppose.

33525-sid-meier-s-pirates-nes-front-coverThis is the NES cover and it’s another of my favourites as it showcases a lot of the stuff this game features. And it even has a pirate skull, years before the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

But it’s time to boot this booty:

Later versions of the game feature a nice CGA title screen (although you can play the game with EGA graphics) and then after the settings menu, you go to another menu where it asks if you want to start a new game, load a previous game or command a famous historical expedition (later on this).

As you start a new game, you have the option to choose your nationality (between English, Spanish, Dutch and French, the nationalities that were more active in the Spanish Main between 1560-1700), the time period (if you don’t choose a specific time period, then the game takes you to the easiest one, The Buccaneer Heroes in 1660) and finally your last name (I suggest something from your chosen nationality or a famous pirate name). Then you choose the difficulty setting between 4 and a special ability between 5. This special ability will define your playthrough and can make it easier or harder depending in how you use it, so choose wisely.

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Exploring an island.

The game then gives you a backstory about how you traveled to the Spanish Main in the Caribbean in search of fortune but ended up as a slave working at a plantation, where you meet some sailors. The sailors ask you about either the Silver Train or the Treasure Fleet (which is the game’s copy protection). If you get it right, the sailors turn out to be pirates and then encourage you to challenge their captain in a sword duel for leadership.

This is your tutorial of sorts into sword duels, where you need to use either the keyboard or the joystick to control your character in attacking and parrying your opponent. If you answered wrongly the copy protection question, this duel will be very hard to win and if you lose, you’ll get a smaller crew and a pinnacle as a starting ship. But if you answered correctly, then the duel should be much easier and a victory will give you a bigger crew and a sloop as a starting ship. I like the fact that failing the copy protection question doesn’t automatically boot you out of the game but instead gives you a harder challenge.

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Ship ahoy!

Then you and your crew find yourselves in a random colony belonging to your chosen nationality, where you can visit the governor, who informs you who his country is at war or at peace with, can offer you a letter of marque (making you a corsair for that specific nationality), can also offer missions that can give you the opportunity to raise your rank and can present to you his daughter which opens up more options.

Still in the colonies, you can also visit taverns to chat to the owner but also to get news regarding other colonies, hire more people for your crew, buy treasure maps or get more inside knowledge of other colonies. You can also visit merchants to buy and sell stocks, food (which you’ll need to feed your crew), cannons and sell extra ships. After doing everything in a colony, it’s time to set sail and explore the Spanish Main.

After leaving a colony, you’re presented with an overhead map in which you control your ship. I suggest having your Spanish Main map at hand because Pirates! it’s a sandbox game and you have the complete freedom to go anywhere you want and do whatever you want. You can attack other boats, whether they are merchants or pirates of all nationalities, pillage or trade goods between the colonies (again, regardless of nationalities), go search for buried treasures or simply explore the Spanish Main. This makes Pirates! one of the earliest open-ended sandbox computer games.

169864-sid-meier-s-pirates-pc-booter-screenshot-at-another-port

Docked at a port

It’s actually quite easy to control a ship once you get the hang of it, the secret is to use the wind in your favour (these are wind-propelled ships after all). Just look at the clouds at the overhead map and raise or lower your sails accordingly. And when you finally master the sailing, then you’re ready for some sea battles. When simply sailing near any colony, you’ll have random encounters with other ships, who can be merchants or other pirates. You have the option to attack (or they’ll attack you) or simply hail them for news.

The sea battles are also pretty simple: you basically steer your ship towards the other ship (or a fort, if attacking a colony), using the winds in your favour, all the while firing your cannons (which are situated on both sides of the ship, which will require some great steering and accuracy in order to hit the other ship). The objective is to ram the other ship, giving you and your crew the opportunity to board it. When that occurs, the enemy captain then singles you out for a sword duel.

Sword duels are how any battles are ultimately decided between the captains. But before the duel starts, you have to choose which sword to wield between a rapier (a long and weak sword), a longsword (a medium weapon) or a cutlass (a curved, short but powerful sword). Even if your crew is outnumbered by a larger enemy crew, you can still win the fight by defeating its captain (but don’t expected a single-digit crew to defeat another crew in the hundreds), regardless of your skill with a sword.

322635-sid-meier-s-pirates-pc-booter-screenshot-defeated-a-ship-s

Winning a duel.

After defeating another crew, you’re able to plunder their ship for treasure and goods (and some of its crew might even want to join you) and also the choice to add the ship to your fleet or sink it. There are several types of ships you can capture and use as your own, beginning from small, faster ships like pinnacles and sloops to bigger but slower ships like galleons and frigates. I recommend getting a ship with a balance between speed and size.

You can also attack colonies either by sea (which will prompt a sea battle against forts armed with cannons) or a land battle featuring your crew against a colony’s guards. These types of battles are harder than the aforementioned sea battles but again it might end with another sword duel against the guards’ captain.

There’s also a sort of storyline where you search for your family members but it’s presented as another common side-mission. But just like all the other missions, is totally optional. However, you need to pay attention to the relations you maintain with all 4 nations, because it’s possible to become a wanted man by 1 or more nations and then they’ll send corsairs to hunt you down. Heck, even entering an enemy colony might be problematic because they can sink your ship (if said colony has forts, though). Luckily, you have the option to infiltrate colonies but if you’re spotted by a guard, you’ll have to fight him and run away.

322633-sid-meier-s-pirates-pc-booter-screenshot-a-sea-battle-against

Firing your cannons.

After exploring and plundering the Spanish Main and dig up several treasures, your crew might grow restless and attempt to leave or worse, commit mutiny. In which case, I recommend sailing to a friendly colony and split up the treasure (as the captain, you’ll entitled to a bigger share). And after it, you have the option to either retire or hire a new crew. However, don’t think you can do this forever, as you age throughout the years and if you’re getting older (and less healthier), you might want to consider hanging up your booties and retire. And according to the wealth, lands and status you’ve accumulated throughout the years, you can end up your days from a common beggar all the way up as the King’s advisor.

And in case you’re looking for a bigger challenge, then I recommend selecting a harder difficulty setting, a different time period or even a historical expedition, where you take control of a famous captain of the past and have a determined objective (usually to go to a specific colony with your fleet intact) but it maintains the same open-ended sandbox style gameplay, which means you can do whatever you want.

I guess this covers almost all the main mechanics. There are more options and features in the game available, but I’ll let you find the rest. Now for the technical aspects: the sound and music are almost non-existent (except for the Tandy version). The little music themes aren’t bad but the wind noises in the overhead map can get a bit annoying. The graphics are colourful and well detailed (despite some small sprites) with some decent animation here and there. The controls are also good, although I recommend a joystick or a gamepad over the keyboard.

169863-sid-meier-s-pirates-pc-booter-screenshot-a-tough-looking-bunch

Recruiting more pirates.

As other versions go, the Macintosh version might have more detailed graphics (despite being in black and white with an ugly overhead map) but it has perhaps the best control scheme with a mouse. The NES version is also pretty good but with smaller sprites and perhaps with the best animation, but personally the best version out there might just be the Amiga version with beautiful graphics, sound and music, apart from great controls also.

Pirates! had such a great success among players and critics alike (especially due to its historical and geographical accuracy) that Microprose decided to do remake it years later as Pirates! Gold.

Pirates! Gold is an action/strategy game developed by MPS Labs and published by Microprose. It was originally released in 1993 for DOS and the Sega Megadrive/Genesis. It was re-released the following year for the Amiga CD32, Macintosh and Windows.

And of course, it came with its own covers:

123798-pirates-gold-dos-front-cover

In the vein of the original cover, this depicts another sea battle. But this time, without any ugly borders and with a cool title logo.

74731-pirates-gold-amiga-cd32-front-cover

This is the Amiga CD32 cover and as you can see, it’s a bit more action-packed than the previous cover. I simply wish it also was a bit more colourful. At least, it’s a lot better then the inside cover:

219027-pirates-gold-amiga-cd32-inside-cover

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this cover. And if you’re wondering if that’s a screenshot from the game, I think it was supposed to be part of the intro as it’s very reminiscent of, but I never saw it while playing.

116598-pirates-gold-genesis-front-cover

This is the Megadrive/Genesis cover and I also like it, especially the fact that the guy in the centre always reminds me of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

But enough covers and let’s boot this new booty:

As you can see, this remake has vastly improved graphics, resolution, music and sound. It’s basically the same game play-wise but with some new features, like new missions from the governors, new characters to interact with and new options to explore.

I particularly like all the visual aids this remake provides, like an in-game map (with all the colonies displayed) and the ships and captains’ status during seas battles and sword duels. Not to mention a turbo mode that can be used in the overhead map, making the sailing on open sea a lot faster (and less boring). And also due to these new features, the gameplay feels a lot easier in comparison with the original’s difficulty.

Pirates! Gold also has a particular art style that reminds me of Baroque paintings that complements the game perfectly, graphic-wise. And the music is also top-notch, although  a few of the sound effects here and there seem a bit out of place (like when getting hit during a sword duel).

573-pirates-gold-dos-screenshot-sailing

Sailing away.

But Pirates! Gold is far from a perfect remake.  The game’s controls use a mix of mouse and keyboard (even the manual recommends using the keyboard over the mouse in some sections). And although the mouse is perfect to navigate the menus, it’s not so easy to use it on the rest of the game. In fact, I recommend the keyboard for the sword duels because using the mouse feels clumsy and counter-intuitive (although in some instances it’s a bit better than the keyboard, like when sailing)

And also, you can only save the game when in a colony, in contrast with the original, where you could save anywhere. I personally don’t like this new direction. And when Pirates! Gold was originally released, it came with some game-breaking bugs that caused some crashes and although the game is currently patched, it still occasionally crashes here and there.

As far as other versions go, the Macintosh version is very similar to the PC version except for being even more buggy if that’s possible. The Genesis/Megadrive version however, has a cartoony artstyle depicting bigger sprites and a presentation closer to the original, as is the Amiga CD32 version, although the latter has CD quality music and digitised sound effects. In fact both these versions look more like remasters than proper remakes but they also have much better controls than the PC version.

169871-pirates-gold-dos-screenshot-uh-oh-this-guy-looks-real-mad

Challenged to a duel.

So in conclusion, both Pirates! and Pirates! Gold have an extremely in-depth gameplay where it offers players absolute freedom to engage in it however they want. I must confess I slightly prefer the original over the remake: in one hand, the original Pirates! has great controls and more attention to detail in the text descriptions, despite the graphics, music and sound aging a bit. In the other hand, Pirates! Gold has a beautiful graphical and aural presentation, easier gameplay but the controls are inferior and there are still some bugs here and there.

Still, I heavily recommend both versions (the remake more towards new players and the original more towards veterans). You can buy both versions bundled here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

Like I mentioned before, Pirates! had an enormous success but its remake didn’t. This was due to the fact that Pirates! Gold was heavily bugged and that most people probably thought it was a sequel with very few new features instead of a remake. Still, the original game had such an impact on the industry that a second remake called Sid Meier’s Pirates!: Live the Life was released in 2004 with 3D graphics and even more new gameplay features and options.

169873-pirates-gold-dos-screenshot-meeting-the-governor-s-young-niece

Meeting the governor’s niece.

In fact, one can say that almost, if not all pirates games that came afterwards were influenced one way or the other by Pirates! You can even find such influence in modern titles like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Sea of Thieves. And now that Microprose announced a return, I’m hoping to see a new modern remake with new features, like character creation and customisation, among others.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this BIG review (to make up for my absence) and I wish you all a happy International Talk Like a Pirate day. I’m preparing another special review for Halloween but I’m going to try to squeeze another review until then. So, shiver my timbers and keep on playing or else I’ll send ye down to Davy Jones’ locker! AAARRRRRRR!

Who Framed Roger Rabbit DOS review

Well, it’s Easter again and to celebrate this holiday, we’re going to take a look at an adaptation of perhaps the best live-action and cartoon crossover movie ever made (that also features a rabbit BTW). We’re talking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an action game developed by Silent Software and published by Buena Vista. It was originally released in 1988 for the Commodore Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS.

There are also other adaptations for consoles, but those are different games made by different companies, not ports of this one, so they’re not mentioned in this review.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

61790-who-framed-roger-rabbit-commodore-64-front-coverI have to give props to whoever was responsible for the cover art for not recycling the movie poster and although this cover is reminiscent of one of the movie posters, it features most of the main cartoon characters in the movie. Not a bad cover, truth be told.

But it’s time to boot this hare:

The intro isn’t anything to write home about and the title theme is just atrocious, although the title screen by itself isn’t that bad. Then there’s a small sequence (with much better music) featuring Baby Herman doing some exposition and telling Roger to go to the Ink & Paint Club before Judge Doom’s weasels and look for Marvin Acme’s will. You take control of Roger the entire game throughout its 4 levels: the 1st level is a driving section where you control Benny the Cab while you race against the weasels, avoiding other vehicles and dip puddles. You can jump over anything and even the buildings but if you fall in a puddle, you’ll lose a life.

If you manage to finish the level before the weasels, then we move to the 2nd level, where Roger has to run around all the tables, collecting all the pieces of paper he can find. But there are 2 penguins waiters replenishing the pieces of paper and a gorilla bouncer in the lower part of the screen. If the gorilla bouncer catches you, he’ll kick you out of the club and you’ll lose a life. There’s also some whiskey glasses on the tables and if Roger catches one of them, well if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens (and you’ll also lose a life).

47659-who-framed-roger-rabbit-dos-screenshot-beat-the-weasels-to

Those dip puddles (on the right corner) are hard to avoid.

There’s no way to tell where’s the correct piece of paper (remember that Marvin used invisible ink), so the level just ends, presumably when Roger grabs the correct paper or some time limit runs out. The 3rd level is just like the 1st level but with more dip puddles on the road and finally the 4th level is on Judge Doom’s warehouse where you need to travel from left to right to save Jessica from the dip truck. Unfortunately the weasels are on the way, so Roger needs to use all the gags he’s carrying on himself in order to kill the weasels with laughter (just like in the movie) before the dip truck reaches Jessica.

If you’ve seen the movie, the game follows its plot more or less faithfully but as you can see, there’s no Eddie Vaillant in this game. In fact, the game focus exclusively in the main cartoon characters (not the WB or Disney characters). Perhaps the developers didn’t have the rights to use the actors’ likeness or the licensed characters, who knows.

The EGA graphics are okay although the animation is mediocre. It has nice, colourful still images between the levels, though. The PC Speaker music is horrible with just one or two tunes being somewhat good and the sound effects are almost non-existent. The control scheme is not very responsive, both the keyboard and the gamepad.

47660-who-framed-roger-rabbit-dos-screenshot-roger-must-collect-all

“Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?”

In conclusion, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those licensed games where minimal effort was put into it. With just 4 levels and a ramped-up difficulty in order to stretch the gameplay, I can’t recommend it, not even to fans of the movie. If you want to try it in your own browser though, click here.

The Amiga version might have better graphics, more colours and way better music and sound (including digitised samples from the movie) but the controls remain unresponsive and it has some long loading times between the levels. I haven’t played any other ports or adaptations, so I can’t compare. There’s however a sort of a sequel, which we’ll review on a later date.

So, are you also a fan of the movie? If so, tell me below in the comments. And I know this was a short review but I promise a longer review of a much better game next time. Until then, have a happy Easter and keep on playing.

WWF WrestleMania DOS review

Any wrestling fan out there (even filthy casuals like me) knows that the upcoming weekend is WrestleMania, definitely the most famous wrestling event in the world. And to celebrate such occasion, let’s look at one of the first wrestling games ever made for the PC, WWF WrestleMania (not to be confused with all the other games with the same title though).

WWF WrestleMania is a wrestling (duh!) game developed by Twilight and published by Ocean. It was originally released in 1991 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was re-released the following year for DOS.

This game is very similar, graphic-wise, to the arcade game WWF Superstars by Technos, but it doesn’t seem to be a port of it (well, at least officially it doesn’t).

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

181928-wwf-wrestlemania-commodore-64-front-cover

Well, now this is an interesting cover. Of course, you’d have to include Hulk Hogan (on the centre) and the US flag in there, but it’s the inclusion of the British Bulldog (on the right) and the UK flag that makes it interesting. It’s probably due to the fact that Ocean is a British company. And the mean-looking soldier on the left is none other than Sgt. Slaughter, another famous WWF wrestler. Just by looking at the cover, one might think these are the 3 wrestlers we can control in the game, but actually, Sgt. Slaughter is the final wrestler we face in the single-player mode.

But it’s time to boot this sucker, brother!

The intro actually looks good with an equally nice theme. It also shows the 3 wrestlers you can choose: the aforementioned Hulk Hogan and the British Bulldog along with the Ultimate Warrior. Then we go the the main menu where you can choose between two options: the simple-player mode, where you compete for the WWF Championship belt and the Practice mode, where you can practise your moves and attacks against Mr. Perfect.

I recommend the Practice mode if you’re not used to this type of game, although the control scheme is quite easy to learn for it’s simply the directional keys and one attack button. The practice mode also doubles as the two player mode, but the second player will always play as Mr. Perfect, unfortunately. And all the matches are one-on-one. There are no tag-team matches.

If you choose to compete for the belt and after choosing your wrestler, you’re then taken to a TV screen where your 1st opponent, Mr. Perfect, is cutting a promo. You can then choose between 3 possible answers to your opponent’s taunt, to which then your opponent will respond to. The answers you choose are different to each wrestler and to each opponent, but your opponent will always answer back the same reply regardless. All this promo segments, while faithful to pro-wrestling, doesn’t affect the matches whatsoever.

209021-wwf-wrestlemania-dos-screenshot-it-s-kind-of-like-combat-in

“… BROTHER!”

We’re then taken to the match, which is shown in a side 2D view, with a bottom panel with two health bars, a 5-minute timer counting down and the number of credits left (you start with 2 credits).

If you’re used to fighting games, then wrestling games aren’t much different. In this game though, you can move in 4 directions and you can punch and kick the other wrestler. But you also have the ability to grapple your opponent when close to him. But the moment you grapple an opponent, two joystick icons appear in each lower corner of the screen. In that moment, you have to wiggle your joystick/gamepad left and right in order to build up a red bar. Whoever fills the bar first, performs a special grappling move unique to each wrestler (although said move doesn’t seem take a lot of health compared with the other attacks).

When a wrestler (either you or the opponent) is on the ground, another icon appears, of a finger pressing a button. This icon informs you to press your attack button as fast as possible for your wrestler to get up. While an opponent is on the ground, you can kick him or pin him, although the latter is only recommended with a low health bar. The less health a wrestler has, the longer it takes for him to get up and the easier it is to pin him. Any match ends when a 3-count pin is performed, the timer reaches zero or any wrestler reaches a 20 second time limit when outside the ring. But you’re only declared the winner if you successfully pin your opponent.

209014-wwf-wrestlemania-dos-screenshot-here-we-are-on-the-mat

FIGHT!

Yes, you can also go outside the ring, but each wrestler can only stay there for a maximum of 20 seconds. And outside the ring, you can find and grab chairs to use against your opponent (in fact, it’s the best attack due to its fast rate). Any wrestler can also climb a turnbuckle to jump on the opponent (or against the ropes) or even run towards him for more attacks (although again, they don’t seem to deal more damage compared to a normal punch or kick). But careful though, because running attacks can be countered.

After winning a match, your opponent returns to the TV screen for one last taunt and it then moves to the next opponent. To win the WWE Championship, you need to defeat a total of 5 wrestlers: Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, The Warlord, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, The Mountie and finally Sgt. Slaughter, presented here during his controversial Iraqi sympathizer heel phase. It would be great if you could also face the other two wrestlers you didn’t choose.

Now to the technical aspects. The graphics are okay and although the sprites are big, they’re also ugly and the animation is awful. The sound effects are also bad, but the music theme is good (although there’s no music during the matches). The controls, either keyboard or joystick/gamepad, aren’t very responsive and you’re going to lose the grapple wiggle a lot of times.

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In conclusion, WWF WrestleMania isn’t a good game. It has a hard difficulty setting and the controls, while intuitive, aren’t very responsive which makes the game unnecessarily harder. And there should also be more wrestlers available, not only to choose from but also to face and more variety of moves and attacks (you can’t even do irish whips). In other words, I can’t recommend it, not even to wrestling fans. But if you want to try it, then go here to play it in your own browser.

The Amiga version, although having better music (but worse sound effects), is equally bad in all other aspects. The other console and arcade titles with the same name are different games made by different companies, so I won’t even mention them in this review (although the ones I played are definitely better).

Well, what’s your favourite wrestling game? Tell me below in the comments or on our social media. Till then, enjoy WrestleMania 35 and keep on playing, brother!