Clumsy Pirates is a smartphone game based on Billy Budd, by Herman Melville. You know, the gruelling tale of forbidden love and miserable cruelty that went on to inspire an opera by Benjamin Britten.
Okay, I'm lying. It's not based on Billy Budd at all. But it is an extremely playable touchscreen puzzler that's had me locked indoors, tapping away at an iPad all week when I should be outside, eating ice creams, reading Mad Magazine in the park, and taking part in sun-drenched movie montage sequences.
The idea is simple: you're a cabin boy, which is lovely news, and you've just been handed a fizzing cannonball. This is not such lovely news, but at least you've got a decent length of time in order to decide what to do with it. The answer, as almost anyone will tell you, is to chuck it over the side of the boat. In Clumsy Pirates, that amounts to climbing from one deck to the next until you reach the goal at the top of the screen. But keep an eye on that fuse, alright? Seriously, what is it with you?
Clumsy Pirates is a 2D affair, and its swanky little ship cross-sections remind me of the classic 1980s computer game Booty, which is absolutely not what you probably think it is. Anyway, your cabin boy auto-jogs from left to right and back again, and you can boost him up a floor by tapping the screen and depositing a sturdy little bubble in his path. What could be simpler?
Luckily, it's rarely that simple. Each level gives you a set number of bubbles to deploy, and there are loads of other features making life hard for you as well. There are ladders, which allow you to move upwards while changing your direction. (They do this in real life as well.) There are gaps, which see you dropping down a floor, and probably getting stuck in a naff little loop. There are deck fires - they weren't lying about these pirates being clumsy - which have to be extinguished by collecting water bottles, and there are air vent thingies, walls, and even gusts of wind on later levels.
It's smart stuff, if you ask me, with hectic, hazardous environments, a quick turn-around from failure to restart, and plenty of levels (90+ of the little blighters) waiting to be unlocked as you proceed from one galleon to the next, chucking bombs around like you're the star of some kind of explosive Mardi Gras. On top of that, each stage houses three glittering doubloons for you to gather in order to unlock the next suite of challenges. Like the clocks that were studded throughout Beat Sneak Bandit, they encourage you to pick a much trickier path from one floor to the next, and they reveal a side to this friendly, colourful sort of game that is surprisingly calculating and cruel.
If you're a fan of publisher trivia, incidentally, Clumsy Pirates, while developed by Mylodon, is one of the first releases from Thumbstar, the new game label put together by the Edmondson brothers of Driver and Reflections fame. They've spotted a winner here, as this is a clever and rather generous game. I'll be interested to see what they offer up next.
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