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Pirates: The Key of Dreams

Yarrr latest WiiWare effort.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer
  • Wii Points: 1000
  • In Real Money: GBP 7.00 / EUR 10.00 (approx)

Maybe it's because there are so few of them. Maybe it's because the ones that we do have tend to be pretty great. Whatever the reason, there's something about pirate games that tends to promise a little more than the usual gaming experience. Monkey Island. Sid Meier's Pirates. Overboard. All fondly remembered, all featured parrots and wooden legs and yarrrrrrr.

The Key of Dreams follows in the footsteps of the last of that trio, the top-down galleon shooter, Overboard! Developed by the people behind such modern gaming marvels as Cheggers Party Quiz and King of Clubs, this latest haul of sea-faring software casts you as a British captain sent undercover to locate the Key of Dreams, a powerful artefact in the possession of Brody Shanks, a grizzled pirate. Like a briny Donnie Brasco, you set sail under the skull and crossbones and must earn the trust of the pirate folk by blowing up dozens of naval vessels along the way.

Those expecting even a modicum of strategy or depth will be disappointed by this effort. It's a shoot-'em-up, nothing more. You sail around maze-like levels, dodging or engaging enemy ships and periodically getting trapped in large areas where you have to defeat all the enemies - or destroy their shipyards - before the gate opens and allows you to proceed on your larcenous way. Quite who's in charge of these gates is a mystery, but they're clearly not very security conscious.

Are you looking at my hull?

Your cannons only fire from the sides of your ship, of course, so combat takes on a slightly different flavour as you jostle for position to broadside the opposition. Power-ups give you the ability to fire weapons forwards, or drop mines behind you. You can also pick up Incan coins, which magically make your ship invulnerable, and scoop up crates, treasure chests and drifting crewmen. The crewmen have different status effects - increasing speed, the range of your guns or map, or repairing damage.

Despite the oceanic setting, it's all a bit shallow and after four or five levels the game has settled into a rhythm that soon becomes a rut. The scenery changes, but the gameplay remains constant. It's amusing enough, but having established a basic level of entertainment the game never exerts itself to offer anything more as the levels progress. The controls aren't much help, opting for a rather counter-intuitive system with left and right rotating the ship while forwards and backwards act as accelerator and reverse. As your orientation is constantly changing, this is a bit of a muddle to begin with, and I found myself wishing for the option to switch to a layout where movement actually corresponded to the direction I was pressing.

There's a multiplayer mode, allowing up to four players to chase each other around 35 arena maps, but once again it's a basic affair and one that favours chaotic scrums over any sort of tactics. The result is a game where there's fun to be had, but it has a very finite shelf life.

6 / 10

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