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Pirates PlundArrr (Wii) artwork

Pirates PlundArrr (Wii) review


"Failed attempts at balanced difficulty hold Pirates PlundArrr down, but they're not enough to sink the ship."



Developed by a small team called BoomZap, the Wii-exclusive Pirateís PlundArrr is a mostly charming brawler along the lines of Castle Crashers that finds anywhere from one to four players chasing after a treacherous pirate captain named Rudebelly. Itís a generally fun romp, but the experience differs substantially depending on how you play and thereís no configuration that brings it to the level of the genreís best efforts.

Pirates PlundArrr campaign stages are presented as nodes on a world map, with the bulk of them inaccessible until you clear preceding areas. Levels tend toward the lengthy side and often feature sections that are sufficiently distinct to feel like completely unrelated attractions. If a few players work together, as my two friends and I did, clearing most zones requires a solid 10 or 15 minutes of play before the group of heroes return to the map to choose a new destination. Such a setup suggests that the game is non-linear, but there arenít actually enough branches in the path to matter.



Character progression is another promising game element that feels too limited for its own good. You can enhance a characterís aptitude with certain weapon types--axes, guns, swords, daggers and clubs--and that impacts how capably they use the corresponding gear to carve a swath through the enemy hordes, or you can improve health, the power of special abilities, and the rate at which treasure drops. In theory, thatís all very cool. In practice, it doesnít make much difference in anything but the single-player mode because the impact on combat is negligible at best. Armor is also available but appears to make only cosmetic differences.

My friends and I spent an hour or two with Pirates PlundArrr during each of several different gaming sessions in order to experience the entirety of the surprisingly lengthy campaign. Along the way, we typically progressed smoothly and faced moderate but still satisfying challenges. Occasionally, though, we encountered a severe difficulty spike. Cheap tactics and level grinding proved the only obvious ways to persevere (a lot of monsters will pick on only one player at a time, providing the others with time to revive one another or break open crates and such for healing items), and then we would advance several stages without any trouble. The lack of an even system of progression is disappointing.

That particular flaw is never more obvious than it is when you play with friends. If youíre hunting Rudebelly with assistance from your pals, you can revive them when they collapse and they can return the favor. The developers must have figured that dynamic had the potential to eliminate too much of the campaignís potential challenge, and that apparent concern led to some severe overcompensation. Bosses become several times more durable and basic enemy mobs are significantly more numerous when you have human allies, to a degree that finally becomes prohibitive during the last four or five levels. Tough foes call for help from friends of their own, and that soon leads to a hefty number of heroes and villains on-screen at once. Your character can become lost amidst the chaos, and stages begin with severe slowdown that lasts for several seconds even if thereís not much happening on-screen. The heftier enemy life meters may have seemed like a good idea, but they allow foes to linger for a long time, potentially causing severe damage the whole while. Itís too easy to be overwhelmed, and since the camera forces the action to never stray terribly far from the first player if he or she falls in battle, sometimes an ally will try to come revive you but canít due to an uncooperative camera.

Pirates PlundArrr (Wii) image


By the time my friends and I reached the gameís final boss together, our character levels were in the late 30s and early 40s. Our adversary would repeatedly summon hordes of allies, and clearing those fellows out of the way only prompted replacements to arrive. There was virtually no respite, and in the end we only cleared the game when it glitched and one of us was suddenly able to hack away at the enemies from an unreachable perch on a nearby wall. Most gamers wonít be able to count on that sort of lucky break.

After the credits rolled, I decided to see how I might fare against those same enemies while playing alone. I was expecting to discover an insane challenge, but instead I was surprised by how handily I defeated every single enemy I encountered without even really needing to try. The final boss that gave my friends and I so much trouble was now an utter cakewalk. I also advanced levels much more quickly, which is nice given the numerous hidden characters you can unlock and strengthen over the course of the campaign, but now I didnít need to grind because everything was overly easy. Summoned enemy mobs suddenly consisted of two enemies instead of the eight my friends and I had faced, and my attacks demolished life meters several times as quickly. The difference is frankly absurd. I recommend that you play through the campaign alone if you want to enjoy a relaxed quest, but bring friends along if you prefer a challenge and the sort of social experience that the best brawlers often enable.

Pirates PlundArrr (Wii) image


The other stuff I might tell you about Pirates PlundArrr almost doesnít matter. Aside from the issues with difficulty balance, the game is competent and sometimes even great. Its visual design feels a little bit cheesy at times, but in other cases the character and enemy sprites are quite expressive and the backgrounds are gorgeous (given the hardware, at least). Controls are pleasingly simple, with buttons mapped so that you hold the Wii Remote sideways like an old NES controller. Itís easy to miss the fact that you can collect energy orbs and then shake the Wii Remote to unleash a special lightning move thatís handy for crowd control--a point mentioned nowhere in-game or in the instruction manual that I noticed--and sometimes you might accidentally press B to block without meaning to, but otherwise everything is obvious and works efficiently.

If you own multiple gaming systems, you probably already have some excellent brawlers available to you in the form of Castle Crashers and other recent fare such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There are numerous retro classics that are also worth revisiting, and at least for now, those are readily available on the Virtual Console service. If you only own a Wii or Wii U and youíre looking for something both decent and more recent, however, Pirates PlundArrr is an attractive option that should provide several hours of enjoyable brawling.

Rating: 6/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 05, 2014)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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