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The Pirates of Dark Water (SNES) artwork

The Pirates of Dark Water (SNES) review

"Growing up, one of the highlights of my Saturday morning cartoon watching was actually one of the last I ever viewed. The Pirates of Dark Water, while possessing its comedic moments, was much more somber in mood than the average exploit of Bugs Bunny or the Flintstones. "

Growing up, one of the highlights of my Saturday morning cartoon watching was actually one of the last I ever viewed. The Pirates of Dark Water, while possessing its comedic moments, was much more somber in mood than the average exploit of Bugs Bunny or the Flintstones.

Featuring the adventures of a youth named Ren as he and a motley crew of mismatched allies attempted to collect the many Treasures of Rule in order to save their planet from the scourge of Dark Water — a sentient, oily substance with the ability to consume all it comes into contact with. Providing opposition for Ren and company were a horde of U-G-L-Y pirates led by the cruel Lord Bloth, who also searched for the treasures in order to use their power for personal gain.

Sadly, the dark themes of the show never made that large of an impact on the general populace and it eventually was canceled around the time Ren had obtained half the treasures and outsmarted Bloth, his henchmen and a few other miscellaneous villains a couple dozen times. In some alternate world, perhaps Ren succeeded in his quest to save his planet — in our world, he was forever placed in limbo.

But that didn’t stop Sunsoft from immortalizing the young hero’s efforts. In 1994, the company essentially took Capcom’s Final Fight, put Ren and company into it and — voila — the Super Nintendo Pirates of Dark Water video game was born. A bit longer than the “Capcom Classic” (measuring in at eight stages), this game was able to do one thing for me that Final Fight couldn’t — namely give me a really sore thumb from hitting the “punch” button about 500 million times in a few hours of playtime.

Pirates of Dark Water seemingly has no easy difficulty level for novices to the genre to get their feet wet — instead, you merely have “Normal” and “Hard” difficulties. Or, as they should have been called, “Brutal” and “You Can’t Be Serious”. This is one tough game, with overwhelming hordes of clever enemies strewn through every level. Many felled bosses make return appearances, including an absolutely brutal gauntlet towards the end of the game. You, on the other hand, will be restricted to the choice of all-around fighter Ren; the speedy, but weak, Tula or strong, slow Ioz (as Sunsoft shows how to turn cartoon heroes into Cody, Guy and Haggar). One-ups are fairly plentiful in PoDW, as are healing items, but the capacity to take massive amounts of damage also is great.

Much of the difficulty lies solely within the way this game’s enemies tend to attack and complement each other. Fat Pirates (this game doesn’t exactly go overboard with creative names for generic foes) aggressively charge you from off the screen, Tattooed Men are often fond of making their presence felt via brutal jumping kicks — also from off the screen. Those Tattooed Men, as well as Lady Pirates (who have an effective flying somersault kick), also are quite proficient at blocking your attacks, meaning they have a longer shelf life than the average foe. Making things even tougher is that new enemies make their appearance immediately after you’ve vanquished one presently on the screen — there’s nothing like killing a weak foe, grabbing the next guy and getting bumrushed by a charging Fat Pirate with no opportunity to dodge....

If distracted by these tough foes, weaker enemies can often get their shots in, too. D. Riders have just enough range to be able to stand in back of whoever you’re attempting to pummel while slicing at you with weak dagger attacks. Tall Pirates will keep their distance from you (and likely keep other foes between you and they), as the range of their chopping attack is quite impressive. A small dog-like enemy only can take one hit and causes next to no damage, but can prove to be a very annoying nuisance with its repeated pounce attacks, which knock you down every time. Also proving to be a pain in the posterior are the seldom-seen archers, who try to snipe you from afar.

But those foes aren’t the only hazards keeping you from battling this game’s bosses. Virtually every level has its far share of tricks and traps. Some are annoying, as the controls of this game really aren’t made for platform-style jumping over bottomless pits, but others can be exploited to your advantage. Pools of Dark Water, beds of spikes, giant serpents and other traps are as hazardous to your foes as to your own skin, so a smart fighter will praise their presence. Instead of putting yourself at risk in hand-to-hand combat, it is quite enjoyable to maneuver around these traps watching your enemies slowly get decimated by their infinite ability to cause pain. Even bottomless pits become allies, as it often is far easier to knock durable pirates over the edge than it is to slaughter them by yourself.

The bosses themselves pose the weakest elements of this game. While these characters will bring back fond memories to fans of the cartoon, many of them really aren’t that much fun to fight. Bloth’s second-in-command, Mantus, can block nearly everything you do AND is impossible to grab, as attempts to do so will simply cause him to knock you away with a spinning attack. In theory, it seems like a good idea, but in execution, this is nothing more than a long, tedious, boring fight with you tossing a couple of jabs his way and praying they aren’t blocked. For another encounter, you exit the realm of the two-dimensional beat-em-up and enter into an aerial dogfight reminiscent of a poorly-designed shooter boss battle. The demon Kiroptus is easily slain.....if you have the necessary patience to endure slowly dropping its life meter one punch at a time until the bitter end. The most enjoyable battles in the game were against Bloth subordinates Konk and the Lug Brothers. Konk is a quick, annoying little critter fond of sneaking attacks in when your attention is diverted, while the bulky Lug twins have brutal attacks only outmatched by those of Bloth in the final confrontation. It’s good I enjoyed fighting these guys, as they all make repeated appearances (including an absolutely brutal three-on-one battle mid-way through the final level).

Fortunately, those few poorly done boss battles represent the only glaring flaw in this game. As a fan of the cartoon, I was ecstatic to see familiar locales, ranging from a monkey-bird village to the isolated palace of the Atani. The game also took steps to make you feel you were playing a cartoon. In the TV show, Bloth, Mantus, Konk and company always were able to escape after every defeat and that doesn’t change in this game. After toppling one of the diabolical pirates, they will make a quick escape while you savor your victory. To those not familiar with the cartoon, this may be annoying if you’re looking for some sort of decisive outcome (especially when it comes to the game’s very anticlimactic finale), but to me, it seemed fitting and definitely in the spirit of Ren’s animated adventures.

Another thing that seems fitting (since you are playing a game with a swashbuckling theme) is that in an interesting change of pace, you can’t pick up weapons here — because you’re already holding one. Each of the three characters PERMANENTLY carries some sort of weapon. While far slower than the standard melee attack, they are a bit more powerful and give you a little more range, making them quite useful against foes you don’t wish to get up close and personal with (such as the throw-happy Lug Brothers). While these weapons aren’t as useful as those in Final Fight, Streets of Rage, etc., you have to admit this concept is a bit more realistic than the “I dropped a lead pipe and it just disappeared into thin air!” scenario that other beat-em-ups are fond of using.

The graphics of this game are solid, with some quality animation going on with the characters and villains. Watching the diminutive Konk leap onto your character to deliver repeated headbutts or one of the Lug Brothers picking you up, holding you above his head and slamming you to the ground are quite wonderful to behold — until you realize over half your life meter vanished in the process. Pirates of Dark Water also provides some fine music over many of its stages, which does a good job of masking both the generic fighting game “punch, kick, grunt” sound effects and the absolutely horrid rendition of Bloth’s laughter.

Pirates of Dark Water isn’t a game for everyone. Really, it’s little more than Final Fight with a different setting, more stages and more traps. But, in that context, the game does a wonderful job of using the cartoon’s license to create an enjoyable fighter. If you’re a fan of Final Fight-style beat-em-ups and you have fond memories of the PoDW cartoon, this is one game you should definitely check out as it is far more enjoyable than the average Final Fight rip-off — and in many aspects, exceeds its predecessor.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (November 24, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted May 15, 2012:

I never knew Pirates of Dark Water, though I know it was a favorite of many of my contemporaries and even more so of the generation one step older than me. I imagine that latter love came from parents who were forced to sit through asinine cartoons with their children and were ecstatic to find one with some depth. I think my parents felt the same way about Gargoyles. I know I felt that way about Hey Arnold, with my younger sister.

Diddy Kong racing actually references it, too, if I remember. Isn't there a "Dark Water Beach" or something?

Anyway, this game actually sounds terrible, though. The boss fights in particular just sound painfully drawn out with no fun involved.
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overdrive posted May 16, 2012:

My memories of the cartoon: It really sucks when something gets taken off the air LONG before any sort of closure can remotely happen. They did a good job making something a bit darker than the average cartoon. Bloth was pretty intimidating (even if most of his lackeys were more comic relief and somewhat less than loyal) and the Dark Water itself was Stephen King material. While you had obnoxious comic relief with Nibbler, the three-man hero band was more well-written than usual and you couldn't always trust the two sidekicks and their loyalty, either.

The game: Yeah, the bosses got brutal. And the later levels did, too. If you play the game, you'll think "Final Fight in a new setting" with the presentation and look. So imagine if you're in a Final Fight level and you have nothing but wave after wave of Andore, El Gado, Wong Who and other high-level enemies with multiple life bars. Along with death traps here and there. Very brutal. Kind of like some extra sadist-mode difficulty level.

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