I love Sid Meier’s games. Civilization is a long-time favorite, and Railroads! is always a good time. Pirates! is another favorite of mine. Sadly, the Wii version showcases the game’s age and the motion-control minigames don’t add enough to the title to warrant an additional purchase.
First, Pirates! is no longer an attractive game. The graphical presentation is a downgrade from the PC version that was released back in 2004. Sound effects and music both hold up in the Wii port, and the gameplay is largely as you remember it from any other release Pirates! has seen over the years. You’ll take your pick of five difficulties, five eras, and four nationalities. After that the story begins, the crew mutinies, and you’re in charge of a ship. From here your destiny is up to you. Do you chase rival pirates and steal their treasure? Do you take the governor’s daughter to a fancy ball? Or do just sail around the world map and take in the scenery? Whatever you choose, Pirates will give it to you.
If you choose to pursue a romantic relationship then you’re going to spend a lot of time playing the dancing minigame which highlights everything that is wrong with so many ports to the Wii. Motion controls are shoehorned in and they lessen the experience. Dancing on all platforms is a rhythm-based minigame but only on the Wii is it painfully unresponsive flailing. No matter how much you think you nailed that simple move (flick the remote up, down, left, or right) your flails will match your pirate avatar’s and both of you look and feel foolish at the end of the sequence.
Ship-to-ship combat is simple. Approach any ship you see and engage in battle. There is strategy involved, but it is fairly light. Ensure that you have more crew available than your enemy and choose the right type of shot to tear up the hull, shred the sails, or think out the crew available to the opposing captain. You’ll only want to ravage the hull for so long though – a sunken ship is impossible to plunder. This means that most ship-to-ship combat ends with a duel between you and the enemy ship captain. Dueling, like dancing, is bogged down by unresponsive motion controls. You’ll wave the remote to move your sword and the buttons to jump, duck, and counter. On paper this sounds like a good way to handle sword-fighting with the Wii remote, but sword slashes don’t always pick up properly and when the motion controls do work there is a noticeable lag between your motion and your pirate’s attack in-game. If you eventually win your opponent will fall off of the ship and her bounty is yours.
There are two minigames exclusive to the Wii version. Bombardment starts when you try to enter a port owned by another country that you’re not friendly with. This, in stark contrast to the dancing and sword-fighting, actually works well. You point the Wii remote at the screen and use it as a reticule for your ship’s cannons in order to blast your way into town. The second new minigame is lockpicking which you probably won’t see a whole lot of since it is only available after you’ve been arrested. You’ll tilt the remote to move your pick into the proper position, but the catch is that you don’t want to be caught by the patrolling guards. It works well, and it makes sense within the context of the game, but unless you’re a terrible pirate you won’t get arrested a whole lot.
Pirates! is a classic, and everybody ought to play it, but they shouldn’t be playing it on the Wii. Unresponsive minigames absolutely kill the fun of the game since they plague the two things you’ll be doing on a near-constant basis – dancing and swordfighting. If all you want to do is sail a boat on the Wii then Pirates! isn’t a bad buy, but if you want to actually take part in any piratical activities then you should pick it up on a platform without motion controls.
Pros: Two new minigames
Cons: Unresponsive dancing and swordfighting minigames