Review: Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: Aegir’s Fire
Over the past two weeks, iPod owners have been treated to two naval-themed games -- Gameloft's Naval Battle: Mission Commander, and now Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Aegir's Fire ($5). By contrast with the strategic, turn-based Naval Battle, Pirates of the Caribbean is a seafaring action adventure game, putting you in charge of a series of ships that depend on different cannonballs and crew members to locate treasures and solve a mystery.
Broadly speaking, this Pirates game is like the least popular portion of Nintendo’s cartoony Legend of Zelda game, Wind Waker, giving you a series of quests that require you to sail a ship from place to place, recovering items and fighting bad guys as you go. All of the action here takes place from an overhead perspective, and the gameplay consists mostly of steering the ever-moving boat and pressing the center Action button to fire cannonballs from its side. If you need to stop—rare as you progress through the game—you can hold down the Action button to drop your anchor, but most of the game is spent going quickly from port to port, learning what your next quest is, and completing it in order to move on to whatever’s next.
To its credit, Aegir’s Fire does a lot more with this concept than did Wind Waker, as you’re presented with a map of the known world with five territories—first, the Caribbean, then Europe, the Maldives, Africa and Hawaii—each with multiple quests that can be followed in a linear, guided fashion or tackled in an order you prefer. Once you’ve unlocked a given territory, you have the ability to go from mission to mission there, or to go back to any previously unlocked region and continue doing missions wherever they’re left. Each mission starts with you meeting a person from the Pirates series at a port—one has you rescue Elizabeth Swann for her worried father—and each port lets you swap up to three crew members to give your boat special abilities, such as extra speed, better aiming ability or range, and superior resistance to attacks, natural elements such as storms, or the deadly Kraken, which can be stunned but apparently not killed.
What makes the game fun is, surprisingly, your continued acquisition of money to upgrade your ship and weaponry. Treasures are sometimes floating in the water, but most of the time, you need to sink ships to build up your resources, which requires smart investments in weaponry. The Kraken-crippling Atomic cannonballs, for instance, cost 700 doubloons each, and can sink some ships in one shot, earning as little as 200 or as much as 2000 doubloons in the process. Do you want to buy them, helping the game to move much faster, or use cheaper, less powerful ammunition instead? And will you invest the 125,000 doubloons required to buy the famous Black Pearl, or stay in one of the many lesser ships that are unlocked as the game goes on? You’ll have many hours worth of gameplay to make these decisions, and others. It’s also worth noting that as an action-heavy iPod game, it’s the rare title that doesn’t make you suffer with its controls; sailing a ship is relatively easy with the touch-sensitive Click Wheel, as is firing off the cannon.
Pirates’ only issue is its repetitiveness. Though you’re supposed to be hunting for the daughters of Aegir in order to solve a big mystery, the roughly thirty missions aren’t incredibly interesting; rather, they invariably consist of treasure fetching, escorting ships or people, and attacking ships or ports for dollars, so over the course of the adventure, you feel like you’re doing the same few things over and over again. There’s little interesting dialogue, and no cutscenes to break things up—a surprise given how rich the Pirates of the Caribbean universe is with potential video clips. Thankfully, Disney keeps the experience interesting with different and good but repeating music for each of the territories, and though the water looks pretty much the same from stage to stage, landmarks and ships change enough to keep the game from dragging. Your ability to buy faster ships, and find faster crewmen, also makes the experience quicker in pace than the boring Wind Waker oceanic scenes; whether you live or die depends more on your ability to ramp up quickly in weaponry and speed than anything about the game’s inherent difficulty level.
Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Aegir’s Fire is definitely a good iPod game, and worthy of additional praise for making solid use of its license, but it’s not great—because the levels are samey and the gameplay is simple, it’s not a title you’ll want to play over and over again once you’ve finished, but Disney has done enough to make the first play through compelling. The graphics, music, and presence of familiar faces from the Pirates movies will win over most fans of the series, and the action won’t annoy either casual or experienced gamers. Consider it worth playing if you enjoyed the films, or if you’re looking for an easy game to pick up for a mission or two at a time.