I'm going to try singing here for a second, a touch of a piratey stuff to get into the mood.
I'll tell you a tale, a tale of woe
on a platform shiny and new
where the Pirate Jack came fighting back
but the sword he had failed part-way through.
With pirates fierce and fights aplenty
heroes quest for treasure
but no one cares, it's all blank stares
'cause this game brings no pleasure
It's no number-one hit on the charts, but it pretty well sums up the entire experience that Disney's brought along to the Wii: bland, uninteresting, generic, and clumsily forced onto the unique hardware.
For those who didn't go see the multi-million-dollar, six-hour Jack & His Friends festival that was the story-spanning-over-two-movies Dead Man's Chest and At World's End or even the original Pirates of the Caribbean, let me give you a bit of a recap. The amazingly flamboyant and completely unpredictable Captain Jack Sparrow is desperately trying to evade the entire British armada, the swords and guns of other pirates, and more than anyone else, the barnacle-encrusted hands of the undead King Of All Pirates, Davy Jones and his Flying Dutchman. Jack's made himself several hundred enemies in the course of these movies, and now with his immortal soul on the line, he needs to take Will Taylor, Elizabeth Swann, and the entire Black Pearl to the very edges of the world and past, all to become the pirate above all pirates.
The PotC: At World's End game itself follows the plot of the last two movies (there was no Dead Man's Chest game on most platforms), elaborating and spreading about significantly, to allow for more action and, well, less plot. At the beginning of the game, Jack is in confinement in one of the British prisons, waiting for his execution, right until his father wanders up and lets Jack go. From there on, the game quickly becomes a fairly generic action title: Jack or Will (depending on the level) slash and shoot their way through goon after goon, working through English cities, tropical jungles, and a few dozen ships. It strives to be little more than it starts with: a simple combat engine, designed more to let a player "experience the movie" than to actually have a deep or meaningful play experience. This is standard fare in licensed games as we all know, so if you keep your expectations level, you'll be unsurprised in either a positive or negative sense.
Now you can't have a sword fighting game, no matter what the theme, without an audio-video wrapper around the whole affair. The Wii has proven itself to be pretty well just above average in video presentation, and while Pirates does its very best to try and recapture the atmosphere and visual flair of the motion pictures, it only mostly succeeds. While the main cast is captured quite exceptionally — Captain Jack himself has every bit of sashay and flounce that Johnny Depp brought to the role on the big screen, and it's certainly easy to believe that Will and Elizabeth are just as we saw them in the film — everything else carries a thick air of generic get-it-done-cheaply.
Your enemies, such as they are, will always come from a certain pool of thugs, like red-jacketed British naval grunts or island natives or so on. It's difficult to get excited when everyone you're beating up in a given scene looks like the group from the last scene. Bland environments with a serious case of barrel-itis don't help matters either, creating a game flow that is nearly completely centered around beating people up, breaking open barrels and boxes to get power-ups, and then moving on to the next room to do it again. Periodically, the title mixes it up just a touch, with duels against enemies who fight back somewhat better than the rest of their counterparts, Quick Action Segments where you tap buttons Dragon's Lair style to get through sequences, and signature "Jackanisms," which are simply Quick Action Segments involving Captain Jack walking his way through a dangerous situation in his normal, inimitable (and often completely unbelievable) style, with a good showing giving the player a few of the game's sparse bonuses.
But in all of this, we've missed the most valuable element of any budget or licensed title: Does it play well? Pirates misses "well" and lands far closer to "marginal," in no small part due to a well-meant but awkwardly executed control scheme. The sword, much like Twilight Princess, is handled entirely via swings and prods from the handy dandy Wiimote controller. The problem in this case is the sheer amount of swordplay required, an amount of exertion significantly greater than Zelda. It is physically painful after a period, as the fighting starts almost immediately and really never stops moving, with longer sequences running for several minutes. The sword motions also don't connect well to the Wiimote motions; while moving it in certain directions is supposed to result in specific strikes and parries, it feels distinctly random, usually leading to simply flailing about in order to fight. The various moves don't seem any more effective than any others, your defense is literally limited to a certain number of blocks before you must go back to fighting, and your sub-weapons are so limited in count and efficiency that you'll not find yourself using them very often. While you could not safely categorize the controls as "broken," they certainly don't add anything to the experience; this is a title that could just as easily have been done with a normal controller on another console, maybe even coming out better for the experience.
It's impossible to deny that there is a certain charm to PotC: At World's End: Captain Jack and his kin are certainly always a blast to watch, and the game does capture at least a portion of the fantastic universe presented in the movies. But when all the parts are added up, this is just another on a long list of licensed games that fail to actually get past the low standards set for the genre. PotC provides average visuals, average technical merit, and an unusual control scheme that doesn't contribute anything, but instead hinders the already-dulled excitement the title brings to the table. If you're utterly desperate to spend some time with The Black Pearl, I would really suggest trying At World's End on another platform, as the Wii-specific elements are not worth actively seeking out.
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