Playing Sid Meier's Pirates! on the Wii is a mixed bag, as it is a brilliant game that has been nearly done in by one too many ports. The game has been around for over two decades but gained the most notoriety when it was re-released on PC in 2004. Since that time, the swashbuckling adventure has been ported to every platform known to man, so it's no surprise to finally see a Wii version of the game. The surprise is the fact that the team behind the port took almost no time to fix bugs or clean up the gameplay, and the perfunctory motion controls fall into the trap of being nothing more than waggle for the sake of waggle. While this edition of the game may appeal to those who have never played Pirates! on any other platform, it's far from a definitive edition.
The game's premise is straightforward enough, and that's always been one of its greatest draws. While there is an overarching story of revenge and rescue, the real point of the title is to build up a fleet of ships and cement your reputation as the most feared Pirate of the Caribbean. Though Jack Sparrow is nowhere to be found, players can visit exotic locales like Port Royale and do battle with fearsome plunderers such as Henry Morgan. Along the way, you'll discover buried treasure, sack a few cities and woo daughters of governors. It's all in a day's work for a world-famous pirate.
One of the most enjoyable thing about Pirates! is its open-world feeling and mostly pressure-free approach to gameplay. While you need to rescue your family before growing too old, there's plenty of time for that, leaving you ample opportunity to sail about and cause trouble. This is basically a sandbox game made before playing in the sandbox was cool, and that's likely a big reason why it's been remade so often lately. If you want to rile the Spanish by repeatedly looting their treasure galleons, then feel free; if you'd prefer to spend your time trading in order to amass a fortune, that's fine, too. The game allows you to be whatever sort of pirate you wish, but with less scurvy.
For the Wii version, 2K threw in some motion controls, but they're forgettable. When dueling enemy captains, different Wiimote swipes translate into different sword attacks, but the basic strategy of "hit him before he hits you" means that strategic thrusts and parries are rarely needed. You also sweep the controller around when dancing at the governor's ball, but no one has ever cared about that piece of the game. The remote's IR sensor comes in handy when you're attacking a fortified city, creating an on-screen reticle that you can aim at enemy cannons and ships in order to bombard the town into submission. Aside from these occasions, the only time the Wiimote's abilities come into play is when navigating menus, which is just as exciting as it sounds. The concessions made for the Wii's unique control scheme are downright patronizing; it would have been better if 2K had skipped them entirely.
Another missed opportunity lies in the game's new co-op mode, which adds little to the experience. Instead of giving a second player control over his own boat or at least some degree of autonomy, he's a servant to the main player in every possible way. During navigation, they're relegated to trimming sails, and whenever player one starts a duel with an enemy, the second player has to tag along as a parrot, basically providing harassment and distraction as the duel wears on. Part of the co-op issues spring from the fact that Pirates! is a traditionally single-player experience, so there's no real blueprint for how to include co-op. Given that, it would have been smart for 2K to skip the experiment altogether, but we assume someone at Nintendo headquarters or in a focus group somewhere demanded some form of multiplayer, so here it is. Much like the motion controls, it's another pointless and halfhearted addition.
These lazy additions could be overlooked if the core gameplay had been tweaked and improved, but the game's old problems are still here, and new bugs seem to crop up to spoil the fun as well. Sailing to the East (against the prevailing winds) is still a painfully slow experience, and it could have been easily fixed by upping the game's overall speed. Yes, trying to sail against the wind was historically difficult, but forcing players to go from one side of the map to the other at a snail's pace isn't good for gameplay. Just make the trip feel faster and the problem is solved, but 2K doesn't seem interested in such things. On top of that, treasure maps and maps to missing family members seem to sometimes randomly disappear from your inventory, potentially leaving players stuck and unable to make any progress. If that happens to you, you may as well just start over because nothing but a long, slow march to failure awaits. It seems that 2K yanked the code from another version of Pirates! and slapped it on a Wii disc, warts and all.
The one saving grace is that in spite of all these shortcomings, if you've never played Sid Meier's Pirates! before and only own a Wii console, then this is a title you absolutely must own. The title has long stood as an example of excellent game design, and it's so much fun that it's easy to lose track of time and spend hours and hours roaming the seas, looking for ships to pick on and new lands to explore. With that in mind, if you own any other supported platform (and you likely do), then buy another edition of the game, as the Wii version is likely the weakest of the bunch.
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