Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
Media producers love entertainment that has a built-in buying audience. Why else would anybody spend millions to make wretched movies such as The Dukes of Hazard? For the fan base, of course. And that's also why movie studios create sequels for every film that even flirts with hit status. If moviegoers will pay oodles of cash for one crowd-pleasing pic, then surely they'll love six more just like it.
Well, video game creators have been paying attention. And they're throwing their hats into the ring, too. Shrek, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, Cars and Harry Potter are but a few of the many hit movie-to-game adaptations purchased by the devoted masses. And Bethesda Softworks, grabbing the rights to the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean, hope that bedazzled Jack Sparrow groupies will follow suit. But movie-based games raise a question that squawks like a parrot on a pirate's shoulder: "Awwk! Is it fun?" Better yet, "Is it good fun?"
Weigh Anchor With Jack
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow starts where the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl ended. Jack (voiced by Johnny Depp) talks his swashbuckling blacksmith friend Will Turner into helping him find—steal—a valuable artifact stashed within a Spanish fortress. They parry and slash their way to the treasure but are betrayed and left to face the gallows at the hands of angry Spaniards. However, before they swing, Jack steps forward for his last words. He tells them they can call him a thief and scoundrel (as long as they call him Captain), but here's the truth of what's transpired. The crowd of onlookers and officials settle in for a long and hopefully entertaining story.
The game begins in earnest now, as Jack, Will and Elizabeth are all players in Jack's fantastic (and mostly fabricated) memories that weave in and around the action of the first Pirates movie. This storytelling device allows the history-revising Jack and his friends to jump from exploit to exploit in the blink of an eye. They fight their way through 24 levels of angry enemies including frozen Vikings in Arctic wastelands, magically animated clay statues and dragons in Asian temples and, of course, the cursed Captain Barbossa and his skeletal minions.
The game keeps its head above the bilgewater by making sure that all defeated foes flash with bursts of light as swords find their mark and then disappear quickly without blood or gore. There is some drinking of rum in one bar scene, but colorful pirate lingo is mostly held in check. Irate mateys say, "Ye gods" and "I've been hiding in them swamps since sundown. I'll be pulling leeches off me netherparts for ages," which is the strongest language to be heard.
Ehhhhh? Or Arrrrrr!
Playing the game, in one or two player mode, is pretty simple. Maybe a little too simple. Because there just isn't a lot of pirate stuff to do here. No sailing and battling on the high seas and no real yo-ho-ho treasure hunts, either. (There are a few logic puzzles/minigames, but they're much too short.) You do fight horde after horde of ugly undead warriors and monsters. Which means Pirates is essentially a button masher with two buttons devoted to swinging your sword and one to picking things up. When you slash enemies, break crates and open treasure chests (scattered here and there) you acquire health restoring gems and gold that can be exchanged for upgrades to your basic skills. But your enemies keep pace with any improvements you make, so it works out as a wash. You can also block, kick and throw things (like flaming jugs of grog), but hewing through the bad guys is pretty much all that's required.
Which is too bad. Because I think Bethesda Softworks was earnestly trying to create a family oriented game. Coders geared all the gameplay down to its easiest form so that younger players (and mom and dad) could just pick up the game controller and go. They even came up with a pithy narrative that strains out most of the scarier elements of the films. The problem is that the game (like the movies) has this way of romanticizing lying and thieving pirates. And to top it off, it's kind of like swabbing the decks all day—a little boring. And that's one title that Jack Sparrow would never stomach.