Do you really need a review to tell you not to buy this game?
Playing Pirates of the Caribbean for GBA, more than anything, makes me sorry. I’m sorry for the developers, who have to scrape by a living by creating this shovelware under ridiculous deadlines and with almost no creative freedom. I’m sorry for all the uninformed kids who will buy this game because of the name on the box. I’m sorry for all the reviewers who have to play it as part of their job.
To be fair, this isn’t the worst licensed game around. It’s just incredibly mediocre and predictable, to the point where playing it evokes neither hatred nor enjoyment, but simply a lukewarm feeling of “progress” as you plow through each level. The graphics, sound, presentation, and gameplay are all extremely typical for licensed GBA platformers; that is to say, none of these elements are horrible, and none are notable in the slightest.
The few high and low points respectively include pretty and somewhat engaging pirate ship levels and some of the worst play control I’ve dealt with in a long time. Ship battles stand out from the generic “adventure” levels with their detailed models and interesting combat, which involves using the shoulder buttons to activate the cannon(s) on either side of your ship. Enemy ships have the same weapons and range as you do, so destroying them is purely a matter of skill and strategy. These levels would almost make the game worth playing except for the lack of radar, which means you may have to spend several minutes at a time blindly searching the ocean for the last enemy ship.
The play control is enough to make the game not worth playing, cool ship battles or not. Other than running a bit slowly, your pirate normally moves around fine. There’s even a handy lock-on feature that helps you line up with your sword-fighting opponents. The problem (and it’s a fatal one) lies in button response. Sword-to-sword duels are all fine and dandy, but they require quick responses to your opponent’s attacks. Such speedy reaction is simply not possible in this game, because there’s a considerable lag between when you press the attack button and when your character actually swings his sword. Combined with the canned animations, winning a swordfight becomes a matter of sheer luck. The only reliable way to kill enemies is by shooting them from afar (but your ammo is very limited) or by sneaking in a sword attack before they are in range. Once metal hits metal, there’s a good chance that you’re going to die, and your death screams are likely to include, “Swing the f---ing sword already!”
Even less forgivable is the same button response lag when making jumps. After just the first couple of levels, the game starts asking you to make perfect jumps over spiked/bottomless pits, sometimes in quick succession with no room to stop and assess the next jump. There is literally no room for error; land one pixel short and you lose a life; the gaps are designed to be exactly as wide as your jumping range. Now imagine that, on top of the already unresponsive control, you have to deal with grainy level art, so that it isn’t at all clear how far you can run before jumping at the last second. It’s inexcusably bad play control combined with inexcusably bad level design.
Then you have the story, which neither enhances nor detracts from the game…it’s just laughably inept. You’re supposed to be experiencing the back-story for Captain Jack Sparrow, who is played by Johnny Depp in the film. What’s really shocking is how much of the character’s personality has been drained out completely for the game. Depp’s weird and hilarious portrayal has been translated into bland dialogue that would be more appropriate for an accountant than a pirate. Jack’s guide is an old blind man who once sailed the high seas himself. What’s astonishing is that the old geezer seems to be all but omniscient; he knows exactly where everything is and exactly what Jack should do next. For whatever reason, Jack trusts the ex-pirate completely, to the extent that he has the audacity to take a mysterious scrap of paper up to the elder for help identifying it. He asks a blind man to identify a piece of paper. Maybe it’s a joke from the scenario writer, but considering the overall lack of effort on the story, I rather doubt it.
Saving your progress requires a 10-character password. Last time I checked, it’s the year 2003. Why are we still being asked to keep up with passwords? This issue isn’t a major one, but it’s indicative of how little polish is applied to this and practically all licensed GBA titles.
What I’m getting at, as if it were any surprise, is that Pirates of the Caribbean is exactly like every other cookie-cutter movie/cartoon-licensed platformer. Sadly, our beloved GBA is home to more than its fair share of these “games”. Do your part and fight the whoring of the young gaming art form. Fight the ongoing market saturation by meaningless, unremarkable software. Fight bad games. Don’t buy this one.