The brilliant throwback arcade fun of Pirate Pop Plus burns bright but doesn't last long.
Pirate Pop Plus looks like a long-lost Game Boy game, and it kind of plays like one, too. Mostly, that’s awesome, as 13AM Games and Dadako’s new 3DS/Wii U eShop game is filled with old-school arcade goodness. The experience falls short, however, by being so very limited. The only motivation to keep playing this simple game is local leaderboards and a small smattering of achievements. Pirate Pop Plus is rad while it lasts, but it won’t last too long.
It plays like Pang/Buster Bros, as you fire off a chain to break down bubbles blown by a vile pirate. The twist that makes it different from its forebear is that gravity shifts, so at a moment’s notice, you could be on the wall or the ceiling dealing with new wrinkles in how the bubbles bounce. Garnering the highest score possible is done by stringing together bubble-popping combos, picking up items, and firing off special guns. The weaponry is where the chaos gets nuts. One gun fires rapidly, cutting through bubbles like butter, while another sets up links that run across the screen, destroying any bubble that hits it. Each round, which ends when you run of health, feels different and expertly captures the addicting qualities of the best arcade games. Two modes of play exist, the gentler entry-level mode that grants you more health, and the Hyper mode that throws you in with a single heart but nets you double the points. At a certain point, Hyper mode is the only way to play.
Coins are earned while you pop bubbles, and those can be turned around to purchase unlockables. The best are the other playable characters and new music tracks. However, outside of the characters, every unlockable is cosmetic. While it’s super neat to change the tone of your monochromatic play area, it’s kind of pointless. Achievements are also present, giving you goals to strive for, but you have to use coins to even unlock what the achievements are.
The downside is that, once you clear 100,000 points and earn the limited amount of achievements, not much is left to do. I wanted to keep playing, especially after I more or less mastered some aspects of the winning strategy, but outside of going after my own high score, I had nothing to do. Pirate Pop Plus isn’t an expensive game, so the few hours of great enjoyment I got out of it don’t feel like a rip-off. Cross-buy on Wii U and 3DS also sweetens the pot.
Nonetheless, I really dug the entire game before it just kind of stopped giving me goals to chase. Pirate Pop Plus is an arcade game that could be on par with something like a Geometry Wars in my eyes, but it feels like it’s the Geometry Wars that was a throwaway bonus in Project Gotham Racing 2, not the Geometry Wars that is arguably one of the best game on the Xbox 360. If you’re hankering for a bite-sized arcade experience that is heavy on fun and light on content, Pirate Pop Plus is fantastic. And hey - maybe they’ll make Pirate Pop Plus: Retro Evolved or something and it’ll be incredible.