Genre: RPG Developer: MPS Labs Publisher: Microprose Players: 1 Released: 1993
In the year 2003 the world was introduced to Captain Jack Sparrow of the infamous Black Pearl in Disney’s blockbuster film Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl. It was THE movie that single handily restarted the pirate craze. From then on everywhere you looked was a jolly roger or some idiot who claimed that he was a pirate. Pirate merchandise flooded the shelves and from that point on there was no longer a way to separate the real pirates from the impersonators. Luckily, a wise man known only as Sir Sid Meier had foreseen this problem years before it actually happened and cleverly devised a test to separate the real swashbucklers from the scallywags. This test was cleverly disguised as a video-game, and that video game maties is Pirates! Gold.
Pirates! Gold will let you do everything you have always wanted to do as a pirate, from capturing cities, finding buried treasure, commanding a fleet of ships, keeping a crew happy, and even winning the hand of a fair maiden, this game truly lets you live the life of a pirate in every way possible. If ye think ye be a true sea dog, then plug this cart into ye Genesis an’ get ready t’ set sail on a timeless RPG adventure.
Several options are offered to you at the start of the game, you may choose from starting a new career, resuming a saved game, commanding a famous expedition, fighting a duel, and viewing the hall of fame. Fighting duels is a key part of the game but is also offered here as an option for some quick sword fighting, which is a great way for new players to learn the controls as well as practice their swashbuckling skills. Should you choose to command a famous expedition, you assume the role of some of history’s most famous pirates (Henry Morgan for example) and attempt to recreate their legendary acts of piracy on your own. Of course, the first option, starting a career is what many of us bought the game for, a chance to create and become our very own pirate, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
When starting a new career you have many decisions to make other than just deciding upon your name. First of all you must choose a time period. This may sound unimportant, but here is where paying attention in history class actually pays off. Each time period provides a different configuration of the map of the Caribbean. Some time periods are loaded with Spanish, French, and Dutch cities; rival pirates, even notoriously bad weather. Although the time period and the difficulty setting are different, some time periods will be harder than others. The manual describes all of this in detail, and although while it is not essential to play the game, it is quite helpful (fear not, it can be found online here as a complete copy of this game is both rare and expensive).
As soon as your adventure has begun you are presented with a blank list of The Ten Great Pirate Quests. Hopefully as you proceed along your exploits you will accomplish some of these feats and they will be written in on the list. Tasks on this list range from capturing a rival pirate, finding buried treasure, all the way to rescuing your long lost sister. This is done by visiting taverns, extorting information from prisoners, capturing rival pirates, and even working for the governors of colonies. These are optional tasks and are not necessary to complete the game, however, since Pirates! Gold is so open ended for those of you who need a goal to strive for they do exist- but it is up to you to uncover them!
After being presented with The Ten Great Pirate Quests you are immediately thrust into a duel for control of your very own ship. Moving is controlled by the D pad, left to move closer to your opponent, and right to retreat. If at any point you feel you may lose a duel, you may retreat by moving off the screen to the right; however you MUST win this first duel to start the game. The A button is a quick jab, while the B button is a more powerful but slower swipe, and the C button controls your parry. The D pad can also be used while attacking to control which area of the body you wish to direct your attack as well as parry. I have found while play on the easier difficulties the D pad is not necessary to win a duel, although as you progress through the game, it helps to have some experience with it. Once you have won your first duel, you are awarded with a ship and a Letter of Marquee, essentially a contract for employment from a governor whose island you will start off on-and your adventure begins (I promise this time)!
The game-play itself is extremely open ended. Upon winning your first duel you find yourself on an island town, selected at random. In this town (and any other) you may either; visit the tavern (to hire crew and gather information), visit the general store (to buy and sell goods/cargo, visit the bank (to split up your loot and end your current expedition), visit the shipwright (to buy cannons for your ship) and visit the governor. Visiting the governor will get you a letter of marque (or a letter of employment if you will) right off the bat on your first island. You will then be working as a privateer for that governor and he will provide you with missions to accomplish. If he likes you, he may even introduce you to his daughter. You can visit other towns and attempt to gather letters of marque from other governors as well (and flirt with other daughters), but be wary, if you constantly attack one country’s ships and towns it is highly unlikely that you will be offered a letter of marque from a governor of that nation. There is no time slot to accomplish the missions handed out by governors, and you may complete them at your leisure, sailing from port to port while plundering other ships as you go.
If you are not dueling or conducting business in town, then chances are you are out sailing the high seas. Sailing is obviously a huge part of this game, as it is the main means of getting around the map, and is pretty straight forward, although weather conditions greatly effect your speed. You will encounter storms, that while produce favorable winds, can wreck your ship. Sailing too close to land is also risky business, as the waters are too shallow for your ship and you could end up striking rocks, risking damage to or losing your ship entirely. As long as you steer clear of storms and shore lines, you should find that sailing is a breeze (pun intended), unless of course you happen to come across another ship.
Sea combat, like sailing is also easy to get a handle on. Personally, unless instructed to destroy vessels by a governor, I like to board ships in order to capture them and plunder their cargo. This may be done with any ship regardless of the difference in size between the two vessels doing battle. In order to board a rival ship, simply steer yours directly into theirs and make contact. Attacking a large ship most likely means a large crew and the larger the crew the more difficult the duel, so be sure to have a fairly large crew yourself before attacking the upper class ships.
There is one final method of combat present in this game, and that revolves around attacking towns themselves. There are two main ways to go about this; you may either attack a town with your ship by sailing into it, or you may leave your ship and attack by land. Plundering cities can be extremely profitable, however it requires a large crew, and a large crew requires a large plunder or you will face a large mutiny, consider yourself warned matey!
One feature that I loved was the ability to go below deck in your ship, which can be accessed at anytime by pressing the C button. Below deck, you are presented with several options; saving your game, checking your personal status, viewing the map, and viewing the ships log. Your personal status sounds the most interesting out of these choices, and it is. When viewing your personal status, you get a view of yourself that changes as you age, an insight into your reputation, how much land you have been granted by governors, and your title with each nation. The ships log maintains a record of your activities, should at anytime you wish to backtrack.
Pirates! Gold is a port of the PC classic of the same name. The graphics of course are much better here on the Genesis than they were on the PC. The colors are vibrant and there is a ton of detail in this title as present in the waves in the ocean, shadows in towns, and moving light while below deck in the ship. There is even a small pirate face in the corner of the screen that displays your crews morale. Will the graphics blow you away? Not at all, but there are little details in numerous places that bring forth the perfect atmosphere and really give you the feeling that you are on a pirate ship in the Caribbean plundering for treasure. The music, albeit a little cheesy, is perfect pirate music which changes when sailing, walking through towns, as well as engaging in battle. You’ll have a smirk on your face when listening to the majority of the songs in this game but what would a pirate game be without pirate music?
The only downside there is to Pirates! Gold is that chances are you will have a hard time finding it. While flea markets have been a great place to find games (and still are) I doubt you will come across this puppy sitting next to someone’s old baseball trophies. You can find the game online at many popular websites such as eBay and Amazon, however a cart only copy will cost you on average about $25 plus shipping. A complete copy of Pirates! will likely run you upwards of $40.
At the end of the day this is an amazing game with a great storyline, extremely high replay value, and the ability to hold its own against the greatest Genesis RPGs. Do yourself a favor ‘n put off buyin’ a game fer a week or two ‘n save up some doubloons fer Pirates! Gold. I assure ye, ’twill be well worth yer while.