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Playmobil Pirates Boarding! (DS)

Rated: 3+ but there's lots of complex text. Players will need to be able to read fluently to get the most from the game.

Story: Pirate One-Eye must search out the nine pieces of Blackbeard's sea-chart in order to find the mermaid and rescue her from the 'wicked' soldiers.

There's a possibility this may not be all that historically accurate...

Gameplay: The two main elements of Pirates are sailing and platforming. The sailing involves steering your ship between islands, avoiding reefs and enemies. Once you've upgraded your vessel and acquired cannons, you can defeat opposing ships and monsters to claim loot. The platforming is some basic 2D jumping with a touch of sword-fighting thrown in.

The main way to make money for ship upgrades is by trading goods between islands. This adds a little more interest to the missions, since most of them merely involve sailing between two islands, doing a brief spot of platforming and then sailing back again.

Occasionally, One-Eye must dive for treasure or fire rubber rings using a catapult to rescue shipwreck survivors. There are also a number of mini-games. These are simplified and limited versions of Blackjack, Air Hockey, Zoo Keeper, Battleships and Boom Boom Rocket. It's only necessary to win each one once to progress in the main game but they can be played additional times to win extra gold.

The Battleships mini-game can be played 2-player using 2 DSs and a single cart.

Save System: Automatic save on landing, setting sail or completing a mission. It's worth noting, however, that if your ship sinks, you don't die and get to return to your last save - you wash up on the nearest island and have to buy a new boat. This can be a huge setback. It's worth switching off the DS and reloading the game before the auto-save kicks in.

Comments: First impressions of Pirates are favourable. The graphics are good and the intro movie is reminiscent of the style and humour of the LEGO computer games. More than that, the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek and there's an ambitious mix of gameplay styles. It appears that Pirates has the potential to be a Playmobil take on Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass and deliver an epic free-roaming adventure.

Sadly, although there's plenty of freedom to sail anywhere, there's very little point. A free-roaming adventure normally has a fairly linear main story but plenty of distractions, side-quests and hidden corners to reward experimentation and exploration. Pirates really only has a main story and it's mostly made up of what would count as side-quests and distractions in a better game. It consists almost entirely of 'go there, fetch that' missions.

None of the constituents of the game are particularly broken but they've all been done better elsewhere. The diving sections are a direct borrow from Phantom Hourglass, for instance. In terms of level design, the platforming segments are twenty years out of date. Much of the sailing feels like filler. Without puzzles, secrets or even much variation, completing the game becomes a question of perseverance. Sprog1 (aged 9) lost interest after an hour or two and went back to the complexities of Pokémon.

That said, Sprog2 (aged 7) loved Pirates. He enjoyed the trading and didn't mind the repetition and lack of challenge. He was just annoyed that once the mermaid was free, he couldn't go back and do more sailing around without starting a new saved game.

Pirates is by no means a disaster. It's certainly been given some love and care (if not much imagination). Ultimately, however, the game will only to appeal to a very narrow age range of children. Children not much younger than eight will struggle with reading all the dialogue, while children who aren't much older will get bored with the basic nature of the gameplay.

Conclusion: Diverting for eight-year-olds and Playmobil fans but quickly becomes a grind for anyone else.

Graphics: Some pleasing 3D characters on a 2D background. Captures the Playmobil look.

Length: Short - 5 or 6 hours.

Rating: 3/5.

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