IGN Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Though every system on the planet is pretty much getting an interactive version of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End flick, this wasn't the case for last year's release: it was almost exclusively a handheld product. Both the Nintendo DS and the Game Boy Advance systems got their own take that fit the specific platform -- on the Nintendo DS, handheld developer Amaze created a Double Dragon-esque brawler that lacked a needed finesse, but ultimately wasn't all that terrible. The new version for this year's trilogy finale is an improvement to Dead Man's Chest, but it's still not quite all good.
While the console versions try to catch up with the Pirates of the Caribbean story by divvying out its gameplay across both last year's and this year's flicks, the Nintendo DS game -- apart from a training level that's pulled from close to the end of the second movie just to kick things off -- begins right with the front half of the third movie's plot. On the upside, you're getting right into the At World's End scenario, but on the downside it takes nearly half the game to unlock the real draw of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise: Captain Jack Sparrow. Not that we don't appreciate sticking to the script, or playing as Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly, but let's face it -- Johnny Depp is the series and the reason for its success, so waiting so long just to be able to control him is almost agonizing.
I will say, however, that the payoff when you finally unlock Jack Sparrow is pretty rewarding, what with the swelling, familiar Pirates of the Caribbean theme rising from the DS speakers. It's a real treasure to hear that, especially after playing through a few hours of the game with an incredibly generic soundtrack accompanying the action. But I digress.
At World's End is very much an update to the gameplay established in last year's Dead Man's Chest: lots of running around and lots of beating up on enemies. The fighting engine's been improved with a few more things to do in combat, but it's still mostly about pounding down on the A button until you've hit the enemy enough to kill him. There are some contextual attacks that sprout up -- use the "kick" button when sneaking up on an enemy, for example, and you'll take him out with a clever "tap on the shoulder" animation. But they're few and far between, and sometimes you're not quick enough to trigger them properly. The combat also suffers from the same problem as last year: lack of "oomph" when attacking enemies. It just feels "mushy" when beating up on the opposition.
There's more level exploration in At World's End which makes this sequel more of a Tomb Raider/Prince of Persia-style design than the previous version. Climb ledges, swing on ropes, use a grappler to grab and swing. Some of the more prominent puzzles require players to carry fire from one area to another in enough time, and this definitely adds a bit more energy and intensity to the action.
The level designers did get a bit lazy in places, making it possible to grab onto some ledges but not others simply to make things not as easy. The biggest culprit in cheapness is in the use of the game's third-person camera perspective: sometimes it's near impossible to judge distances simply because the game doesn't let you look around. A lot of times there's no point of reference for a dangling rope, so you won't know if you're in line to grab it or if it's out of reach; the only way to test it is to simply make leaps of faith. There are far too many "trial and error" deaths in the adventuring portion of At World's End.
There's also a new "duel" mode for what could be considered boss battles in At World's End. In these sequences, the action shifts to the lower screen where players attack with swipes of the stylus. Swipes up, down, left, and right will attack in that direction, and extra attacks can be earned as you progress deeper in the adventure. It's a good idea that's a little awkward; the control scheme feels a little disconnected since there's a enforced lag between what's drawn on the screen and the character's reaction to it. This is amplified by the fact that there is direct feedback in the defensive portion: up, down, left and right on the D-pad (or the button equivalent on the right of the system) blocks immediately when pressed in that direction.
If you can deal with some of the sloppy choices in game design, this Pirates of the Caribbean isn't all that bad, and even with the gameplay and level warts there's a lot of fun and challenge. The game looks way better than last year thanks to a much more tweaked 3D engine that allows for a decent amount of texture detail. On the downside, character animations are pretty generic and disappointing...and all three playable characters share essentially the same moves.
Some of the extras, like Liar's Dice, are great additions that make sense -- you can even play the classic game of deception over local wireless with other systems that don't have a copy of the game. But then there are stupid DS-centric elements, like requiring players to piece together collected parts of a map to move onto the next area of the adventure. It's entirely unnecessary especially since the solution's so obvious even Jack's monkey could do it.
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