If the PC version was a galleon and the Xbox port was a sloop, does that make Sid Meier's Pirates! on PSP the video game equivalent of a rubber raft? Thankfully, the answer is no, as this handheld version maintains the same sublime seamen sensibilities as its larger predecessors. After all, it's not the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean.
Pirates! packs a series of mini-games into a rich, role-playing shell. Ship-to-ship battles are the game's best aspect, as you circle your prey and lob a variety of ammunition in its direction. If the cannonballs aren't flying your way, board the vessel for a little one-on-one swordplay duel with the opposing captain. For less violent progression, go on dangerous treasure hunts (man-eating tigers ahoy!), or just play mack-daddy by wooing heiresses in romantic rendezvous on the dance floor.
None of these mechanics are particularly complex, but control well enough and offer just the right amount of depth to keep you satisfied. If that wasn't enough, the plunder you procure adds a sense of pride to progression. The sandbox aspect of Pirates! allows you free reign of what to do. It's your ship, matey.
Playing politics is almost as entertaining as the gameplay proper. Choose a country to work for, or play each nation against one another - not to mention dealing with rogue pirates and savage natives. You'll want to get on as many good sides as possible, to maximize the benefits of promotion within their ranks. Better standing equals cheaper upgrades and repairs, and a broader selection of ladies to swoon.
Balance keeping your crew's morale up with buying useful trinkets off mysterious pub patrons. There's always a decision to make or a mission to undertake. As such, strategy isn't hard to find in Pirates! If you're left wanting, bump up the difficulty or try a new era on for size.
The production values won't shiver your timbers, but Pirates! on PSP is faithful to more high-tech iterations. The graphics have their own uniqueness, and the audio suits the atmosphere. Some could complain that a more mature, gory art style would've better served the vile pirate vibe, but it's not worth complaining about when Pirates! plays so well.