PIRATES! GOLD / Microprose / Sega Genesis

While I thought both Pirates! and Pirates! Gold for PC were very good games, they were honestly kind of a pain in the balls to play. So my hope coming into Pirates! Gold for the Genesis was that the transition to console would smooth out the gameplay and make the interface a little more user-friendly, as happened with the SNES port of Uncharted Waters 2 and the NES port of Ultima IV.

The game still requires some prep work in reading the manual to learn the basics about staying supplied, how to fight ship-to-ship battles and just generally what the hell you're supposed to be doing at the outset, but I did find this one generally smoother and more presentable than the PC versions. For those totally new to the franchise, it's an early effort from Sid Meier (author of Civilization and other fine games) that puts you in the Age of Sail as an upstart pirate Cap'n starting with just a ship and a small crew and basically going out to make your fortune however you see fit. In this version, you choose to be either an English, French, Dutch or Spanish pirate, and you choose from one of several historical periods from about 1550 to 1700 (which mostly determines who owns what territory) to ply your trade in.

The game always begins with you challenging a pirate captain for command of his ship, which is basically a nerfed battle designed to give you a taste of the swordfighting mini-game. From there you stop by the tavern to roust up some scurvy crew, lay in what supplies you can afford, and set off to make some coin somehow or another. Your primary activites for coin-making at first are plundering other ships, which involves another combat mini-game, and trading goods from port to port. When you build some reputation in combat, you have the option of privateering for one of the nations that you haven't been pwning hard on the waters, which can lead to getting land, a house and a title. Once you've got a home you can also court the daughters of governors and such and wind up taking a wife, who doesn't really seem to like giving up the booty but does serve as a spy into treasure fleet movements and such. There's also the option of attacking port towns by land with your scurvy army and over-running them, which involves yet another mini-game.

Basically, you get twenty or so years to live in this highly unhygenic world, and you're free to just do what you want with it. The expected goal is to enrich yourself as much as possible however you care to, but you can really just sail around and do whatever for the lulz. The game is sort of an early example of GTA sandbox style in that you have a reputation with each nation and as you perpetrate infamous acts of Piracy on them, they may issue orders to ban you from their ports and attack you on sight. Of course, pwning one nation usually makes you popular with whoever their enemies happen to be at the time, but wars and alliances begin and end rather randomly over time and are unpredictable. There's also pirate havens to work from if you just want to attack the hell out of everybody.

Graphics aren't any great shakes, but they are certainly a vast improvement over the original PC release and its 8-bit ports. I guess it's debatable whether the mouse interface of the PC version is easier to control than the 3-button Genesis pad, but I liked the interface here and thought all modes of play went well. You'd maybe like the combat mini-games to have a bit more depth and be a little smoother, they still feel a bit like the standard kinda-clunky PC action sequence tacked into non-action games, but they definitely aren't bad and I can't really say they detract from the game.

This is a great strategy/action hybrid with a great theme, and a fairly good deal of depth without being overly taxing on the player. Easily recommended to fans of piratey/Age of Sail games.

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