Pirates: The Key of Dreams was originally meant to be released as one of the launch titles in Europe. For whatever reason, this failed to happen, but two months it has finally come out and perhaps lost some of its thunder. Interestingly it is a prequel to an upcoming DS game by the name of Pirates: Duels on the High Seas, which looks very similar in concept.
There are just two gameplay modes: story mode, in which you play on your own, and multiplayer battle mode (sadly with no Wi-Fi options), where you can challenge up to three of your friends. Let's talk about the single player game first.
The is a bit strange, to say the least. Pirates have become increasingly common around the world, so the governor of Port Royal, a famous harbour near Jamaica, sends you out to retrieve the "Key of Dreams." This key is said to make its owner into a battle master, able to easily defeat any enemy. However, as it is in the hands of a pirate, your ship is disguised as a pirate ship to make it easier to infiltrate. As a result, all the national fleets in the locations you visit mistake you for real pirates and attack on sight! You can select three ships in single player mode: - big (easy), medium or small (hard). The large ship has the most health and firepower.
The gameplay involves little more than sailing around and destroying other ships. There is some variety in the enemies, which include small, weak ships and large strong ones, as well as boathouses that spawn infinite boats until destroyed, gun towers, bomb boats which explode if they hit you, mine boats which drop floating mines, and others. You can use your standard cannonball fire to deal with enemies and there are also some special weapons, like rockets, saw blades, flamethrowers, etc.. Ultimately however, these all perform in exactly the same way; they even deal nearly the same damage (which is a moot point really, as you get multiple uses per pickup, enough to destroy anything).
Defeating enemies will sometimes leave a crew member in the water, who for a small fee you can pick up and recruit in order to increase your ship's firepower, speed, or sight distance on the mini-map. To be quite honest, you will not really notice too much of a difference in your ship's performance. To get the money to recruit these crew members, you will need to pick up treasure chests floating in the water, which give you $1000 each. If you're damaged (which you will be most of the time), every half second, you will automatically spend $2 on your crew to perform (extremely slow) repairs. You can also pick up tokens, which form a magical shield that temporarily absorbs enemy damage before breaking.
The story mode has ten levels altogether, so you'd think there would be room for some different objectives, but unfortunately the opposite is true. Every level is pretty much exactly the same in nature. Destroy enemy ships, pick up items, get to the end and you're done. Even the locations are very similar. You will only travel to Port Royal (Jamaica), Porto Bello (Spain) and Persia, so don't expect the lava or ice worlds as shown in the screenshots to appear in the story mode, they are only used in the multiplayer battle mode. The only time a real variation occurs is in the second to last stage where which ends with a ship battle with Blackbeard.
This battle is also the only time during gameplay where you'll hear music in the game. Otherwise, music plays only on menus and during story sequences. In every other level and in multiplayer mode, you hear nothing but waves, seagulls and sailing, aside from sound effects like cannonball fire and such. The gameplay suffers for being disrupted by frequent pop-up messages accompanied by a rather boring "Arrr!" sound effect. This gets annoying very quickly. Also,you will generally be notified that "an enemy fleet is up ahead" around ten times per stage!
Summing it, up the story mode is really quite repetitive, and you can complete the whole game in around ninety minutes with little real challenge. There is nothing to do now other than considering the multiplayer mode to see if it fares any better.
In multiplayer mode, you and up to three friends can duke it out in a small arena, set in one of seven locations, only three of which are from the main game. Each location in turn has seven different arenas, so at least there is a bit of variety to speak of. Before each match you set how many ships you need to destroy to win and what ship everybody uses. In each arena you will find money, special attacks and treasure chests to fund your crew. The multiplayer is quite good fun for a while, but it's really too bad that you can only play with friends locally. You can play against the CPU too, but this mode would have most definitely benefited from Wi-Fi functionality.
Pirates: The Key of Dreams is really a mixed bag. If you're looking for a single player game, you will come away severely disappointed. It's just not long enough to warrant the high price tag of 1000 Wii Points. It's also too repetitive, short lived and there is no reason to go back to it. If you're looking for a multiplayer game, then the battle mode is actually relatively decent, especially if you turn the turbo mode on to make everything go super fast. Overall, Pirates doesn't really sink, but it only just manages to swim! We recommend you save your pieces of eight for something better.