Review: Pop-Up Pirate! (WiiWare)

Pop-Up Pirate! - a barrel of fun or a total wash-out?

Many of us will remember Tomy’s successful ‘board’ game, Pop-Up Pirate, from our childhoods. Cautiously inserting mini-daggers into the pirate’s unsuspecting torso in an attempt to avoid murdering the poor one-eyed soul – that’s what being a kid is all about! Well, perhaps not, but it sure was an entertaining activity during heavy rainfall when stepping outside would have resulted in walking the plank anyway. And now, Tomy has decided to bring us a video game conversion of its successful toy -- but how well does their WiiWare map out?

In essence the WiiWare adaption of Pop-Up Pirate is just a digital version of the toy -- there’s no radical gameplay change or alterations of the game’s premise, and Tomy has seen fit to include only two modes. The first, aptly named, "Pop-Up Party", is what you’ll remember from playing the toy: it simply involves the placement of small plastic swords into slots in a barrel, which encloses a fairly cheerful (considering his position) pirate, whilst attempting to avoid the sole opening that will lead to the pirate’s untimely ejection from his wooden prison. The loser of the game is the one who activates this rogue space.

This first mode is fairly good fun in multiplayer, but ultimately it’s also completely based on luck, and is too limited to hold your attention for too long, even with some friends. A diversion in the form of a shallow mini-game can occur here during play, entitled "The Captain’s Challenge". This event merely asks the player to thrust the Wii remote to the left, right, up, or down in an attempt to imitate the pirate’s movement. Every player has one shot at this before it ends, and successfully moving the remote in the correct direction results in you missing a turn, giving you a momentary advantage. It’s pretty dull and you’ll probably become bored of it soon enough, but it offers a small diversion from the repetitive and uninspired normal mode.

Unlike the Pop-Up Party game type, which can be played with up to 4 players, the other mode is exclusively for single player play. Known as "Pop-Up Logic," it follows a slightly different suit. Although what you’re doing with the Wii remote is basically the same, the fundamental difference is that there is more than one hole to avoid, the purpose being to place your sword in every "safe" slot on the barrel or cover every space that will result in some time being taken away from the limit in the corner of the screen. When a sword is slotted into a hole, a number appears over that slot, giving you an indication of how many rogue spaces are near that one. By checking the numbers surrounding open holes, the player can calculate how likely it is that the hole is safe. This brings a tactical element into the fray. Once the time limit reaches 0, you get a game over.

Each stage of Pop-Up Logic follows the same pattern as the last and although the inclusion of a single player mode is a welcome addition, it just doesn’t offer quite enough variety. More options to customise the game type would have been appreciated, because as it stands there’s just not enough to keep you coming back for more.

As expected, Pop-Up Pirate! is controlled entirely with the Wii remote. Short thrusts forward in conjunction with the A button slots the on-screen sword into its position, while the d-pad rotates the barrel that the pirate is housed in. Alternatively, holding in the B button and tilting the remote to the side also carries out the latter action. It works, and it works quite well. Nothing is mind blowing, control-wise, and Tomy plays it pretty safe with its implementation, but the main thing is that the remote functions properly without being frustrating (considering that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing in the game).

On the whole, the presentation is fairly solid. Pleasing, bright colours are present throughout and the graphics are actually quite nice, with some pleasant animations taking place before the start of each Pop-Up Party match. The menus are suitably designed to adhere to the pirate theme, however they offer the bare minimum of options -- you can’t even pause the game during Pop-Up Party/Logic matches. It would have been nice to have more customisation options, for example the choice of the background for the match. Similarly, although eventually quite repetitive, the music tracks are decent and are pretty appropriate for the game.

The biggest issue lies not with the control scheme -- it’s so simple that there’s ultimately nothing to fault in its mechanics -- or combination of graphics and sound, but its overall lack of content. Even for the low price of 500 Wii points, two extremely basic and short-lived game modes just don’t justify the cost. On-line play is a noticeable omission, and could have gone a long way toward adding some much-needed longevity to Tomy’s first title, considering the turn-based gameplay. Regrettably there is no such feature here.

Pop-Up Pirate’s main menu also houses some limited extra features. Firstly, a "Ranking" section saves the top five records (the stage that the player reached before getting a game over) from Pop-Up Logic. By default the captain is always the unsuspecting fellow who is trapped inside the barrel, however playing both of the game modes for a short period of time eventually permits the player to choose any of their Miis to replace the weary pirate.

Conclusion

Tomy has succeeded in converting Pop-Up Pirate! to a video game through the Pop-Up Party game mode. Although it works well, it doesn’t go far enough due to a lack of variety in the gameplay. This is the case for the game as a whole, you’ll only get a few hours of entertainment out of it at maximum. Although limited fun can be had in multiplayer, each game feels far too similar to the last and unfortunately the game makes no effort to alleviate this repetition. As it is, Pop-Up Pirate is hard to recommend unless you adore the original children’s game and are in desperate need of some nostalgic fun.