Review: Pirates Assault (DSiWare)

Stealing your money in more ways than one

CIRCLE Entertainment has carved out a fanbase for itself with the DSiWare crowd, due in large part to the consistently excellent Castle Conqueror series. It's had a few misfires along the way — see The Seller — but, by and large, gamers have been able to count on CIRCLE's releases to feature a hefty amount of charm, appealing craftsmanship and a subtle but sharp sense of humor.

Pirates Assault, unfortunately, seems to have been expressly designed to cure us of those expectations forever.

Hoping to do for tower defence what Castle Conqueror did for real-time strategy, Pirates Assault shambles disastrously into view and hopes that you'll download it without reading any reviews first, or look at any screenshots, or interact in any way with anybody unfortunate enough to play it. It's a game with no focus and absolutely no redeeming features. At times it even seems to feel embarrassed of itself.

The game's plot is as such: there's a pile of treasure on the beach, and you need to erect armaments to fight off the encroaching pirates who want to steal it. It's a sturdy enough justification for a tower defence game, but that's the only sturdy thing you'll find in Pirates Assault.

The manual describes the game as "tower defence with a twist." What that "twist" is is anyone's guess, though, as the game plays exactly like any other tower defence title, only with much less to offer and a far greater capacity to disappoint. The developer intended to spice things up by allowing you to reclaim stolen treasure by tapping pirate ships five times. That may qualify as perhaps the least interesting twist in the history of gaming, though, as "tapping pirate ships five times" is about as far from an engrossing activity as we can imagine.

The controls are terrible, too. The touch screen is used for all input, which is fine, but the simple act of placing armaments is a nightmare, as the screen slips and slides around under your stylus. While some areas of the beach allow for placement, other areas — which look no different — do not, meaning you're doomed to wrestle units into place only to have the cursor turn red or the unit to disappear entirely, which is the game's way of telling you "hey, now you've wasted your money and your time."

There are only four types of armaments you can place, which means you'll see literally everything this game has to offer in terms of variety within about three minutes. Pirate ships sweep in and out of frame with no regard for logic or physics, and the playing area is deceptively huge, meaning you'll either waste all of your time dragging the screen around in order to see what's going on, or you'll just concentrate on the area nearest the treasure and ignore everything else.

The currency of Pirates Assault is rum, and you'll have to cash in a particular number of bottles in order to place a unit or upgrade it. Rum is replenished by tapping rapidly on passing ghost ships, because there just wasn't enough mindless tapping of passing ships in the game already.

If your treasure survives enough of the pirates' attempts to haul it away, the level will end and you'll receive an arbitrary ranking from one to three stars. Do this five times and you've completed every level in the game.

The presentation of this game is the epitome of bland. Its graphics are the sort of thing somebody might slap together in their first month of learning Flash, and no personality or detail seems to have been invested in the design whatsoever. Ships, armaments and environments all look frustratingly incomplete, and the music veers between dull and outright terrible. Much as in Come On! Heroes, many of the tracks sound horrid and shrill, almost like the result of a glitch that was never caught before release.

Conclusion

Pirates Assault is, simply, a fiasco. With none of CIRCLE Entertainment's customary charm or craftsmanship to be found, it's an uninspired slog through tower defence mediocrity. Everything from the presentation to the core experience is sorely lacking, and reeks of rushed completion. A measly five stages will ensure that even its small number of fans will be left feeling disappointed. Believe us, there's no treasure to be found here.