Despite all the doom and gloom that currently — and unfairly — surrounds the Wii U at the moment, it hasn't stopped indie developers from flocking to the system to release their games. Moreover, a good proportion of developers have even designed their games to specifically take advantage of the system; one only has to look at Knapnok’s Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party for a prime example of how it’s done.
Monkey Pirates follows in the shoes of previous efforts in attempting to provide an engaging, feature-packed local multiplayer experience, and one which makes use the GamePad. While the game does manage to achieve the former, the GamePad implementation is sadly lacking — which is a real shame as you can see when playing it that much more could have been done.
From the moment you set sail in Monkey Pirates, it’s abundantly clear that the game was designed to be enjoyed primarily as a multiplayer experience. While there is a single-player portion to the game, it’s relatively light and offers only a small selection of different challenges for you to complete. These amount to little more than simple tasks such as destroying as many ships as possible.
This is arguably the best way to get familiar with the mechanics of the game especially given that the tutorial and how to play segments are unnecessarily bogged down in detail. The latter comprises a whopping 11 pages of text, which is downright excessive for a game that is actually very easy to play. Controlling your ship is dead simple: you view the playing field from a top-down perspective and must utilise the wind in order to manoeuvre. As a system it works well, and although some players may benefit from a certain wind direction depending on where they spawn on the map, it doesn't result in an advantage so big that it’s unfair.
As stated above, local multiplayer is essentially the core experience to be had in Monkey Pirates, and it provides a relatively chaotic experience by comparison. Up to four players (or one player and three AI opponents) can battle it out across a range of different modes, one of which uses the GamePad.
The classic deathmatch mode doesn't need much of an explanation: kill the most and die the least if you want to win. There are a range of different maps to choose from, and power-ups play a considerable role in your success. These typically improve your offensive and defensive capabilities, although you can also choose a load-out bonus at the start of each game. It’s nothing revolutionary in terms of options, but the gameplay is certainly different and entertaining enough for Monkey Pirates to potentially make a regular appearance during your local multiplayer sessions.
Jolly Roger mode revolves around acquiring the titular famous flag (by either being the first to sink a player or by sinking someone who already has it) and holding on to it as long as possible. The bearer of the Jolly Roger can’t pick up power-ups, but their shots are twice as powerful, adding a certain tactical element to the gameplay; rushing in all guns blazing may not be the best strategy if you’re after the flag. The last of the classic multiplayer modes centres around hoarding bananas and ending the match with the highest amount. Losing your ship means dropping your entire stash for someone else to then pick up, resulting in a potentially very close game right up until the last second. Overall, the selection of classic multiplayer modes offers enough variety to hold your interest — provided you have friends to play with.
Multiplayer can be played with up to three AI opponents, although the game sadly falls short in this area. Most of the time, the AI puts up a decent fight and will battle for the objective. Other times, it seemingly breaks; frequently an AI ship will stop dead in its tracks or continuously sail into a nearby island over and over again. Regardless of the quality of the AI though, this really is the sort of game that is best enjoyed in the company of others, as you won't find it that entertaining alone.
Monkey Pirates' GamePad-centric multiplayer mode is also a bit disappointing, if only because it could have been much more. Known as Sea King, this mode presents the GamePad player with a list of criteria for the other players to meet, such as ensuring that a specific player collects so many bananas before the rest. The Sea King can interfere with the game to a certain degree, providing power-ups to certain players and doing so with the goal of meeting his or her chosen objective. The only problem with all this is that it doesn't matter whether they actually achieve this or not; the Sea King's overall score is not included in the overall rankings, meaning that it has very little meaning at the end of it all.
Moreover, many of the game's maps feature a wealth of hazards, including the likes of typhoons and active volcanoes. You can't help but think when playing that the GamePad player could have been given control of these with the goal of destroying all players before the timer ran out. The GamePad input would have been the perfect tool for conjuring up storms or even AI-controlled enemy ships. That's just an example of a more immersive gameplay experience that could have been had, and by comparison the effort in Monkey Pirates feels relatively conservative and limited.
Monkey Pirates is a good local multiplayer experience on Wii U, but one that doesn't make the most of the bespoke functionality the system has to offer. Moreover, the game falls down in other key areas, such as a limited single-player mode and AI that is prone to breaking. These issues aside, Monkey Pirates proves to be entertaining and varied when played with friends, and while it's not likely to dominate an evening of multiplayer gaming, it's a strong enough effort to make an appearance at some point during the night.