Let's welcome Fantasy Pirates to the Nintendo eShop – yet another pick-up-and-play, bite-sized title from EnjoyUp Games. Arguably best known for 99Seconds and 99Bullets, EnjoyUp Games is slowly gaining a reputation as a go-to company for budget titles on the Nintendo 3DS. Its latest title to appear on the shores of the eShop is an on-rails, third person shooter hybrid, where all the action revolves around several offshore islands, with the goal being to rob it of its treasures. With that in mind, is EnjoyUp Games' latest title a hidden gem or should it walk the virtual plank?
All of the action takes place on board a pirate ship, where the player assumes control of the ship and must shoot, dodge, jump and swim (likely the most unorthodox ship mechanics to ever grace a game) as they try to rid the closest island of all its riches. It's a simple enough game to control and all of the main functions are programmed within the analogue stick, D-Pad and the touch screen. Bizarrely, at no point during the game or within the options does it mention anything about using the touch screen being used to shoot at the targets at hand - there's not even a visual clue on the loading screen before each level, despite its sole intent being to instruct the player of the game's primary controls. This might lead to some confusion and some aimless sailing around, wondering why none of the buttons work. This isn't a game breaker by any means and seasoned gamers should suss it out in good time, although it's an oversight that may frustrate some.
With a structural style that is almost reminiscent of the Star Fox series, the levels branch off into different islands and the difficulty level steps up depending on the route the player decides to take. In reality, each level is very similar and the only real changes that take place are the amount of enemies and obstacles that appear on screen and the number of treasure chests that need to be claimed in order to clear a level. The player is blessed with 3 hearts, with a single heart piece sacrificed each time the ship takes a hit. Rationing lives isn't much of an issue, but expect to see a few game over screens during the boss battles and the concluding levels. Thankfully, lives can be acquired by blasting away at the frameworks that hold the islands together, giving purpose to otherwise arbitrary annihilation. With hindsight, a high score system of some sort would have added some replay value.
With the first few levels acting as a tutorial of sorts, it's only towards the latter stages where gameplay gets more interesting and taxing. Octopuses will swim towards the ship, beach hula-hoops will expand from the island, birds will dart at daring speed and a variety of other nonsensical enemies will do what they can to cause the player to abandon ship. And even though the game's difficulty level is reasonable, the last level is arguably too hard for the wrong reasons; a lack of lives, random enemy formations and an increased attack rate creates a very unbalanced experience. Slightly more enjoyable are the 4 bosses that appear at the end of each stage. Putting the presentation aside for one moment, it's a nice change to the repetitive nature of the game as each boss has its own unique patterns and it can take a few attempts to figure out their strategies, before finally defeating them and moving on to the next stage.
Back to the presentation, one of the bosses looks like a stapler (it's probably meant to be an octopus) and another looks like a head on two sticks and doesn't even come close to resembling any form of discovered sea life. The soundtrack is comprised of two songs, there is one game mode and the online multiplayer mode is currently redundant, at the time of writing, as there are no other online players.
Fantasy Pirates is a fairly pleasant game – whilst it lasts. Clocking in at around two and a half hours to complete and bearing in mind that most of that time will be spent trying to finish the last level, it's hard to recommend this underwhelming shooter. With that said it does have its charms, thanks to a solid control system that's only possible to achieve on the 3DS and a couple of slippery bosses. It's also fair to point out that the game's main mode manages to conjure up some genuinely gripping moments as the intensity levels rise towards the latter levels. For budget game enthusiasts looking to add another pick-up-and-play title to their ever-growing 3DS library, Fantasy Pirates is worth a look. For everyone else, however, this is an instantly forgettable title and it is unlikely to leave any form of impression; for better or for worse.