Anyone who hastily misread the title and clicked expecting a digital conversion of the immortal novelty game Pop-up Pirate is in for a disappointment. Pirate Pop Plus is not that game.
Once you've dealt with this potentially crushing let-down, consider the good news: Pirate Pop Plus will indeed evoke all manner of fond childhood memories for those on the upper end of the Millennial scale. It's just that none of them involve stabbing a captive pirate with a bunch of swords. Sorry.
Pirate Pop Plus weaves its retro magic in a couple of ways. It's a finely honed single-screen score chaser that borrows its core mechanics from the once beloved Pang series, which was known as Buster Bros. in the US. Like Pang, Pirate Pop Plus has you darting left and right, shooting bouncing bubbles out of the sky above you (this time with some kind of anchor-gun) - and avoiding them when they fall to Earth. Also like Pang, once you shoot those bubbles they split into multiple smaller bubbles, which are harder to hit.
The game doesn't clutter its levels with additional screen furniture like the Pang series did, nor is there any kind of structured adventure or even distinct levels. Protagonist Pete Jr must simply pop as many bubbles as possible within his three life limit, hoovering up any collectibles and power-ups along the way.
What it does do differently is mess with gravity. Literally named antagonist Bubble Pirate will pop up (too soon?) from time to time to flip the gravitational pull of the level, sending you and those pesky bubbles towards the wall or ceiling. In one of the game's neatest little twists, a smart player can turn this moment of chaos to their advantage by steering the airborne Pete Jr onto the bubbles. This will enable you to hop between them, like Mario bouncing on successive Goombas.
The power-ups that drop at random will imbue Pete Jr with a range of temporary abilities. One will freeze the bubbles in time, for example, while another gives you a more traditional weapon for some Space Invaders-like blasting. Collecting coins, meanwhile, will enable you to unlock new characters with different stats, as well as a whole bunch of cosmetic options that change elements of the Game-and-Watch-inspired border.
Which brings us neatly to Pirate Pop Plus's presentation. The game looks and moves like a lost Game Boy game, with a simple pixellated art style and a familiar monochrome palette. As hinted at by the mention of borders, even the playing field fits within a small square area of the screen. We suspect that how you respond to this approach will depend on your view of retro-inspired games in general. You could call it an evocative and well-observed nod to the past, or an unnecessarily affected approach that doesn't make the most of resources at the developer's disposal. There's an element of truth to both views.
Of course, you don't need to be a 30-something Pang fan to find all of this familiar. We've seen Pirate Pop Plus before on Wii U and 3DS, back in 2016. This Switch version doesn't offer anything new of substance that we can see, which undoubtedly irks a little. This was a notably stripped back, simplistic experience even on those more modest systems.
It also draws attention to the irritatingly isolated and feature-incomplete state of the Switch eShop. Those previous versions were cross-buy compatible, which mean you only needed to buy it once and you could play it on both machines. Going some way to making up for this is the fact that Pirate Pop Plus is very sensibly priced at launch - especially within the context of many other Switch indie games.
Pirate Pop Plus does a fine job of emulating the laser-focused Game Boy games of 25 years ago. It owes a massive debt to Pang and a whole host of other single-screen highscore chasers, but with a couple of subtle twists of its own. For some it will be too brutally straight-forward, and it's arguably a little too in thrall to the past for a modern Switch game. For those after a no-nonsense retro challenge, however, it's a budget-priced treat.