I wouldn’t call Firaxis’ Sid Meier’s Pirates! a true follow-up or a sequel. It’s more of a re-imagining of the classic Commodore 64 game that clutches the original’s foundation to its breast, but also builds on that source material with much more overstated mechanics and systems. It also has what feels like a larger, richer world. If I had to pin down just one thing that Pirates [$3.99] on the iPad has to share, it’s that  by updating, refining, tweaking and adding the classic’s mix of simulation and strategy, Firaxis has made a game that’s even more of a blast to play.

I missed out on the 2004 original that this version is based on, so you’ll have to excuse my fawning. From what I gather, this is a pretty close translation. What is different is its new, much more flat look and the implementation of touch, which works well enough, but also tends to feel imprecise and unresponsive when the action gets hot.

Pirates tells the dull tale of a young lad bent on revenge after his family is kidnapped by a group of debtors with funny things stuck in the brim of their overlarge hats. It’s a boring hunk of narrative to begin with, and it’s also one that comes off as disingenuous. All the threads of story that nap while travelling courtesy of your “Rescue Your Family” map are just cold, mechanical excuses to partake in sub-games like, for example, the oft-used “construct a another map by killing evil barons” sub-game.

As odd as it sounds, the core of Pirates resides outside of this goal. In equal parts, you’ll be able to try to find your family members and seek fame and fortune. In the process, you’ll spend a lot of time bombarding and pillaging cities, pillaging galleons, pillaging people, and dancing with governors’ daughters until your lad morphs into a toothless old man and is forced to retire from his swashbuckling days.

You'll also get a chance to serve one of four powers in the region or, alternatively, you can disrupt political power through those aforementioned means. It’s hard to get a real sense of this landscape the first time through the game, though, which indicates a larger problem that most simulation games share: Pirates isn’t good at telling you what's going on in the background and it’s doubly-bad at sharing how to play and succeed in a world that changes and hinges on you and AI interaction.

If my take on Pirates sounds Project Mayhem-y to you, it’s because this is how I choose to view and roll in the world. While the simulation and simplicity of Pirates are two great aspects of a coherent whole, the fact that you can just be a pirate and do your own thing is welcome. Pirates has a deceiving open-ended nature.

Let’s dig in a little bit. A vertical slice of the game would look a little something like this: you’re in charge of 20 men on a scoop, which is a fast and lightweight boat. As you travel along the coast you’ll see cities, all of which give you the option to enter or bombard. You’ll also see boats rumbling here or there and you can attack them one-by-one.

If you do attack, you’ll enter into an over-the-top, instance-based map. It’s man-on-man, the goal being to take the other ship. Depending on the amount of cannons you have, you can choose to either put your boat in a good position to destroy the opponents with metal or you can just ram into it and force an on-board battle. The number of dudes you have in the boat matters, but so do your sword skills. There’s a mini-game that lets you take on the captain of this boat in a swipe-based free-for-all where you pick high, low, or medium attacks or counters versus his own. If you kill him, the boat is yours and so are his goods, which you can sell at other ports for money.

What you won’t see in this slice are the other things: your men expect to earn gold and if you don’t eventually earn enough and break up your pirate party, they’ll mutiny. Also, you need to buy food to make sure they don’t die as you travel to destinations, which you can either (a) sack or (b) visit the governor and receive new titles that boost your fame meter and give you a larger cut whenever you do break up the party. You also wouldn't see me buying special items to increase my skills, assembling treasure maps, stealthing, killing the Top 10 pirates, discovering hidden locations, escorting royalty, and much, much more.

I suppose if there’s a single driver in the game, it’s the assortment of mini-games that you play in order to keep the simulation running. Most are super simple and have endlessly repeating cut-scenes and transitions that come across as, generally, as pretty cheesy. Despite this, I’ve yet to tire of the tasks set before me: they’re breezy, for one, and they also feed into the “one more time” mentality that keeps you up late with other games of this ilk.

While there are some simulation blues -- feeling that countdown timer on your youth is a bit depressing and travelling without wind at your back chips away at that like none other -- there is a lot to like about Pirates. It’s deceptively deep, riddled with charming animations, colors, and characters, and offers a huge bag of things to do. It also runs well enough and is tuned well enough to recommend it on the iPad, which obviously is a huge plus. I like it, but I admit that it’s probably for all the wrong reasons.

Now, excuse me while I sail up and down the world in service of Dutch dominance just so I can re-sack the towns for the Spanish. Ahoy!

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/Sanuku Sanuku

    Brad i have created a HD Gameplay Trailer about that Game you can find it on my Youtube Channel ( http://www.youtube.com/touchgameplay ). Maybe it would be worth adding it to your Review ;)

  • Mike

    Wat do you mean by more flat?

  • Simon Taverner

    No phone version??!

  • imusic

    yar!  what's with this ipad only crap?!

    • Anonymous

      Not every app has to be on the iPhone/iPod... :/

      • Simon Taverner

        Wow, you really added some insight there!  And two people liked it!  I weep for humanity.

      • Vimy

        this game, especially the ship to ship action, need the bigger screen. they would likly have to re imagine it for the smaller phone screen.

        thats not to say they wont later on, but i dont think the experience is easily transferable to the smaller screen, otherwise they would have made mthe iphone version as the iphone is the larger market.

      • imusic

        I'm not sure I agree that this wouldn't port over to iPhone well...  The same was once said of World of Goo.  As to my original comment, it was supposed to be taken partly in jest.  But in all seriousness, any app released universally will of course earn more revenue.  So that should be something to consider.  And there are a lot more iPhones out there there iPads, ne c'est pas?

  • http://twitter.com/inzyster Tommy

    2K Games needs to get their geography together, from both Civ Rev and Pirates on iPad  the only thing out in Poland is a *Chinese* version of Civ Rev. Wow.

    • Vimy

      does that mean you need to drive to Germany to get a decent app store access.

  • nickmorgs

    I enjoyed the 2004 remake on the PC and, if I had an iPad, would definitely check this one out.  Unlikely it would translate well on iPhone/iPod.

    With regards to the controls feeling imprecise, I seem to remember they weren't that precise in 2004.

    Still, a very enjoyable game all in all.

    • Anonymous

      I've got a copy of the PC game sitting around in my garage, but at $3.99 I don't think I'll hesitate in picking this up as well!

    • Anonymous

      I've got a copy of the PC game sitting around in my garage, but at $3.99 I don't think I'll hesitate in picking this up as well!

    • Anonymous

      I've got a copy of the PC game sitting around in my garage, but at $3.99 I don't think I'll hesitate in picking this up as well!

    • Anonymous

      Money talks, bullshit walks.  The fact is the App Store is currently a gold mine so 2K will but anything they can port on it.

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  • Iphonecontractors

    this is quite addicting :)
    My son do this as his past time.

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  • Vimy

    2 things i have to mention or add

    1) in your review, did you like Pirates, was it good, should we get it? I get the impression you disliked the game based on your emphasis on complaints, but at the same time, it seems that you are enjoying it.

    2) i just have to say, 2k president always seems to hate on the ios market place, yet they are releasing and have released a lot of titles.

    • Anonymous

      Money talks, bullshit walks.  The fact is the App Store is currently a gold mine so 2K will put anything they can port on it.

  • Actionless

    I have this PSP, it works well on that size screen, dont see why it wouldnt work on iPhone/iPod

    • TKO

      With real-button controls, I can imagine the ship-to-ship combat working well enough on the PSP .. on the iPhone it's gonna be hard to squeeze the combat into that screen *and* find room for all the buttons.  (maybe minimal buttons + a few gestures?)  

      Anyway .. seems to be more effort in the redesign than they were willing to put in.  I'd love to see it on the iPhone, but I can understand them not wanting to totally re-architect the controls to accommodate it.  Just another reason for me to keep wanting that iPad.  :) 

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Sid Meier's Pirates! for iPad Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 4.5