By Eline Stiekema, Onrpg writer
At first it may sound a bit contradictory: pirates and puzzling? An image of Jack Sparrow trying to solve a Rubik's cube pops up... erm, puzzling pirates? Seriously?
Okay, it's not as crazy as it sounds. It's actually quite fun. In Puzzle Pirates, players move their ship and sword fight against other players by playing puzzles. On these ships, you don't have to be a good sailor to make a good pirate. Practicing you bejeweled skills is enough.
Getting started as a Puzzle Pirate is very easy. You don't have to download and install anything; you can play the game directly from your browser. When you have created an account, you can design your very own pirate and give him or her a nice piratey name. This name may only contain of one word, which is a bit of a shame. Playing the game I saw a lot of characters with two word names ('Silent Sarah' and the like), but I figured they were NPC's (or, as they are called here, 'NPP's', meaning Non Player Pirates).
You can maintain three pirates at once, but you can only play with one of them at a time. You can choose each pirate's hairstyle, hair color, skin color and you even have the ability to style their outfit for a bit. Cooler clothes and other items can be purchased at the 'palace shoppe'. There are many ways to pay for these, like credit card or PayPal. There are also a lot of 'shoppes' in the game itself, which are managed by other players. Here you can pay with the gold you've earned accomplishing missions.
As a newbie pirate, you first get a few simple missions to learn basic skills like sailing, rigging, bilging and sword-fighting. Each skill has its own puzzle. Sailing and sword-fighting are a lot like Tetris. Bilging an rigging are more like bejeweled.
New pirates also get their own little shack and some free furniture. Other furniture has to be purchased at one of the 'shoppes'.
The puzzling is very relaxing. It's simply fun. The puzzles are relatively easy, especially at the beginning, but it was because of this simplicity that I liked the puzzling so much. But if you are the kind of player who likes it rough, this might not be your thing.
A very annoying feature, however, is the 'duty report': a screen that pops up when you're in the middle of a puzzle, to tell you how everyone is doing. You can't close this screen, you just have topatiently wait until the puzzle continues. Sometimes this takes up quite some time, especially when it keeps saying 'no duty reports'. It really slows down the game.
There are always new missions to embark on to improve your skills. However, when you get tired of the work on a ship, you can explore one of the many islands. On these islands, you can visit the 'shoppes', where you can buy new stuff or find a job to improve other skills, like distilling, alchemistry or blacksmithing. These also have their own puzzles. Don't feel like working? You can also go to an inn to play parlor table games like hearts, poker or spades. Even drinking is a puzzle.
The games you can play on land are only free a couple of days a week. You can subscribe to be able to always play for free. One month of full access will cost you $9.95. On the help page, called 'Yppedia', you find a schedule of the free puzzle days.
Speaking of Yppedia, this is a really good help for newbies. You can check the page while you are playing, which I always find a big plus. The information is arranged very neatly, with clear explanations. I strongly recommend reading the 'starting out'-chapter before playing the game for the first time.
When you think you have practiced enough, you can take a job with a real crew. This is serious business: if you don't work hard enough, there will be penalties. When you really are an advanced player, you can also start your own crew or get your own stall on one of the markets. Puzzle Pirates seems to be a game that you can play for a long time without getting bored, because there are always opportunities for you to grow and try new stuff.
Graphics and sounds
On the one hand, the graphics look nice, happy and friendly. The characters reminded me a bit of playmobil. The graphics ooze a kind of 'feel-goodness', although some may experience them as a bit childish. On the other hand, when your pirate walks over an island, navigating is kind of hard because it's impossible to zoom or look around. This was anegative issuefor me, because it makes the game look a bit obscure. It's hard to see where your pirate is heading. Luckily, there's also a map on which you can click the location you want to go.
Once again, I happen to find the music incredibly annoying. I'm starting to think that I will probably consider all game music annoying, since I can't remember writing that I liked it once. So maybe it's me. But still, it was annoying, so I had mostly turned it off. The sounds were very good though; while playing a puzzle, you hear the creaking of the ship and all kinds of other sounds that give you the feeling of really being at sea. When you log off, the sounds fade out instead of bluntly stopping; I liked that too.
Puzzle Pirates is a cute, low-key kind of game with a friendly atmosphere. Everyone is welcome to play and everyone can do it. The puzzles are relaxing and certainly not too hard. If you like this kind of 'soft gaming', this is a really nice one to get involved in. But if you are the kind of player that likes a bit more excitement and challenge, you might easily get bored with it.
Still, Puzzle Pirates is a nice alternative to all the monster-slaughter kind of games. Sometimes the puzzles get a bit repetitive, but overall this game could really keep you going for a while.
-Low key kind of game with friendly atmosphere
-Puzzles are relaxing and quite simple
-Really good help function
-A lot of variation in activities for more advanced players
-Friendly graphics and good sounds
-If you like it rough, this could easily get boring
-'Duty reports' slow down the game
-On land it's hard to see where you're going