Monday, 1 February 2021

The Pirates of Dark Water (SNES)


The Pirates of Dark Water is a cartoon from 1991 that I've never really cared for. The plot is a kind of thinly-veiled environmental-type thing, where a fantasy world is being slowly devoured by a substance called Dark Water, so some pirates set out to find some magic treasures to stop it. Well, the Dark Water part sounds like a metaphor for pollution, anyway, though the magic treasures part doesn't really fit. But anyway, the low regard I have for the show itself won't marr my opinion of this videogame adaptation, as it actually forms the basis of its greatest strength!


Mechanically speaking, this isn't a game with a lot of originality. The only thing it really adds to the generic beat em up formula is a strong attack button that you can use on its own, or at any point during your regular attack chain. (Wikipedia claims that there's lso a block button, though? I must have missed that.) It's not a bad game, but it's not a particularly remarkable one, either. It's obviously very heavily influenced by Capcom's arcade beat em ups, almost as much as Crest of Wolf was. It's still a decent game that's worth your time, though.


Why? Entirely for aesthetic reasons. Pirates of Dark Water is a game that manages to stand out from the pack just by having a different setting. If you haven't ever seen the source material, it's got a kind of Spelljammer-meets-Arabian Nights kind of look to it, that works great for a beat em up, offering various kinds of exotic locales, both inhabited and wild. It's also been rendered with a lot of skill, with really charming backgrounds and sprites, and great colour palletes. It all works together to give a feel of swashbuckling adventure as you beat up and chuck about all the enemy pirates. It might seem weird for me to say all this after earlier saying that I didn't care for the cartoon itself, but what can I say? The first time I loaded the game up, I was playing through the first stage, fighting guys in front of a sunset, while off in the distance, more enemies could be seen flying around on dragonback, and I just thought "this is really cool!"


Before I end the review, there's a few other things I want to mention regarding the game. First, there's an enemy that starts to appear a few stages in called the Mutarios, which is a little pug-looking monster thing that's hard to hit and continuously runs back and forth knocking you over. I hate it. Secondly, pretty late in the game, there's suddenly a bossfight that takes the form of a little shooting stage, putting you on the back of a dragon, like those guys in the background of the first stage. Unfortunately, it's not very good, mainly because the boss itself spends lots of time flying into the background or offscreen, leaving you sat twiddling your thumbs waiting for it to come back for agonisingly long seconds at a time. Also, for some reason, you don't score points for attacking or killing this boss. Weird.


Earlier, I compared Pirates of Dark Water to Crest of Wolf, in the respect that they're both games that borrow a lot from Capcom's various arcade beat em ups, and going back to read my 2017 review of that game, I think I can say the same thing about this one that I did about that one: that it's an okay game elevated by its interesting setting and theming. Unlike Crest of Wolf though, Pirates of Dark Water is very rare and fetches ludicrous prices for legitimate copies online. I definitely don't recommend paying hundreds of pounds for a copy of it, but if you love beat em ups, you should still find some way of playing it.

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