Pixel Piracy Review: What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?

Pixel Piracy
The full version of Pixel Piracy is now available on Steam, more than six months after the game's Early Access debut, but even the most pirate-obsessed PC gamers on the planet might want to think twice before buying a copy of Pixel Piracy.

After more than half a year in Steam Early Access, Pixel Piracy finally made the transition to full-fledged release, but I'm not sure the final build of Pixel Piracy offers enough content to hook even the most pirate-obsessed PC gamer on the planet.

Developed by Vitali Kirpu and Alexander Poysky, collectively known as Quadro Delta, Pixel Piracy casts players as an unknown pirate captain who must take his meager starter ship and set out in search of new crew members, untold riches and (if you care about the game's "story") on a quest to defeat four legendary pirate captains. All of the action unfolds in two dimensions, regardless of whether you're sailing, taking on rival pirates or exploring a new island, and Pixel Piracy players are given near-complete control over the size and capability of both their ship and its crew.

Unfortunately, while Pixel Piracy offers all of the freedom you'd expect from a title hoping to simulate the life of a privateer, the game fails to offer players any real incentive to keep playing after their first couple of sessions. While I'm still not convinced there couldn't be some joy to be found in leading a crew of bandits --especially in an age when the world wasn't under constant surveillance -- I can say the Pixel Piracy dev team was impressively effective at sapping any remnant of luster from the idea.

Like many gamers who grew up in the 90s, I'm still a bit of a sucker for well-produced games that attempt to mimic the 8- and 16-bit art textures found in my childhood favorites. So it shouldn't come as much of a shock that Pixel Piracy's blend of nostalgia-inducing artwork and freedom to commit mischief seemed particularly appealing on paper.

Pixel Piracy's rather vibrant aesthetic lends itself well to the subject matter, giving you crisp blue seas to sail across as you hop from one densely-forested island to the next. The game's color palette also lends itself well to the islands themselves, with bright sandy beaches and lush green forests awaiting the player and his/her crew anytime your band of pirates is fortunate enough to make landfall.

Aesthetic appeal isn't the only thing Pixel Piracy has going for it, either. The game features a surprising amount of voice-over work. For the most part, players shouldn't expect much more than squirrel-ish conversation between pirates and shop owners; however, the Pixel Piracy dev team made an excellent decision to include one of the more popular features from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Sea shanties.

Pixel Piracy
One of many taverns that you'll find scattered throughout the world when playing Pixel Piracy

Though there doesn't appear to be any sort of collection mechanic in Pixel Piracy, your crew can be counted on to pipe up with a song or two pretty much anytime they're at sea or basking in the warmth of a tavern's roaring fireplace. Not to mention a couple pints of ale.

Taverns also double as the closest thing to a base of operations that you'll be afforded in Pixel Piracy, with an apparently endless (and free) supply of food and drink ready to quell hunger, boost morale and (somehow) tend wounds whenever needed. In addition to all of the above services, you can also count on each tavern to have about a dozen able-bodied men ready to take up the privateer's life. For a fee, of course.

The composition of your crew represents one of the most randomized elements of the Pixel Piracy experience, especially in the minutes/hours before you get a chance to improve each pirate's abilities, and it will be up to you to mold each person into an efficient member of your ship's crew. That includes finding and/or purchasing a variety of skill books, which can be used to teach your crew everything from swimming and cleaning to parrying and counter-attacks.

It'll also be your responsibility to keep adequate food stores, to ensure nobody starves to death while you're out at sea, and to increase the size of your vessel as your crew begins to grow. Eventually, you'll even need to make room for cannons, which are absolutely vital to surviving high level pirate ship encounters.

Pixel Piracy
A look at the character management screen in Pixel Piracy, along with the "Hobo Rags" that give your chosen sailor 200 XP every time they poop.

All things considered, my first few hours with Pixel Piracy were pretty enjoyable. The basic mechanics outlined above offer just enough distraction to pass a few hours and, for whatever reason, pirates haven't found themselves the focus of video games nearly as frequently as you might imagine. So the change of pace offered by Pixel Piracy helped extend its life, too.

Pixel Piracy also moves at a pace that's conducive for multi-tasking; more specifically, it was the sort of game that (in most situations) I could play while watching television or live streams. Except for the handful of situations where quick timing was of the utmost importance, like pulling up the map and charting a new destination after realizing you haven't yet found a new tavern to feed your starving crew.

So, for a time, it was nice to be back out on the high seas, searching for new ships to plunder and rival pirates for me to send to the bottom of Davey Jones' locker. Within a couple of hours, I even had a pretty sizeable ship and a collection of rogues capable of taking on crews with twice as many fighters.

But holy crap did Pixel Piracy get boring. And fast, too.

Pixel Piracy
It'll probably be a few hours before cannons come into play, but you can definitely expect to exchange fire with enemy pirate ships in Pixel Piracy

Part of the reason that I'd waited so long to check out Pixel Piracy for the first time is that, while the game has long shown potential to become a serious time sink, I wasn't sure that the Pixel Piracy dev team had put together enough content to keep the game engaging for more than a few hours. Sadly, the longer I played the truer this became.

After nearly two dozen hours spent playing the game, I've encountered a grand total of two enemy types in Pixel Piracy; rival pirates and Vikings that have inexplicably wound up in the Caribbean. And there's not all that much diversity to be found among the various towns and islands generated by the game, either. Every island can be counted on to house one of the five animals included in Pixel Piracy, each of which can be killed for items of varying value, and towns will also offer some combination of the four shops included in the game. It's just enough content to keep you curious for an hour or so, and little enough to be boring after just a couple more.

While that might have been acceptable during the game's time in Steam Early Access, when future updates could still theoretically expand upon Pixel Piracy's thread-bare campaign, it's not really the sort of thing you want to be saying about the launch version of a game. And that's especially true when that game is one of many entries in a genre that is built upon the idea of offering randomized worlds and more content than you could ever hope to see in a single play through.

What's worse is that current build of Pixel Piracy just might have more bugs than it does actual reasons to play the game. In fact, a quick perusal of the game's Steam forum shows an astounding number of threads being created for no other reason than to report bugs that Pixel Piracy players have yet to speak up about.

Pixel Piracy
I managed to obtain some sizeable ships during my first couple of games, but I've yet to have a Pixel Piracy campaign end with anything other than starvation

Pixel Piracy Review - Final Verdict

While Pixel Piracy absolutely nails most aspects of its presentation, the game fails to capitalize on its own visual appeal in any meaningful way; confusing a complete lack of game direction as the pinnacle of sandbox game design. The startling lack of enemy diversity and combat encounters also doesn't do Pixel Piracy any favors. And, to channel the former Iron Chef diehard in me, what's plating worth if the entrée you're trying to present doesn't taste like something any right-minded individual would enjoy eating?

The action on screen is just busy enough to keep your gaze from wandering, but never reaches the sort of feverish pace that one might hope for from a game that is (in no small part) about cutting down your enemies and stealing whatever valuables they'd collected during their travels.

Pixel Piracy offers an interesting take on open-world exploration, and marks only the second time in the last couple of years that a developer has successfully translated the common tropes of pirate life into a mildly entertaining single-player campaign. That said, given just how many fantastic games are already available on Steam these days, I just can't bring myself to recommend Pixel Piracy to the handful of friends and online acquaintances that have sought out my opinion on the matter.

Hell, I can't even convince myself to start the game again.

With that in mind, Pixel Piracy will actually become the first game that I give a sub-average score during my two years here at the International Digital Times. While the dev team might have assembled all the basic buildings blocks of a decent video game, the ensuing creation is simply too devoid of substantive content to warrant a recommendation. To anyone.

Score - 2/5

Have you spent any time playing Pixel Piracy since the game made its Steam debut earlier this year? Completely disagree with Scott's assessment of the game? Disappointed with an aspect of the game that wasn't mentioned in our Pixel Piracy review?

Let us know in the comments section!

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