If you don’t know the difference between Deckhand Dewey and Planky the Parrot, or Captain Caninbahl and Ruby Barnacle, then you most definitely haven’t played through The Pirate Tales, the latest “3-in-a-row” game with a swashbuckling twist.
Of course you’ve played one of these puzzle games before, popularized by Bejeweled and a few hundred very similar games. The idea is to survey a board of colored items, such as gems, and use your mouse to swap adjoining items so that it makes at least three of the same-colored items in a row, vertically or horizontally; doing this clears the row from the board, making room for new items to cascade down. With many of these games, players won’t be able to advance to the next level until specific spots on the board have been used to make a 3-in-a-row pattern (such as breaking crates behind some of the items).
The Pirate Tales, however, is somewhat unique in a few key respects. For one, instead of swapping adjacent items, this game turns the mouse pointer into the last colored ball you touched. To create a row of same-colored balls, you simply click on an available spot to make at least three in a row, such as clicking a blue ball in between two blue ones (to make three) or clicking a red ball on the left or right side of two adjoining red balls. Get it? The row then disappears and new balls appear on the screen. The level is complete when your specific goal has been achieved – which we’ll get to in a moment.
Secondly, as the name of the game suggests, there’s a heavy emphasis on story, so before each of the 100 or so levels, you will be treated to a small portion of the tale that follows the adventures of the brave Dewey, on a daring mission to rescue his girlfriend, Ruby. Players will also play as other characters throughout the game. Each “page” includes some dialogue between some of the colorful crew in the game, along with illustrations and a hint at what game-play will follow. That is, many of the levels (and background art) will be related to the story, such as the location they’re in or the tasks at hand.
An example of how the game-play is tied to the story is when you fight mean pirates, for instance, the board will have daggers on some of the colored balls. Only when you clear the board of all daggers – by creating a 3-in-a-row with the dagger as one of the balls – will it disappear from the board. Another example is clearing the entire board of gold nuggets, tied to some treasure hunting in the game. You can make as many 3-in-a-row matches you like on the board but you won’t advance until all the balls with gold pieces on them have been used to make a 3-in-a-row chain. One more example — this time involving a power-up – is that you can charge up a talisman by creating 3-in-a-row with a magical object on one of the balls, and when it’s been fully charged you can unleash a special power to help you clear the board such as a fireball or hammer that will destroy some pieces for you.
The Pirate Tales offers a lot of game-play, but aside from a timed (harder) or timeless (easier) option at the beginning of the game, there is only one mode to play instead of the three or four unique ones offered by many other 3-in-a-row games. Another beef: there’s no way to read the story page by page – even the ones you’ve unlocked. This would’ve been a keen addition.
Overall, though, this puzzler proves to be a fun romp on the high seas for casual gamers.