Eye patches, parrots, wodden legs, black flags and treasures – these are the first associations that come to mind when I think of pirates. Not all of them are present in Sea Journey, a new addition to the battle match-3 genre by DivoGames that lets the player experience thrilling sea battles and quests for gold and treasure. The superb presentation is a plus, while the basic gameplay will remind some gamers of Puzzle Quest. So, is Sea Journey just another clone, or is it as good as the presentation implies?

You follow the journey of a young captain, whose decided to lead the modest life of a merchant although his parents were famous pirates. However, both the constant attacks of pirates and an old man with a message from his father result in his decision to travel under the black flag. Following the trail left by his father, he has to visit islands of many kinds and faces strong enemies who desire the same treasures.

The basic gameplay of Sea Journey is rather easy to learn. The grid is filled with coloured crystals, cannon shots, coins and scrolls. Your main objective is to form matches of three or more of a kind. In contrast to most match-three competitors you are not pressed for time, but have to attack and defeat hostile ships by your activities on the grid. How you defeat your opponents is determined by various tactical decisions between and during the battles.

On the grid you can match coins to buy a larger ship later on; scrolls increase your experience, and by collecting green, blue or red crystals you are able to activate special skills. The interesting thing about Sea Journey is that you can make three consecutive moves on the grid, after which it’s the enemy’s turn, who has three moves too. However, if you match four or five of the same kind, you earn an additional move that can come in handy during a battle with an equally strong enemy.

Between the battles you can visit the town to upgrade your ship in various ways. By buying a larger ship you can use more trophy talismans and the experience can be exchanged to improve the attack, durability, navigation or trade values of your ship. Trophy talismans are collected from defeated ships and they offer a variety of advantages such as three additional shots when attacking, or the possibility that some of the enemy’s shots fly through your ship.

Another interesting aspect of Sea Journey is the addition of different ship types. Prior to every battle you can decide if you prefer to sail as merchant, guardian, corsair or spectre.

For one thing this choice determines your strategy, since the guardian tends to be defensive, while the corsair uses more aggressive skills. Thing the ship type also influences which crystals you have to collect to activate your special skills. For example, the spectre is able to summon a mythic sea monster that keeps attacking your opponent’s ship. How cool is that?

Occasionally you will visit islands with obelisks or ancient shrines that hide gold treasures or new maps. There you have to perform memory-like mini-games which are really easy but a nice distraction and beautifully animated.

A small downside of Sea Journey is the logic of your opponent’s moves. Sometimes they seal their own defeat by totally neglecting the cannon shots on the grid, though their ship is already burning, and these irrational moves strongly decrease the tension of the battles. A second disappointment is the fact that your ship will be fully upgraded by the time you reach the middle of the game. Of course this is no major fault, but if the upgrades were as complex and diverse as the talismans and the special skills, Sea Journey would be even more enjoyable than it already is.

Fortunately the positive aspects of the game drown out the little flaws. The music is extraordinarily catchy, and definitely helps to intensify the battle atmosphere. Even more important are the beautiful graphics which clearly prove that a lot of work went into the presentation of the game. There are endless possibilities of different strategies to win a battle, and due to this complexity Sea Journey is definitely replayable. And you are going to replay it for sure, especially to improve your final score.

To close the circle, no, Sea Journey is not just another clone. The fantastic atmosphere and the exciting battles are well worth a try, obviously even for people like me, who generally associate match-3-games with boredom. It is interesting to see that games of this genre can work even better without time pressure. In particular, gamers who really enjoyed Puzzle Quest should play Sea Journey, since the basic premise of both games is the same, while the games are strongly different. Set sails, catch a parrot and make the best of this dangerous journey.

If you liked this game, try Puzzle Quest, Puzzle Hero, The Pirate’s Tale, and Mean Girls.