It’s a pirate’s life for we, complete with loot gathering, town building, and hidden object scenes.

Stranded on a desert island, are you? Like the self-respecting pirate you are, it’s time to get to work. Or better yet, get to treasure hunting. The feature-packed free to play simulation Pirate Explorer lets you work your way from lost castaway to active community manager, doing mundane chores and complex quests while you search for a legendary treasure!

Pirate Explorer borrows the free to play simulation theme common in mobile games like Smurf’s Village and coats it with a nice pirate-y exterior. You start alone and nearly helpless on the shore of a small island, gathering resources, trimming weeds, and working with the locals to get some simple structures propped up. Soon you discover the legendary Captain Grimbeard’s treasure may be nearby, but you’re going to need an impressive ship to hunt it down. In order to build that ship, though, you first need to strengthen the community so you can gather the materials you’ll need. Who said being a pirate was easy?

Pirate Explorer is built around village construction, giving you the tools to expand your town, attract crew and craftsmen, and multiply your resources. Townspeople appear from time to time to give you quests, each one lining up on the left side of the screen and remaining active until you complete the required steps. Quests are the main method of unlocking new buildings, gaining access to more marketplace tools and accessories, and earning resources to keep you in the game. You can finish quests in any order, so try to focus on a few tasks on-hand at first to help you gain levels.

Pirate Explorer

Resources are kept pretty straightforward in Pirate Explorer, though as the game progresses you’ll encounter more useful things to harvest and stock. Food is a constant issue, so you’ll need to keep the townspeople well-fed. More urgent, though, is your energy meter. Blue lightning bolts function as an action currency, consuming a few each time you do something like start a quest, chop down a tree, mine some stones, etc. Energy slowly fills up over time, but if you’re impatient, several in-app purchase options are available to keep you ready for action.

Guineas and coins are two other forms of currency to keep watch on. Coins represent raw purchasing power and will be used anytime you visit the market. Guineas have some purchasing sway as well but can also be used to skip certain quest steps or speed up activities that take place in real-time. Don’t want to wait for the carpenter to finish those planks? Toss a few guineas his way and ta-da! Both of these currencies can be refilled using in-app purchases, but if you’re patient and thorough you can earn plenty through regular gameplay.

Hidden object scenes are surprisingly frequent in Pirate Explorer, and completing them is sometimes necessary for working through quests. Unfortunately, they aren’t carried out with a great sense of style, resorting to cheap scaling and low opacity tactics to make items difficult to see. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to find certain list items, forcing you to hit the hint button for a little nudge. And when the hint points it out, you probably won’t believe that brown blob sitting on top of the brown stump was actually a butterfly.

Pirate Explorer

Pirate Explore has the heart and soul of a premium downloadable PC title, a fact that works both for and against it in the mobile environment. The in-app purchases are the first downside. Although well-balanced and never shoved in your face, the pacing of the game is completely antithetical to the IAP model. Energy is the most frustrating limiting factor, as it always seems to run out right when the game gets really interesting. This artificial stunting gets in the way and might even frustrate you from time to time, and one can’t help but feel Pirate Explorer would do much better without it.

There’s loads of content to play around with, including a massive marketplace, plenty of buildings, townspeople, quests, events and mini-games. But navigating through it all takes patience and a lot of squinting, as the menu items and text in the game are far too small for comfort. If you’re using anything smaller than a 7-inch tablet, expect to have a tough time selecting things and reading text in the game.

Pirate Explorer is an impressively complete game with lots of things to discover and plenty of tasks to complete. Its ambitions are much greater than the freemium model it’s built upon, though, which holds it just a step back from perfection. That, combined with the tiny menu icons and text screens, are the only real flaws in an otherwise fantastic mobile game.