You can be a pirate even if you don’t have water, a silly hat, or scurvy, but don’t even think about becoming one if you don’t have a parrot.
Luckily, PlunderNauts, a space-battle game from Backflip Studios, supplies you, a budding pirate king, with your very own Polly. Oh, and you get a ship and a list of enemies to conquer as well, but that’s all secondary.
PlunderNauts takes place in the far-flung future. Humanity zips between the stars with ease, and gambling is as fashionable as ever. You begin your pirate career as a nameless gambler that scores a huge win: A bunch of money and a robot parrot that has big ideas about finding a legendary pirate’s lost treasure.
The treasure is being sought after by hundreds of vicious, seasoned pirates. Regardless, buying a ship and striking out suddenly seems like a great idea. This is a very persuasive parrot.
Single-player combat is the meat of Plundernauts. You travel from planet to planet, each of which is guarded by one or more scurvy space dogs. You move around the battlefield by drawing lines, and fire on enemies by tapping them when they’re in range.
Weapon selection and placement makes the difference between defeat and glorious victory in PlunderNauts. Each ship has a different canon configuration, and if the armed side of your ship isn’t facing an enemy, it won’t do squat. On the flip side, enemies have a much harder time harming you if you fly outside the range of their canons.
When you win, you capture the planet for your own and plunder its gold. And, though we don’t see it happen, we can assume victory also comes with hordes of buxom space wenches and / or well-equipped star lads.
PlunderNauts has a great sense of humor about itself, and about pirate lore in general. Its battles look great, and each ship is rendered in loving detail. Alas, a couple of problems with its gameplay may leave you as cool as a cannon in peace time.
First, drawing lines in order to steer your ship is cumbersome. Your vessels move slowly, whereas enemies shoot quickly. Moreover, there are turrets, asteroids, and other hazards to contend with even as some lassie of the vacuum is peeling the paint off your ship.
Another problem: PlunderNauts is a free-to-play game that utilizes an energy system. Each run on a planet costs a unit of energy, which refills slowly over time unless you want to cough up antimatter (the game’s premium currency) and recharge instantly.
Free-to-play energy systems tend to hobble the pacing in action games, and PlunderNauts is no exception. No sooner do you get into the swing of the game than you find yourself forced to take an extended break after a mere ten minutes of play.
Yet despite its problems, PlunderNauts probably won’t cause you to stomp your peg-leg and snarl a curse to Poseidon. It looks great, and it has some fun, clever ideas. It’s at least worth a try. That loot ain’t gonna steal itself, matey.