Plunder! Review

Pirate games on iOS are on the road to becoming as ubiquitous as zombie games. They’ve still got a long way to go, but these days it seems like every other week there’s some variation of sailing the high seas as a pillaging scalawag. Now Big Fish Games is bringing back one of the originals. Plunder came out about two years ago and then was curiously removed. It seems to have found its sea-legs again with slightly streamlined gameplay, a ‘story’ and updated graphics and sound. Unfortunately it also tugged along the same laborious gameplay from years ago. It’s been described as Bomberman meets the ocean. But at least Bomberman was fun.

Plunder is a simple game in concept, so simple that it could just as well be a Flash game. You’re presented with a single, grid-based screen. Your goal is to get your pirate ship from one side of the screen to the other. Levels are randomly generated, and between you and your goal are a whole mess of mines and cannons that you need to detonate to clear a path to the other side. When a cannon is activated, either by the player tapping it or by having a cannon-ball shot into it, it fires its ball, hopefully into another cannon or obstacle, and then disappears.

A beautiful day for a naval battle.

The mines come in a few different varieties that shoot cannon-balls in a bunch of different directions. When a mine is red, that means that it can be exploded. Gray cannons need to be hit once with a ball before they can turn red, and black cannons need to be hit twice. Other obstacles are in your way as well. There are other ships that will fire on you, or treasure ships that drop gold and loot. Icebergs, fogbanks, shipwrecks and whirlpools are other annoyances that will prevent your pirate persona from escaping the justice of the Navy that is nipping at your heels. Take too long to complete a level and your ship gets captured and the game is over.

As you make your way through the game you’ll can upgrade your ship with items like cannons, fire-proof sails, and ice-breakers. You will also get rewarded with additional ships to join your fleet, and you can even buy bigger and badder ships down the line. You may also find power-ups that can give you a temporary advantage. Can’t get around a cannon? Use one of the arrow power-ups to move either your ship or the cannon out of the way.

Up in smoke.

There are seven worlds in total, and in each world you control a different pirate who needs to recapture lost treasure. And progressing through the game is where Plunder takes a dive off of the plank. Progress is made so slowly that it can take you hours upon hours just to make it through a single world. You have to collect 13 different pieces of treasure in each world, and since the levels are randomly generated, the rate you collect treasure is random as well. We played nearly 20 levels in the second world before we even got our first piece of treasure, and that was after playing for an hour and a half. The gold you collect to buy upgrades also comes at a snail’s pace, and the upgrades are expensive. The money problem is only compounded when you have more than one ship and you want to try and keep them all safe.

When Plunder came out initially it was a freemium game, and its origins remain obvious. Unless you want to spend real-world money on top of what you spend to unlock the full game, then you’re going to spend a lot of time grinding to get gold and treasure. The inventive gameplay is initially addictive and fun, but it soon gets anchored down by ceaseless repetition. The cute graphics, great voice-acting and awesome sound-effects can’t save what is otherwise a real chore to play through.

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  • BigFish herbalisk

    The original was a beautiful puzzle game with infinite replay value. Many boards that seem impossible at first are actually solvable with proper planning and perfect execution (it gets frantic and some “solutions” won’t work simply because you can’t click fast enough to do everything you need to do). I like the fact that you can think as long as you’d like, then have a few moments of pure adrenaline. The difficulty maxed out at a point (level 20-30? don’t remember exactly) where I assume the developers thought it would be impossible to proceed more than a couple levels. Turns out they were wrong, as I was able to get to around level 70 one night, earning my room many millions of tokens. The chat room was full of campers collecting absurd numbers of bonus tokens and cheering me on. I wonder if that had something to do with Big Fish pulling the game? I haven’t played the new one, but I don’t see how one could enjoy it without a very accurate input device. You need a mouse, because the precision and timing is what made the game fun. I wish it were possible to play the original again… it was one of the best little games I’ve ever played.