The Pirates of Dark Water review – Classic-Games.net
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Developer: Sunsoft Publisher: Sunsoft Release: 05/94 Genre: Beat ’em up
Alongside shooters the side scrolling beat ‘em up was the hot genre of the 90s. But by the middle of the decade I must admit the brawler was getting a little long in the tooth. Too many half-hearted efforts and not enough labor of loves like Streets of Rage 2 began to wear thin. It also did not help that it seemed to be the go to genre for licensed titles. I like Maximum Carnage; Pirates of Dark Water not so much. Which is a damn shame as it could have been so much better rather than the middling title we have here.
The Pirates of Dark Water tells the story of the land of Mer. A mysterious known as the Dark Water encroaches on what little remains of life on the planet. A pirate named Ren alongside his companions Tula and Ioz search for the Treasures of Rule to dispel the Dark Water and save the world. But in their path stands Bloth who wants the Treasures of Rule to control the Dark Water for eternity. Fans of the show will remember that it was cancelled before the quest was completed and to this day still has not received a conclusion. The games are the only ending you will get to the story for what it is worth.
Ren, Ioz, and Tula neatly fit into the established beat ‘em up roles. Ioz is the big strong man, slow as hell but packs a punch. Tula is the fastest but also the weakest. Ren is the middle ground, good at everything but does not excel anywhere. There are a few further distinctions between the characters however. Due to his strength Ioz can pick up and carry enemies. It sounds innocuous but in levels with pits you can simply drop them in rather than maneuver around to it. Everyone is rated in four categories: strength, speed, recovery, and jump. The recovery stat governs how fast you get up when knocked down and recover from missed attacks. Tula excels in this area and is zippy. Ioz is the worst and it is very noticeable how bad his recovery is. It makes playing as him a challenge.
There is a decent amount of variety in terms of combat techniques. There are two attack buttons, one for weak attacks that allow you build up combos and a stronger attack using your weapon. You can mix attacks into your combo strings for different results and to inflict more damage. Tula excels at this, getting in as many as five hits in her combos. In addition all characters can run and perform a dashing attack. Depending on the attack button used you can perform one of two throws or grab attacks. Compared to late generation brawlers like Denjin Makai Pirates of Dark Water is modest. But it is a far cry from Final Fight.
Now if only the variety in attacks extended to the rest of the game. Probably the most critical flaw in Dark Water is its lacking enemy variety. This is partially a problem due to the show but there are seven or eight enemies total not including bosses. While you will see familiar henchmen from the cartoon the elation gets old quick as you face them thirty times or more in each level. I could maybe excuse it if their AI posed a challenge but these guys are dumb as bricks. To wit; this is an issue with the genre as a whole but at least most brawlers hold some in reserve for later. Pirates of Dark Water front loads its roster and suffers for it.
The pacing is also why Pirates of Dark Water does not stay interesting for long. This is already one of the longer brawlers at eight stages. After the first stage the game throws waves of six or seven enemies in a row repeatedly in each level. Sure it’s funny tossing a fat pirate into a pit. But doing it eight times in a row? Come on. It feels like artificially lengthening the game which it did not need. If you do for some reason feel the need to play through this the difficulty is only slight. Life restoring fruit is scarce but extra lives come frequently. It is only toward the end that the generic pirates become more resilient. But outside of two or three bosses most will have little trouble with the game unless you use Ioz.
The Pirates of Dark Water is not completely bad. But it doesn’t stand out either. Outside the license this is as standard a brawler as they come. The game can be enjoyable in short bursts but the repetition grows old fast. You would have to be a diehard fan of the show to appreciate this one.