Making and drawing comparisons between games is a double-edged sword when it comes to reviews, in my eye at least. On one hand, comparing and contrasting is one of the more effective tools that one can use to inform and get one’s point across, and when it comes to games, there are plenty of differences and similarities among titles which helps to facilitate this style of writing.
However, focusing one’s critique around comparing one game against another could backfire, alienating readers who don’t know much about either game. In essence, a lost in translation moment. Because of that, I try to shy away from making comparisons one after the other, because I can’t assume that my audience is as informed about a particular game or subject as required.
This time, I think that line of logic has to be abandoned.
There are probably a few exceptions, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any article or video about Pixel Piracy that doesn’t, in some way, reference Terraria. I mean, it’s not hard to see why; they are both 2D, procedurally-generated sandbox-style games, with an emphasis on combat and exploration. Both games feature retro-inspired pixel art, and Pixel Piracy is even being published by the developers and publishers of Terraria.
Don’t worry, the comparisons just keep coming.
After you’ve created your own pixel pirate, and have answered a few questions (which actually modify in-game difficulty settings), you are dropped in the middle of a procedurally-generated world, much like… you guessed it, Terraria. I should take the time to mention, that like Terraria and Minecraft, Pixel Piracy is one of those games that leaves you to your own devices.
Some players might enjoy this sense of freedom and the lack of hand-holding, but I imagine that many will have to resort to online wikis and YouTube tutorials just to figure out how to get started. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but Pixel Piracy is a little unforgiving should you make mistakes, and I didn’t really get the hang of it until a few hours in. Some may call that time well spent learning, others may call it time well wasted.
Not long after you start, you’ll get to build a ship, placing tiles much like (say it with me now) Terraria. Things aren’t always that easy though; as it took me a while to discern exactly what I should be prioritizing when it comes to ship building. A word to the wise: save your money to invest in weapons, and the more simple and streamlined a ship’s layout can be, the better.
I made plenty of jokes and nods to the voyages of Captain Jack Sparrow, but now that I sit back and reflect on it, Jack had the basics nailed down when it comes to growing your pirate army. Once you get a small boat, you need to recruit some shipmates, which of course can be done at local taverns. Once you’ve begun to amass your crew, you’ve got to assign roles to keep everyone content and your ship running like a tightly wound clock.
Easy, right? Well, not really, but that mostly comes down to how little the game actually tells you. I don’t mean to keep bringing it up, but even though games like Terraria did little in the way of hand-holding, it was very successful in laying out a trail of breadcrumbs; baiting you to try something you hadn’t thought of, or exploring a new area or interacting with the environment in a new way. In Pixel Piracy, I often just found myself sitting there thinking, “now what?”.
These complaints aren’t dealbreakers on their own, but I do need to touch on one thing; the game’s AI. For the most part, your crew will tend to their own duties and responsibilities, but when it comes to combat, the game’s AI falls flat on its face.
Often times my crew in charge of the cannons wouldn’t fire on an enemy, but had no problem firing on peaceful towns and nearby ports. Things don’t fare much better in hand-to-hand combat, as they often stood around or failed to listen to crucial orders. The game’s lackluster AI and combat system ends up dragging the whole experience down, and occasional menu hangs and unresponsive UI really does put a damper on the whole experience.
I really do hope the developers continue to improve upon the core game, as I feel there is a lot of untapped potential in Pixel Piracy, even if the bugs and lack of polish undermine the experience. If you’re really hankering for more pirates and plundering, you can always wait until Rare’s Sea of Thieves finally drops. There’s also Sid Meier’s Pirates!, if you don’t mind older titles.
Also, while it doesn’t have any pirates, there’s always…
This review is based off the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Pixel Piracy has a lot of untapped potential, but it's bogged down by shoddy AI and bugs, and a detrimental lack of in-game guidance.