I’m not big on mobile gaming. It is something quite new to me, as previously my gaming was kept to consoles and handhelds; mobile phones were used for calling Domino’s Pizza and cheating during pub quizzes. In recent years, the mobile gaming scene has boomed into it’s own industry. Companies can make games with a minimal budget and effort, and, with a fair bit of luck, can take over the entire world. Okay, so it’s fair to say that is limited to Angry Birds and a couple of other titles, but, in my opinion, Angry Birds is to mobile gaming what J.K. Rowling was to children’s literature. Hope you catch my drift on that one.
iShot Pirates, by developers Enormous Small Things, is an, erm, well I don’t really know what genre to class this as. Most websites have it down as ‘Adventure’, which seems a tad hyperbolic. ‘Shooter’ is also somewhat exaggerated. Okay you have to shoot, but, well… Ugh, this is more difficult than I thought. You see; there is so very little for me to actually discuss about the game (from a gamer perspective) it just plain hurts. I’m not saying all games need to be as broad and expansive as Angry Birds, or as vivid and varied as Fruit Ninja, or even as blisteringly addictive as Bejewelled. There just needs to be some substance. iShot Pirates is severely lacking in this department.
The game menu screen pops up, and a familiar musical score starts playing. I seriously hope Jerry Bruckheimer never gets wind of this game. Although by the time this review goes out I doubt anyone will be worrying with this title. And that does sadden me, because there is great potential in any game, no matter how brief and underwhelming it may be. So I will recount for you exactly what I think of the game itself, and what could have been done to iShot Pirates to perhaps add some more depth to the proceedings. DISCLAIMER: I am not a games developer, but I feel that I, like the rest of the gaming community, have more to say than the average person who just picks this up for two minutes before putting it back down again. I spent a good few hours going over the same three “levels” featured here. I managed to get a decent list of ideas together for improvements.
First, although there are very few images to the game (I count a total of nine different screens, that’s really it, maybe ten), what is there is detailed and memorable to serve the function at hand, if a little static for the most part. Gameplay-wise, to score points you must shoot one of the three grinning pirate mugs available- a different face for each of the three modes: Easy, Medium and Hard, respectively. You start the round with 45 bullets. To shoot, you place your finger over a bullet, and guide it over a constantly moving reticule. If you hit the same area on the reticule three times consecutively, you will win back three bullets. Repeat this until you run out of bullets, or the pull of tedium sets in and you put the game down to play something a little more interesting, like Microsoft Powerpoint.
Let me cover some of the issues I have with the elements I described in the last paragraph, before we look at the ways this game could have been, and could still be, improved. The ammo provided is far too much. On the Easy and Medium difficulties, it is not uncommon to chain together three “Superb” and “Great” hits on the reticule, so ammo is often replenished. There is a break in flow when the three bullets are returned to your arsenal, and with this not being the fastest of games, doesn’t help with the snail-pace exhibited here. It feels like you really are loading an old-fashioned musket every time you wish to take a shot. To make matters worse, the game requires you to shake the iPad/iPod to reload ammo, but the developers needn’t have bothered adding such a function at all, as it just breaks the flow further. The backgrounds remain still throughout, and just gain bullet holes as you shoot at them.
Nothing about the game keeps the player’s interest up to want to continue. I had a really good high score going, chaining triple shots one after another. I checked my ammo count and found I still had over half my ammo remaining, and I was suddenly struck by a thought. Why am I doing this? What reward am I gaining from this? There is certainly no story to advance, no matter to solve. I’m just scoring points. Eventually I almost always ended up wasting the remaining reserves and firing at will until the count reached zero.
So let’s pick this apart, you and I, and try and find some minor tweaks that could have made the game stronger. For starters, lowering the ammo to perhaps twenty would help make the games shorter, so that being skilled and chaining triple shots doesn’t mean that a single game has to go on for so long. And scrap the shake-device-to-reload system. Next: why bother dragging the bullets around. This IS a shooter, and could do with being faster paced. Swap out dragging for a tapping motion (I’m happy for the moving reticule to stay) and you’d have a game that is more “frenzied pirate shoot out” than “pistols at dawn in the Ol’ West”. And why not give the backgrounds some movement? Every time the pirate get shot near the eye, have them blink, or wince. Teeth could fly out of their jaw when hit in the mouth etc. If the rounds are shorter, the game would not suffer frame-rate issues from any animations added, and would be an improvement on the cardboard cutouts currently in place.
Can you see how a few suggestions could go a long way to fixing the problem? There is nothing about the gameplay or content of iShot Pirates that is revolutionary, or indeed important, to this game specifically. I have offered the game on my iPhone to a few friends and colleagues, both gamers and non-gamers, and I got the same comments from both groups. The game restricts itself by having three modes of difficulty, because “Hard” mode is a real challenge to get any sort of decent score, or form chains of shots. This is partially due to the dragging technique for shooting more than lack of skill on the part of the player.
Could there have been more modes of play? Maybe a gallery-style shooter, with smaller pirate faces popping up on a pirate-ship themed board, like at a funfair? How about a timed mode for most points in a minute, and another mode for accurate shots with a certain number of bullets, testing a player’s skill? It would have doubled the fun potential and the replayability of this game by a large amount by doing something like that.
Maybe this is a game that can be built upon by the developers. I would love to see these smaller studios take on the criticism of their early titles, so that they may develop bigger and better games in the future. If an iShot Pirates 2 appears on the scene in the next twelve months, with even some of the ideas suggested here, I would definitely give it another go. For now, alas, it is back to those egg stealing pigs and our agitated avian friends.
One last plea: for those who have played this game, I would love to see your ideas for improvements or changes you would make to the game. So please leave comments below, and I will try and check up on them to get a decent discussion going about this uncut gem.
MLG Rating: 3/10
Platform: iPhone Release Date: 19/05/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of iShot Pirates for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an iPhone. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.