Pirate Pop Plus is clearly a labor of love and it shows on every screen flicker. It calls back to an earlier time in gaming where phrases like “Just one more quarter!” were common and monochrome screens were lit up in living rooms all over the world. From the moment the game started, I was a kid again. It doesn’t get by on nostalgia though. I have full confidence that if this is your first time seeing a dimly lit display loaded with chiptunes that you’ll still have a great time. It’s the magic of the era it’s inspired by that makes this game great and how the developer got each and every detail right, including the tightly designed and addictive gameplay. It’s addictive. It’s crazy. It’s Pirate Pop Plus.
This game has been on my radar for quite some time and I was really excited when I received my review copy. As soon as I first saw this game all I could think about was that it would be the next Donkey Kong game for me. I loved so many of the early arcade style Nintendo games that were in arcades and on my TV at home. I’m happy with all the progress we’ve made in game development but do long for high quality titles that capture what I loved about gaming in the 80s and early 90s – and that’s exactly what Pirate Pop Plus does!
It only takes a few minutes to learn the mechanics of this game but, like the era that inspired it, it takes much longer to master it! You play as Pete Jr. and it’s your job to take on his nemesis, the Bubble Pirate. The townsfolk have been trapped in bubbles and are floating above the city and so it’s Pete Jr.’s job to use his anchor to defeat the evil Bubble Pirate. I love the story because of how well it captures the spirit of arcade and early home gaming. Back then we didn’t have vast and deep stories; we had stories that could be summed up in a few pictures or on some text on the side of an arcade cabinet or the game’s packaging. The info always stopped right before there could be too many questions and we never really questioned how much sense the stories made. We just accepted it and eagerly mashed the ‘Start’ button.
The story of Pirate Pop Plus may be simple but it’s within the gameplay where this title shines. Once the game starts Pete Jr. will walk into a square shaped arena from the left side of the screen and then the left wall will collapse and seal the player within. Pete Jr. is now trapped within the square shaped space with what appears to be very little room to maneuver. There’s a twist to the gameplay though; gravity will change with a magnet pulling the player to different sides of the arena. You start on the floor but you’ll randomly move to different walls and the ceiling. The gameplay won’t slow down or give you much time to breathe either. In fact, it’ll just get more difficult as you earn points and coins as you progress from level to level.
The gameplay is deceitful in how simple it seems. It’s easy to understand what you need to do but actually doing it is a whole different matter. As gravity sporadically moves you around, you need to use your anchor weapon to attack the onslaught of bubbles that the appropriately named Bubble Pirate throws at you. They always start off as just one bubble but as you attack them they multiply when they break and shrink in size. One big bubble will break into two medium sized bubbles which will both break into two smaller bubbles. They float and bounce around the arena and if they touch you, they hurt you and take away your health. You only have three hearts for your health and once you run out, all it takes is a single hit to lose. Even a loss of only a single heart can increase the tension because the arena can get quite crowded and chaotic with bubbles after a short amount of time.
Extra hearts and power-ups are dropped sporadically as you destroy bubbles but even with these, it can get quite difficult and intense. There were many times that I was defeated pretty quickly, even with the aid of a power-up. They usually consist of more powerful weapons that can fire more quickly or possess more power. There are some that give you resistance to damage, freeze time, and even one that hinders you! Yes, you read that correctly; there’s a skill that will sometimes drop as loot that will reverse your movements and it definitely makes things more difficult! It may not sound like much but with all the chaos happening on screen, having left and right switched on you can sometimes do you in during your battle against the Bubble Pirate. The gameplay is very tightly designed and filled with replay value. In fact, every area of this game is just as jam packed in quality and variety as it is in love for the arcade era in gaming that it calls back to.
Getting all the details in a game right is much more easily said than done. Games don’t always get everything right and that’s okay but it’s very special when developers find ways to really make us go “Wow.” That’s exactly what they did with Pirate Pop Plus and I honestly am extremely excited about what they did. Unlockables used to be much more commonplace in earlier eras of gaming and I’m glad they referenced this while also being self-aware at the same time. I’d also like to commend them because in today’s gaming climate these little touches could have absolutely been sold as downloadable content. The unlockables consist of ways to customize the experience and vary from different music tracks, different playable characters (with different stats as well!) to actually changing the “system” itself that you’re playing on. That’s right – did you want to have your “system” look like the clear see-through Game Boy Color? There’s only one correct answer and it’s “Yes! Of course I do!” There are so many different options here and they all just made me more invested in the game and all the more excited to be earning coins as I played the game. I know it may have been tempting to enable in-game purchases and I am thrilled that they chose not to. It just makes it feel more genuine and prevented the nostalgia from feeling diluted or abused. It also just makes it feel like it’s my game and it adds so much more warmth and love to the experience. I love being able to customize everything too. I think my favorite thing to customize is the screen display itself. I’m currently working on saving up enough coins to have a monochrome display to have it feel even more like I’m just playing on my Game Boy fifteen years ago.
The ‘Hyper’ mode is also a very nice touch that I really enjoy playing. It’s much more difficult and you only have a single heart for your life. It’s also much more fast paced but the rewards are much greater. It’s nice because you can rack up points and coins much faster but it comes with a price. It’s both harder and faster. It’s an incredible trade off but it’s also fair in that the expectations in skill are much higher. It requires spending 25 of your coins to even play but it doesn’t take much playing to get that many coins. In fact, once you’re skilled enough to even handle ‘Hyper’ mode, you can rack up 25 coins in ‘Normal’ mode in no time at all. In a way it’s like the game just wants to make sure that you don’t play it before you’re capable. If 25 coins feels like too much then you’re likely not very skilled at the game on ‘Normal’ mode yet.
The controls are rock-solid and it has native controller support for numerous controllers right from the start. Like many other games that support controllers on Steam, all you have to do is plug it in and you’re good to go. I reviewed this game on PC but I wouldn’t imagine it being any different in terms of controls on Wii U or New 3DS. You only use two buttons to control the action on screen. You need to move your character with the D-Pad and then you have an action button for destroying bubbles. It sounds simple enough but remember, the complexity lies in the execution and not the instructions.
The music in this game is phenomenal. You can check it out before you even own the game as it’s available on Spotify for your listening pleasure! Four of the tracks are designed by Harry Waters and if that doesn’t sound familiar to you then God help you; Harry Waters is the son of Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame and let me just say that the talent was passed down the line. ‘Ahoy’ is one of the main tracks that you’ll hear often and it’s pure retro chiptune joy. It’s perfect for the game and really helps set the tone. Another one of my personal favorites was ‘Blast’ because it also really captured the energy and spirit while keeping me motivated to continue popping bubbles. The only song that I didn’t like was ‘Bananas’; it just felt like someone kept turning the volume up and down and it started to make my stomach feel uneasy. I suppose it works for tension in that regard but it was a bit much for me. Overall though, I love the majority of this soundtrack. In fact, other than ‘Bananas’ there aren’t any tracks that I don’t 100% love.
It’s important that the music is so great because what would a great retro style game be without some tunes to keep you inserting invisible quarters for hours on end? The soundtrack is simply wonderful and I ended up searching it out on Spotify to save to my profile after ten minutes with the game. I firmly believe that chiptune fans will have this Pirate Pop Plus soundtrack right next to other great classic arcade titles in the shelf of music in their hearts.
I saw a few reviews on the store page on Steam and I do have to say that I couldn’t disagree with them more. Some people don’t like the arcade feel and/or think that there isn’t enough substance or replay value. This is an arcade style game that’s in a retro template. This game achieves all that the developer set out to do and more and I don’t have any issues with it. I consider myself very objective with my reviews and just like Halo wouldn’t get any marks against it for featuring shooting and aliens, I see no reason to hold bite sized arcade-style gameplay against Pirate Pop Plus. The developer did a great job of keeping the mechanics simple to learn but hard to master while also having a plethora of unlockables with a wide variety of customization.
Pirate Pop Plus features addictive gameplay, an old-school looking leaderboard, tight gameplay and it’s wrapped in a love for a bygone era in gaming. The love the developer has for arcade and retro styled games really shows and it never feels like a gimmick but rather a well written love letter intended to show gamers of all backgrounds what made older games so great. I love this game and can confidently recommend it. It’s a great game and at a wonderful price. The soundtrack is a bit steep and almost twice the cost of the game itself but hey, I’ve got Spotify and have full intentions to keep this OST on repeat for months to come.
This is a great game and I can’t wait to see what the developer has in store for us next. I know I’ll be playing this game on a regular basis for months to come and, like many other arcade hits, will probably never stop playing it. It’s a solid game with air-tight mechanics. It’s a game filled with love and addictive gameplay. It’s Pirate Pop Plus.
A Steam Key for Pop Pirate Plus was provided by 13AM Games for the purpose of this review
If you enjoyed this review and are wanting to play this game for the best bargain then I’d highly recommend picking up this month’s Humble Monthly, where you can get this game and many other games for a steal. This is of course only valid during November of 2016 so if you’re reading this at a later date, you’re out of luck. If you liked this review and want to see more of my reviews then be sure to check here often as I cover multiple games a month and even write retro reviews for Bagogames, too! If you want to follow my happenings and opinions on games and the industry then you can follow me on Twitter @Mrjoshnichols. For more great content, make sure to keep it right here at BagoGames!
Pirate Pop Plus
- Fun and addictive gameplay
- Satisfying difficulty levels
- Incredible chiptune music
- Thoughtful retro inspired unlockables
- A love letter to an earlier era in gaming that everyone will enjoy reading
- Cross-Save support between Wii U and 3DS would be nice but at least cross-buy was implemented
- The OST costs almost twice as much as the game!