Ever since Cave Story and Mega Man 9 and 10 brought retro games back into the spotlight, a whole new wave of indie developers have had aspirations to create a game of their own in that NES-esque style. While most of these retro games focus on emulating the NES experience, Pirate Pop Plus goes a different route, instead deciding to mimic the original Game Boy with its graphics and simplistic gameplay. Luckily, it paid off for Dadako and 13 AM Games — Pirate Pop Plus is a very fun, addictive, and engaging experience that capitalizes on many people’s nostalgia for the original Game Boy.
Pirate Pop Plus’ premise is quite basic and underwhelming. When Pete Jr. wakes up on a mysterious island, he sees multiple bubbles in the distance. Upon closer inspection, he is surprised to see townspeople encased in those bubbles. Knowing that only the infamous Bubble Pirate could be behind it, he rushes to the island to fight him and save those trapped townspeople. This premise is laughable in its simplicity, but it didn’t have to be anything complicated. Most games from the era that this game is aspiring to be in had laughingly basic stories, so it is fitting for the game’s premise to be like this.
The game’s soundtrack and graphics also reflects a Game Boy title. The default backlight for the game is the same greenish tint as the original Game Boy, and all of the other visuals in the game look like they were ripped straight from that system. The game’s few music tracks are also very memorable and catchy.
Despite how good the music sounds, the game does run into some problems with its sound design. At many points in the game, such as title and leaderboard screens, there is an odd lack of sound. No music or sound effects are playing in the background, which makes those parts of the game seem unfinished and boring. Although limited, the soundtrack is great and worth listening to for any chiptune fans.
Pirate Pop Plus’s gameplay is simple, but very addicting. With a single action button, players can shoot out an anchor directly above them, which pops bubbles similar to Pang. Pete Jr. is locked in a single room with Bubble Pirate, and this is where their battle takes place. Players attempt to hit Bubble Pirate, who will send out bubbles when hit. These bubbles then must be attacked and popped with the chain in order to build up one’s score. Bubble Pirate can also change gravity and determine which of the arena’s four walls you stand on, adding another layer of challenge to the game. The player has three hearts, and once depleted, the game is over.
As the player goes on, the level of difficulty increases and the game gets tougher and tougher. When multiple bubbles are flying around on screen, it can be quite difficult to pop them all without getting hit. Both learning to fall on bubbles when gravity is switched and discovering how to use power-ups properly is necessary in order to do well and maximize one’s score. While the game does get repetitive in long sessions of playing, this perpetual boss battle layered on top of this Pang style gameplay is very engaging, which elevates Pirate Pop Plus to the same level as Pang, if not to a higher one.
At the end of a match scores are tallied up and, if one’s score is high enough, it is put on a personal leaderboard. There are no online leaderboards for this game, which is unfortunate because it would have been interesting to see how good other players can be at this game.
Selecting letters for one’s name is also very cumbersome. While I get they were trying to emulate other arcade games of the era, it was executed poorly, and takes way longer than it needs to, making this part of the experience go very slowly. It grinds time between matches to a halt. That, coupled with a surprising lack of sound during the section, makes this whole process feel dull, especially when it is clear that it could have run smoother if the name input system was modified a bit.
In addition to the game’s normal mode, Pirate Pop Plus also has a Hyper mode, which costs 25 coins to join. This mode is twice as difficult as the normal modes, but gives the player double the points for everything, and gives the player opportunities for major coin rewards. This is a great mode for those who have mastered the game’s control, and want a mode with a little more risk-reward to it.
Unfortunately, when playing on Wii U the game can sometimes be unresponsive if one is use the left stick instead of the D-pad. The sticks on the Wii U have a lot of dead space, making them somewhat unresponsive in the tight and precise movement of this game. The controls are very accurate with the D-pad though, giving the game the tight control it needs to be engaging and addictive.R
Remember those coins I mentioned that are awarded from hitting Bubble Pirate and popping bubbles? These coins can be redeemed at a shop accessible from the title screen, and will net the players various customization options.
First off, the player can use coins to preview what specific achievements are in game so they can set goals for themselves. While the goals being hidden might anger some completionists, these keep an element of surprise and curiosity for those who choose not to preview them. They also give players a more visible goal in the game if they use coins to see them.
One can also buy three addition characters, Satura, Shynut, and Dave. All four characters have different stats and play differently, which can give you new experiences to invest in once you start to get sick of just playing as Pete Jr. All of the characters have different animations for each action, which is subtle, but worth pointing out and shows Dadako’s attention to detail with this game.
Also available in the shop are customization options for your “Pocket Game” cover that surrounds the gameplay. You can change the color of the faceplate, d-pad, and action button, purchase decals for your virtual system. These make each person’s fake portable system feel unique from one another, and is a fun little reward for those who invest in it. You can also buy different back light colors for the game itself, which helps to vary up the game’s visual experience after a while. Some very cool things are available to purchase in the game’s shop, which allow the player to greatly customize their game to make it feel like their own.
Pirate Pop Plus emits Game Boy nostalgia in its purest form. From its simplicity in story and gameplay to its retro graphics and sound, Pirate Pop Plus fits right in with other games on that old system. While the game can get repetitive and does have a few design problems, especially when it comes to sound design and control with the Wii U gamepad, for only $4.99, any Game Boy or Pang fan owes it to themselves to pick up this game. It is also available on New Nintendo 3DS through cross-buy making it a rewarding, but brief, experience for those with only a little time to kill on a handheld system.