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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Buena Vista
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

I’ll spare you the diatribe on how licensed games tend to… well, suck and say that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is one of the good ones. While you’re not missing out if you choose to skip it, there’s still enough of an experience here that you won’t be disappointed if you give it a shot.

The entire “Pirates of the Caribbean” series is more or less defined by one thing – Captain Jack Sparrow. So it should come as no surprise that the good Captain takes center stage in the game version of the movie. Dead Man’s Chest does a good job of capturing most of Jack’s mannerisms and look. While his walk isn’t as… well, let’s say “dainty” as it is in the movies, the game still manages to capture aspects of the character. The more noticeable of these mannerisms is the greedy look he gets before opening a chest.

Aside from Jack’s character, Dead Man’s Chest looks good graphically. Most of the graphical pop comes from the game’s style, which captures enough detail while still keeping an almost cartoon-like feel. Story sequences are told through movie stills which look good, especially when considered against other movie-based GBA games. Variety is the game’s only visual downside. Sure everything looks good, but after you’ve seen the same pirates, soldiers and natives in every level, it gets boring.

Some of Dead Man’s Chest’s best audio happens at the most awkward of times. For instance, a few parts of the movie’s score show up in the game. Unfortunately, the movie’s most well-known and exciting pieces play during one of the game’s most mundane times – the inventory screen. Meanwhile, during areas where you would expect to hear more upbeat music, you’re stuck listening to a sleepy tune that doesn’t match up.


So just what makes Dead Man’s Chest different from other movie games? It tries something different. Rather that try to shoehorn the movie’s plot into a 2D side-scroller, Dead Man’s Chest gets a little more creative. Gameplay is split between two entirely different aspects: 2D side-scrolling levels and naval combat.

Side-scrolling levels play out in a manner similar to Castlevania. Levels are linear, but allow for lots of exploration as you uncover treasure. The catch is that treasure can only be found after you’ve heard the sea tale associated with it, so you’ll revisit areas several times over the course of your adventure. Finding certain treasures unlocks new abilities for Jack, most of the time anyway. One of the big downsides to treasure hunting is that few items actually do anything. A few might unlock a double-jump ability or increase a few key stats, but a majority of the treasures do nothing. So, while you might want to find every treasure when you first start the game, the lack of payoffs for finding them will sour you to the experience.

Naval combat brings an entirely new feel to the game. Jack’s adventures take him to 15 islands in the Caribbean, including Port Royal and Tortuga. In order to travel to each island, you take command of the Black Pearl and sail from port to port. While at sea, you’ll encounter other pirates and soldiers, both of which are looking to sink the Pearl. Once an enemy ship is within range of the cannons, you can fire upon them. Once a ship has taken enough damage, you can choose to sink it or board it. Unless you’re in a hurry, boarding ships is worth your time. While aboard a ship, gameplay switches back a 2D side-scrolling level where you can battle for supplies (a well-fed crew is a non-mutinous one), money and treasure.

When at port, you can choose to listen to sea tales, buy upgrades for Jack and the Pearl or continue the story (if you’re at the right island). Upgrades are of vital importance and mean the difference between life and death. In addition to purchasing food and health, you can also buy items that will upgrade stats like attack and defense. At first, this seems like a great idea, but it does get a little redundant. There’s no strategy to buying new armor or weapons, which takes away from the game’s depth. Except for a few minor upgrades, most of the time you’re just purchasing the next most powerful item you can.

As much fun as the Dead Man’s Chest is, it can drag at certain times. What at first seems like a game rife with potential soon begins to become repetitive. The developers tried to rectify this situation by including treasures, but as I already said, the payoff isn’t enough to justify playing through levels multiple times. By the middle of the game, you’ll just want to follow the story through to get to the end.


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is not a difficult game; at least if you buy all of the upgrades. At first, this might seem like a difficult task given the price of some items, but your bankroll grows quickly – especially if you attack every ship you see (which you will probably have to do since they always seem to make a beeline straight for the Pearl). In addition, Jack can’t die – he simply restarts the level and only loses any secondary weapons he may have picked up. Any money you collected before your death stays, allowing you to essentially re-collect money.

Game Mechanics:

During side-scrolling levels, gameplay is very straightforward. One button attacks, another jumps… nothing you haven’t been playing since the NES. Gameplay becomes a little more complex as Jack gains experience and learns new moves and combos. Some are as simple as hitting the attack button a certain number of times, while others involve D-pad and button combinations similar to most fighting games.

The Pearl presents a different set of control challenges. Like most sail boats, the Pearl moves with the wind, so it is always in motion. The more wind in its sails, the faster it goes. The only control you have over it is the left and right motion. Steering is easy, but at the same time it is a bit of a pain, especially when the wind isn’t cooperating. Steering becomes even more of a hassle when you’re trying to attack other ships since they will usually just circle you and do their best to avoid you. So, while they are quick to a fight, they’ll do their best to avoid you once they’re in one.

To its credit, Dead Man’s Chest tries different things and manages to not fall into the trap most licensed games fall into. At the same time, it doesn’t completely avoid them either, making it an above-average game at best.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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