Review: Scurvy Scallywags

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Scurvy Scallywags, with the official full title of Scurvy Scallywags in The Voyage to Discover the Ultimate Sea Shanty: A Musical Match-3 Pirate RPG, is the latest offering from Ron Gilbert (Monkey IslandThe Cave) and Clayton Kauzlaric (Voodoo Vince). The pair have worked together before on the DeathSpank RPG series and the iOS game The Big Big Castle.

Check out the trailer:

Plot

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It’s opening night for the soon-to-be-a-hit play, Scurvy Scallywags and The Voyage to Discover the Ultimate Sea Shanty – but someone is trying to sabotage the production! It’s up to you to stop them, all while acting in the lead pirate role and matching your heart out.

Your ultimate goal in Scurvy Scallywags is to find all sixteen pieces of the Ultimate Sea Shanty. Along the way, you are given other quests, which range from finding five bandages to defeating ten scorpion monsters. That’s basically it – it’s pretty light on plot, but I appreciate what’s there.

Graphics and Sound

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Graphics are clear, crisp, and very fun to look at. The vast majority of your playtime will look like the screen above, but the icons shimmer in a very appealing way. When customizing your pirate, those graphics look a little bit like a construction paper cutout, which I found pretty cool. All of the pirates and monsters I have encountered so far have been unique and creative.

There are no voices in the game beyond the occasional “Arr!” or “Ahoy!” when your pirate moves. However, every time you find a verse of the Ultimate Sea Shanty, it is sung to you! The background instrumental music is enjoyable and appropriately “piraty,” and even though it does repeat, it doesn’t do so enough to be annoying. When you match items, they each make a unique sound, which I liked – the parrots squawk, gold clinks, swords…sizzle (with power!).

Gameplay

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First, you have to customize your pirate. At the beginning, this is basically picking an outfit you like and if you want to be a man or a woman. As you progress in the game, the outfits you unlock will give you bonuses to your stats. Each island has a few different levels, and these range from beach settings to Aztec temples. The items you are matching will vary depending on the type of map you’re playing. When you get to the last level of an island, there will be a boss (who has a verse of the Ultimate Sea Shanty!) to defeat. There are sixteen verses in all.

Gameplay is fairly standard match-3 rules, with one exception. You move your pirate by matching three or more of the same pieces in a horizontal or vertical line. The pieces will move in the direction you swipe, which is what makes this game a little different; for example, if I were to swipe left, the entire section affected by the match I made would move in the direction of my swipe. This gives you the ability to strategically control the movement of your pirate around the board, which is helpful, because there are enemies on the board that you have to kill (and, at times, avoid).

Two of the most important pieces to match on the board are gold and power swords. Gold gives you, well, more gold, which is used to buy skills that will keep you in the fight longer. Matching swords gives you more power, which will enable you to defeat monsters. In the screenshots, you can see that your pirate has a power number and so do the enemies – as long as your power is equal to or the same as the number of the enemy, you will successfully defeat him. If you don’t have enough power, you need to get out of the way or lose a heart. If you lose three hearts, it’s game over – unless you have enough gold to resurrect yourself. If you don’t, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of the game - losing all the levels you have gained. You do get to keep your gold and skills, but the first time I died, I expected to go back to the beginning of the island I had reached instead of the beginning of the entire game – which was pretty shocking. It wasn’t enough to get me to put the game down forever (I just changed my strategy), and even as I write this, I’m itching to get back to playing. I’ve died twice since I started the game, but it’s so addictively relaxing that it doesn’t matter.

[Note: After this review was published, Ron Gilbert contacted me via Twitter to let me know that in addition to keeping your gold and skills after death, you actually gain back experience at two times the normal rate after you die - which softens the blow a little! This is never advertised/mentioned within the game because it was added late in development. Thanks, Ron! You're awesome.]

This is my current mighty pirate!

This is my mighty pirate and her current skill-boosting wardrobe!

When enemies die, they drop a chest filled with loot. When you open it, a roulette wheel spins, and you get whatever prizes you land on. Most of the time, this prize is gold, but sometimes you get another head for your pirate, some clothes, some extra experience, extra sword power, or some ship pieces. With enough ship pieces, you can build new ships, which will give you different bonuses. Presents that you find on the board have the same roulette wheel inside of them.

When it comes to skills and leveling up, it’s fairly straightforward. You get experience when you kill enemies, and every time you level up you can put more points into a skill. Skills are things like jumping around the board, being able to grab a present from a few squares away, using your blunderbuss to knock down an enemy’s power number, or multiplying the gold on the board. There are both passive and active skills, and you buy them using the gold you have accumulated.

There are only two in-app purchases, and you don’t have to buy them at all to enjoy the game. For $0.99, you can double all the gold you earn, and you can also purchase 25,000 gold pieces for $0.99 cents. However, it’s fairly easy to earn gold, so I don’t see this being a necessity. There are fifty-two achievements, most of which are cumulative (e.g. reached level five, level ten), but there are some surprises in there.

Final Verdict

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With addictive gameplay that kept me glued to my iPad and constantly coming back for more, I can’t recommend Scurvy Scallywags enough. It’s well worth your couple of bucks, and has kept me entertained for hours on end. Plus…pirates! The one drawback, which was enough to knock the score down, is having to go all the way back to the beginning of the islands if you die. That didn’t stop me from playing, however…it just made me more determined to beat the game.

Score: B+

You can get Scurvy Scallywags for iOS in the app store for $0.99 for a limited time – it will go up to $1.99. It’s compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It requires iOS 5.0 or later and is optimized for iPhone 5. Check out Beep Games, Inc’s official site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and subscribe to them on YouTube. You can also follow Ron Gilbert on Twitter and read his blog and find Clayton Kauzlaric on Twitter.

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