After having covered quite a lot of indie games, bundles and more mainstream PC and console titles, it’s time to dive into the deep (or maybe shallow?) world of iOS gaming. This article might not be representative of the following ones with its length and detailed analysis, so we’ll see how these turn out to be ;).
Even though games like the Puzzle Quest series already combined both RPG and Match-3-gameplay mechanics, Beep Games’ Scurvy Scallywags tries to do it with a colorful and humorous attitude, helped in no small part by Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert.
Scurvy Scallywags in The Voyage to Discover the Ultimate Sea Shanty (iOS)
(USA 2013, developer/publisher: Beep Games, platform: iOS)
A not-so-mighty pirate wants to find all the missing pieces of the Ultimate Sea Shanty to unlock its mysterious powers and become the master of the sea while travelling through the seas, discovering new islands and fighting for his life, gold and levels.
A pirate’s life story
There isn’t much of a story or memorable characters to talk about. The hunt for the sea shanties is presented as a stage show or rather a musical in which the director gives the player instructions of what to find next (side quests) or in which the main character and antagonist deliver some funny or not-so-funny lines. The sense of humor is hit-or-miss and rarely reaches the same level of quality like Gilbert’s Monkey Island series. Still with each new island, there are always some new enemies to discover and new loot to collect/stones to match, making the journey seem more diverse, even if there’s still not much else to it than going from one board puzzle to the next.
Matching treasure hunting and baddies fighting
The main gameplay of the very simple match-3-stones-of-the-same-kind idea is made much more varied with the inclusion of special ones like swords which are used for levelling up and gold for earning money. The former is necessary in order to make the character reach a certain fighting level. Starting with a low number, in later levels the enemies on screen have a much higher level, so it’s both essential to collect enough swords and also to avoid the too powerful antagonists who move closer and closer with each turn. What at first appears to be an easy undertaking becomes increasingly difficult with more and more enemies who try to encircle the player, making careful planning the key to survival.
Strategy is also required when taking down each island’s final boss who generally has a very nasty special attack, e.g. turning level-up-swords-stones into unusable grey ones or deploying bombs on the map which explode when close to the player (and luckily to some enemies as well). It’s only too bad that with some chain reactions and randomly incoming stones, the whole strategy can be messed up without the player’s fault.
There are also some special items randomly appearing on the battlefield of stones. These can be either treasure chests containing all kinds of things like more money, a boost in levelling up, accessories to wear, ship building materials or in some rare occasions even one of the shanties. It’s usually a game of luck, because one only gets these goodies after spinning a fortune wheel. Matching three pictures of the same kind isn’t the main goal, but it gives additional bonus points, although it can also happen that one hits a pirate’s skull and therefore finds an empty box.
Level up and up and up
The levelling-up system is a little bit strange, because reaching a certain number in a level to defeat enemies doesn’t mean the character starts with the same one in the next (he/she actually starts with the same low number again and again). The real RPG-element comes into play after killing as many adversaries as possible, which fills a bar at the top of the screen until a new level is unlocked. Then it’s possible to add one point to the specific attributes of power (swords give more levels), dodge (the chance of not getting hit is higher), critical hits (better chance of additional damage) or damage (more attack power).
What makes character progression (coupled with the option to customise the outfit with stats-boosting gear) even more addictive and fun is that not only do the attributes help in some tight situations, but each level also unlocks special abilities which can be bought and put into 5 slots at the top of the screen. Taking into account a cooling time, these can’t be with each turn (usually only once per level), but they certainly give the rather repetitive gameplay a more strategic component. What’s more, with collecting certain materials one can also build ships (but only when reaching the appropriate level) which further enhance the chance of beating the game, e.g. with enemies starting at a lower level. Some of these abilities are active (e.g. jumping to the next treasure chest, turning every gold coin into money, switching two adjacent stones), others are passive (e.g. more sword-power, the chance of more items increased). The much-sought-after shanties are the most valuable and don’t cost any of the hard-earned money, but they’re not easy to get, i.e. usually after defeating some big bosses or achieving certain goals.
Sidequesting with the pirating
There are also a lot of side quests, but these are rather disappointing, because even if there’s some nonsense story the stage manager invents around them (not always the most subtle, e.g. when collecting poo), the goal is always the same: picking up one specific item or a certain number of things. The reward is usually money, which is quite nice, but other than that there’s really no incentive to complete them other than being happy about having another box ticked off in the achievement list. It also happens quite often that one simply uses these items as safe havens with the help of the jump-to-the-next-item ability in order to avoid the enemies rather than actually thinking about collecting them. Only patching oneself up (after losing one heart after an unsuccessful fight with a higher-level opponent) with a specific number of band aids requires some strategy, and it’s rather unfortunate that it takes so long until they appear.
A pirate’s song and looks
Like the storytelling, the presentation isn’t trying anything particularly innovative or memorable, especially when compared to other Match-3 games or comic mobile games when it comes to the graphics. These are colorful, offer some cheerful island locales and are suited to nicely drawn character and enemy types. Animations aren’t the most impressive, but for a casual game they do their part.
Music is good as well, even if the melodies aren’t that catchy to hum along after the phone is turned off. Still the sung shanties almost recreate the same Monkey Island wit of old. Animated cutscene movies are absent as well, so the story is only told in some conversations, making plot and character development rather redundant or simply extras to the main gameplay.
A long journey of joy and tears
With so many abilities to unlock, so many items to find, so many battles to fight, Beep Games’ Scurvy Scallywags appears to provide countless hours of fun. In a sense that’s true, because it’s highly addictive to reach the next level and think about how to spend the money. But this longevity doesn’t come without a price: a steep difficulty curve and repetitiveness.
I probably played over 24 hours in total without having reached the end. Having restarted about 50 times, it isn’t a very forgiving game for a casual title. Sure, there is a way to buy additional money with real one when being short of it to resurrect the current character with all its levels, but that shouldn’t happen in a well-balanced game. Constantly dying and starting with level 1 (despite having all the extra abilities) with all the islands to traverse again and again isn’t the most motivating thing for both casual and hardcore gamers.
Ron Gilbert’s involvement in the game is also a bit disappointing. It shows in the shanty verses and some pirate humor, but overall despite a nice graphical and musical presentation, this isn’t a game which should be played because of its story or characters. Despite all these flaws, Scurvy Scallywags remains a fun and addictive little title which entertains for many, many hours on the go.
Buy the iOS game on
the iTunes store
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every Facebook LIKE or comment is appreciated :).