There seems to be an increase in low price titles from smaller studios in the Xbox store recently, offering a range of gaming experiences for budget-conscious gamers and giving independent developers an opportunity to break into the mainstream. Monkey Pirates is a naval combat title from the five man team over at Henchmen Studio in Montpellier, France which has made its way over from the Wii U to the Xbox one. Players control one of four possible pirate monkey captains, sailing their boats and attempting to sink ships, collecting bananas and asserting their dominance over the seven seas.
Things get off to a somewhat dicey start unfortunately as a quick read of the 'How To Play' section in the menu offers a daunting eleven pages of badly translated instructions which describe things like wind speed, different types of buffs and debuffs and baffling potential scenarios in gloriously confusing broken English. We'd recommend reading this to enjoy the 'nearly there' translations but this section can gladly be avoided as there's a full tutorial available to help you get your sea legs.
As gameplay takes place entirely on water, the first challenge is to get your boat moving. This is easier said than done, since movement is directly influenced by wind speed and direction. The effects of wind on your movement are represented by a circle of coloured segments which surround your ship; point the ship at a red segment and it will be heading straight into strong winds and will quickly grind to a halt, point it at a yellow or green segment and you'll soon be zipping towards your destination at breakneck speeds. These controls feel somewhat unnatural at first, as instinct will have you trying to push in the direction of travel when the game will only respond to left and right turns into or away from the wind. To stop, one can either point the sails straight to the red segments, or drop the anchor left or right for a quick drift or strafe in that direction before coming to a halt. It took us a couple of minutes to get used to this, but once we did, we wondered why this method hadn't always been the case in sailing games. Working with and against the wind turns the act of sailing around the screen into a delicate balancing act of speed and direction, with routes being planned to optimise gusts and the act of naval combat transforming into a delicate dance with the elements.
Once you've mastered movement it's time to enter combat with other pirates. As standard, your ship will fire three cannonballs - one straight ahead and one from each bow. Different captains will affect the range and power of these shots but the real kicker are the bonus items which litter the seascape and range from offensive boosts such as fiery or bouncy cannonballs, to multi shots, to more tactical moves such as oars which negate the effect of wind on your vessel. There's also coconut juice which renders everyone's crew tipsy and reverses their ship controls. Each captain can also choose a feint to add to their skillset before the game starts which can either grant bonuses or cancel out negative effects when they are dropped by other players.
Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer available, but Monkey Pirates' AI, though not hugely challenging on its own, plays well enough to fill any empty slots in a four-player couch gaming session. It's also possible to customise each multiplayer round from a selection of pre-packaged bonus sets or by tinkering with time limits or turning pickups on or off. There are nine multiplayer maps and three game modes to choose from; these are "Stand by the Board" (deathmatch), "Bananas Race" (in which players race to collect barrels of bananas floating in the sea, sinking each other for bonus loot) and "Jolly Roger" (which is a King of the Hill-type scenario where players hold the flag as long as they can without being sunk by their opponents). Maps are small and littered with obstacles which mean poor sailors are just as likely to wreck themselves on the environment as being set aflame by other contenders.
Although Monkey Pirates' multiplayer is fun, its art style cartoony, clean and well designed and its music just the right amount of piratey, it is likely to only hold your interest for a short period of time. The biggest let down is the single player challenge mode which plays like an extended tutorial, introducing several scenarios for the player to beat by either showing their sailing prowess, collecting items against the clock or shooting down enemy boats. The challenge menu felt very unintuitive - once a challenge is completed, you must back out and select the next challenge manually from the main menu - we were concerned that this would quickly become very tedious but it turned out this would not be a problem as Monkey Pirates has four single player challenges. Four. It took us under twelve minutes to complete and earn the top prize on in every single player challenge in Monkey Pirates. We are gaming Gods!
Monkey Pirates' knockdown price is sure to pique the interest of anyone looking for a bargain. Suitable for young and old, this competitive local multiplayer title is accessible enough for beginners, whilst being chaotic enough to keep the interest of higher skilled players. Its stunted challenge mode, limited game types and lack of online play will however leave you wondering which scallywag has run away with the rest of your game, but at the price of a fancy cup of coffee, you haven't got much to lose by giving Monkey pirates a shot.