A lot of indie titles appeal to gamers using retro sensibilities. They may look like retro games, sound like retro games, and have similar gameplay, but generally there’s something different about them. Somehow, Dadako ignores this trend and does its very best to make Pirate Pop Plus as close to a classic 8-bit experience as possible, right down to the interface. Whether this is good or bad depends on your own attitude toward pixel art and chiptune, but Pirate Pop Plus is an impressive experience for anyone that’s owned a Game Boy.
Pirate Pop Plus is a reminder of simpler games that had folks pumping quarter into cabinets to get their initials on in the high scores. There’s not a ton to say about the gameplay. There’s an evil pirate in a town full of pirates capturing the villagers in bubbles. Pop the bubbles using a grappling hook mechanic reminiscent of/lifted from Buster Bros. The evil bubble-chucking pirate will show up on screen every few seconds to give you more to attack and change the gravity. Along the way you’ll collect coins, points, and power-ups to make getting coins and points easier. That’s pretty much it. Shoot at bubbles and pirate, new bubbles spawn, change which side of the screen the character is positioned, shoot more bubbles.
It’s hard to criticize a game for being anything more than it wants to be, and Pirate Pop Plus is firmly rooted in the classic handheld experience up to and including the handheld. The graphics and sound say Game Boy, but the screen looks more like a Neo Geo Pocket. The coins you earn in game allow you to unlock new faceplates, characters, stickers, and other ways to change the look of the game, but nothing that changes the overall play style. There is a normal and hyper mode. Hyper mode makes the pirate spawn more bubbles and you’ll score bigger points, but with a catch. Characters only get one heart and to play you’ll have to spend the coins you use to unlock features. If you don’t do well you lose out. It’s an interesting gamble that keeps you on your toes. If you’re looking for a quick way to earn more coins, hyper mode is great, but death is a bigger risk. At the very least, it adds much-needed variety.
It may be intentional, but sometimes the graphics can get in the way. While popping bubbles, each bubble gets smaller and smaller until it’s destroyed like Asteroids. The smallest version of the bubbles look close to the coins and I found myself dying accidentally barreling into a pile of bubbles rather by accident.
If you pick up the game off the Nintendo EShop for either Wii U or 3DS, you get a code for the other system, which is a great deal. The Wii U version is a better experience solely because of the bigger screens to play on. 3DS works fine, but has an extra zoom-in feature that makes the unlockable faceplates pointless. The gameplay is the same, so if this sounds like your type of game it’s a fair deal for either system.
There’s a simplicity to Pirate Pop Plus that makes or breaks the audience. For people looking for a light arcade game to pass some time, the presentation is fantastic. The music and graphics are a fantastic representation of the time, and it would be easy to convince someone this is an older game. For those looking for depth and variety, this probably won’t appeal to them. The market may not be huge for new Game Boy titles, but Dadako manages to corner it with Pirate Pop Plus.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Wii U (Reviewed), 3DS, Steam (Nov. 4); Publisher: 13am Games; Developer: Dadako Studios ; Players: 1; Released: October 20, 2016; Price: $4.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Pirate Pop Plus given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.