You know how when The Da Vinci Code hit theaters, there was suddenly an abundance of books like Cracking Da Vinci's Code? Or how just as the 2005 Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise summer blockbuster War of the Worlds was hitting theaters, we were also treated to the David Michael Latt/C. Thomas Howell direct-to-video shelf-filler H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds? Well, just in time to capitalize on the piratical fervor over Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, budget publisher Valcon Games arrives with Pirates: Legend of the Black Buccaneer, rewarding those looking for another fun-filled summer romp with an action adventure game that teems with awkward platforming mechanics, one-note combat, confusing level designs, and simplistic puzzles.
Legend of the Black Buccaneer is the Bolex watch of pirate games.
Through some needlessly longwinded opening narration, you're told the tale of a slave-turned-demon-goddess who lures greedy sailors to her island lair with the promise of cursed treasure, which is how the game's protagonist, Francis Blade, finds himself shipwrecked at the start of the game, on an island populated by antagonistic monkeys, pirates, and other dastardly enemies. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Blade discovers a fancy amulet that magically turns this skinny European into some kind of hulking undead hoodoo spirit-version of the old WWF wrestler Papa Shango. This creature is known as the Black Buccaneer, and with the ability to transform into this powerful, top hat-wearing behemoth at will, Blade works his way across the island, fighting monkeys, plundering treasure, and collecting ship parts in order to get off this rotten island. Once the premise is set, the game doesn't spend much time elaborating any further.
The action in Pirates: Legend of the Black Buccaneer is a mish-mash of other recent, memorable action adventure games like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, just not anywhere near as good as in any of them. There's lots of leaping around jungles, caverns, and ancient tombs. You'll encounter your fair share of puzzles that put the focus on box-pushing and switch-flipping. The levels are liberally peppered with enemies that you can take on with either your Francis Blade or Black Buccaneer personas, both of whom wield a pair of swords that can be put into deadly use by tapping at random on the square and triangle buttons. Playing as the Black Buccaneer gives you added strength and the ability to restore your own health by slaying enemies, but you can only play as him for a short while before reverting back to Francis Blade. If your enemies threaten to overwhelm you, you can summon a zombie at special zombie fountains to help turn the tide. In the hands of a competent developer, all this could've made for a decent knock-off, but WideScreen Games botches the job pretty thoroughly.
The platforming elements are the most immediately frustrating, because they make up such a large portion of the action. Simply jumping looks and feels incredibly awkward, as if your character is weighed down with lead boots. However, when you're able to wrangle the camera in order to line up with another platform, your character suddenly springs to life, leaping much farther than he seems capable of. Damage taken from falling off platforms seems arbitrary. Fall down one floor and you'll keep on truckin' like nothing happened; fall down two floors and you'll be scraping your mangled corpse off the floor. When simply moving your character around feels like a chore, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the game.