Scurvy Scallywags Review (iOS)
Scurvy Scallywags may have an ill-defined vaudevillian contrivance of some sort, but once you get into the game it’s pure eye patch-wearing, booty-plundering, plank-walking fun. Ron Gilbert has created a game that’s presented as a stage play, but in fact it’s all about pirates. And suffice it to say, Gilbert and pirates go very well together.
So what is Scurvy Scallywags? Well, it’s a match-three game. Match-three games are in abundance, and there’s a whole slew of these games that remix the basic match-three formula. Scurvy Scallywags approach is most similar to the Puzzle Quest games, combining match-three gameplay with some RPG elements, a story and even some overworld meta-game stuff. It’s also sprinkled with Gilbert’s trademark humour, and is absolutely packed with cuteness and charm.
It would be remiss to focus solely on Gilbert though, as this is a joint project with his partner Clayton Kauzlaric, for young games Beep Games Inc. A big part of Scurvy Scallywags appeal is Kauzlaric’s charming visual style, with short little cartoon pirates looking like their cuteness was somehow concentrated when they were squished down to be as broad as they are tall. Customising these little dudes is an enjoyable part of the game, and this feature is pushed front-centre as you are presented with a quick customisation screen every time you start the game. Trying on a new hat when you unlock it is absolutely essential.
Once you get through a brief and funny tutorial you’re set free on the world map to find adventure and gold and other pirate-y things. Essentially, you’re presented with an overhead map and choose where to go from a number of locations. There’s some simple gameplay revolving around your ship too, which you upgrade as you progress through the game. All the world map stuff is simple, but it’s welcome.
By framing the actual puzzles as events along your journey, there’s more reason to play than just the joy of sliding things around till three of the things are in a row. The progression is steady and rewarding. Once you reach a location you are thrust into a big grid to play something that feels a lot like Bejewelled. The big twist is that within the play grid, your little pirate will be in there somewhere. There will also be enemies. By moving and matching “things ” (like gold bars and coconuts), he will move around. So you have no direct control of the Scallywag.
There will also be enemies in the grid too, and they will be moving around. Slowly, but inexorably, they will come towards you. This is where it gets a bit hard to explain. Your little pirate has a rating for his strength in battle. You can increase this rating by matching three swords on the grid. Your enemy will also have a rating, and at first this will almost always be higher. You have to strategically avoid the enemy at first, then when your rating is high enough you can either move towards them, or let them come to you. Once they meet whoever has the highest rating will kill their opponent. Simple!
Well, no, not really. There are all sorts of other systems at play. For example, you have three lives, but can regain them by collecting bandages. And you have special skills to attack enemies. And…. look, it’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it’s pretty accessible.
When it comes to gripes, although I liked the visual style, I found the music to be irritating after a few minutes and quickly muted it. Its jaunty-ness is constantly turned up to eleven and it really grated, at least for me.
Scurvy Scallywags also leans pretty heavily into the micro transactions, with a gold doubler being a fairly essential purchase for real money if you don’t want progress to be painfully slow. There’s nothing really sinister about the in app purchases though, and I made good progress without dropping much real money. That being said I stopped playing before I hit any real walls. The game does get tougher, but never unreasonably so, and I found the whole thing got to be a bit of a grind after a while.
There are a lot of match-three games out there, and although Scurvy Scallywags innovates, it’s still a very well worn formula. Gilbert’s humour is pretty sparing too, so although its passingly funny, the spaces between laughs is wide. Scurvy Scallywags is a really solid, fun game. For the price, it’s well worth a look. Considering the pedigree though, it looks like Beep Games’ best work is ahead of them.
3 pretty passable pirate puzzlers out of 5