When you think of pirate games, one of three probably comes to mind: Sid Meier's Pirates!, Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag or (my personal favorite) the Monkey Island series. Don't get me wrong, these are all good games and there's a reason why they're so popular, but there's a whole world of pirates out there! Looking to branch out from the usual fare? Here's our top six picks for underappreciated pirate games:
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
Who doesn't love a Lego game? No, seriously, what kind of monster doesn't? Lego Pirates of the Caribbean follows in the grand tradition of Lego taking IPs and making them even cooler and funnier. Lego Jack Sparrow is, if possible, even funnier than the real thing.
Like all Lego games, POTC adapts the plots from the movies—the first four to be exact—but in this case with a more PG touch to it. Still, the shenanigans of Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth and Will are just as funny as in the movies, and in the case of On Stranger Tides, it's arguably a bit better than the movie. Pirates continues the same gameplay tradition as other Lego games and you must fight and puzzle your way through levels using different character abilities, while smashing up bricks and finding collectibles.
As a bonus, you get to play as the guard dog from the jail in the first movie. He's adorable and possibly my favorite character. Never mind the 69 other playable characters, the dog is the best. Anamaria might be a close second though.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game is available for PC, Mac, Nintendo 3DS and DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii and Xbox 360.
What's the one thing better than pirates? No, not more pirates. Dogs! So clearly, a game about dogs who are pirates is an excellent idea. No, really! Plus, as the game states, you get unconditional love from puppies.
In all seriousness, Jolly Rover is a point and click adventure where you play as uppercrust James Rover, a noble seafarer who finds himself kidnapped by pirates after he tries to say hi and make friends with them. Aww, bless. Being deemed unfit to be a pirate by the astute Captain Howell (see what they did there?) James instead is locked up in the brig and there our lovable hero's adventure begins.
Jolly Rover is a lovely blend of dogs and pirates, who doesn't love both of them? It's funny and well written, if not the most challenging of games. The voice acting is quality and the character designs are creative. Plus, there's gobs of things to do and more collectibles than you can fetch a stick for.
Jolly Rover is available for PC and Mac.
Tropico 2: Pirate Cove
When you think about it, it actually makes sense that Tropico—the series where you get to play as a despotic and absolute ruler of a Caribbean island—has a pirate installment. I mean, yeah, pirates sound like quite a stretch from simulation Fidel Castro and his banana republic, but they do have a lot in common. Absolute rule, force of will, complete control over citizens and no moral boundaries to speak of.
On a more serious note, Tropico 2 is exactly the sort of game it sounds like. It takes the Tropico game formula of city building and management of a remote tropical island and adds a pirate twist to it, though you are still free to play the game and grow your country in a variety of different ways. Oddly enough for a pirate game, it does mostly take place on land, but that doesn't impede your piratey activities in the slightest.
Tropico 2: Pirate Cove is available for PC.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is an interesting title, following in the grand tradition of bizarrely named point and click adventure games, but don't let that deter you. Rather than falling into the usual pitfalls of “Let's make a pirate adventure game! It'll be great, like Monkey Island! It's inspired by Monkey Island!” Nelly Cootalot manages to make itself stand out from the general rabble by precisely NOT doing that.
Nelly is a smart, sassy heroine who, admittedly, spends more time on land than on the high seas. But she's out to save the birds from the atrocious Baron Widebeard. No, his beard really is that wide. Along the way, Nelly meets an assortment of odd characters and causes much mischief – I mean, she is still a pirate, with a wicked sense of humor. My particular favorite is her avian companion Sebastian, voiced by the incomparable Tom Baker. Yes, that Tom Baker.
While the puzzles in the game aren't particularly challenging, on the flip side it's a game that's accessible for all, not just the most enthusiastic point and click fanatics. Plus, the press release trailer is one of my favorites I've ever seen.
Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet is available for PC, Mac and Linux.
Risen 2: Dark Waters
Like most sequels, Risen 2 takes an established universe and builds upon it, improving the gameplay and formula of its predecessors. Plus, I mean, there's pirates. So obviously it's better. Plus, if you're willing to sit through the opening sequence and pay attention, you don't even have to play the first game to understand the world and what's going on.
Dark Waters follows the story of your nameless hero, a man who is working for the Inquisition at its last fortress, while the world around falls to chaos and the nigh unstoppable power of the Titans. After a chance shipwreck happens to wash up the pirate Patty on the beach, the hero is stripped of his title at the Inquisition and works with her amongst the pirates to kill the Kraken and its master in order t once again make the seas safe for pirates and travelers alike. Risen 2 is an RPG game with an immersive world and an interesting mythology, which is what sets it apart from many other pirate games. After all, combining voodoo magic, classical Greek Titans and swashbuckling pirates is hardly typical fare.
Considering it's published by Deep Silver, Dark Waters has the exact kind of fun and snappy writing that you'd expect from the people who brought you Saint's Row. The world is richly imagined and well acted, though I do wonder if some of those deadpan lines are intentional or not. But either way, it works very well for the game. While the atmosphere of the world is serious, the game consistently reminds you not to take itself too seriously. After all, it is a game about pirates and mythological monsters, it's not exactly the most buttoned-up subject matter.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is available for PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360.
Nightmares from the Deep Series
Nightmares from the Deep was the series that got me hooked on Artifex Mundi games. A blend of casual, hidden object gameplay and some good old fashioned point and click adventure game mechanics, it's an interesting trilogy that tells an interesting and cohesive story throughout. While the individual games themselves do get a tad repetitive when playing three of them in a row, it's a nice breather from heavier game fare.
The three games do have a plot that carries across all installments, but it's also not strictly necessary to play them all or in order, as the opening dialogue will bring you up to speed with what you absolutely need to know to understand the world. The games have an intelligent and sympathetic protagonist who isn't quite as brain dead as some hidden object adventurers tend to be, though her lack of MacGuyvering skills leaves something to be desired at times.
Additionally, Nightmares from the Deep features some really nice visuals that are a step-up from standard hidden object quality, as well as the option to skip the hidden object puzzles entirely in favor of a mini-game instead. With a touch of the horror genre and game elements having been definitively marked with the inspiration of HP Lovecraft, the Nightmares From the Deep trilogy is the perfect way to unwind after some of the more strenuous pirate games on our list.
All three installments are available for iOS, Android, PC, Mac and Linux. Additionally, The Siren's Call and The Cursed Heart are available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.