Time to set sail again. Only this time without the charismatic Johnny Depp at the helm as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. On this voyage, titled Pirates: Legend of the Black Buccaneer, you play an unknown seaman named Francis Blade. He's your everyday treasure hunter looking for his next big score. Francis does look a little like Jack Sparrow, and craves wealth just as much, but as a noteworthy hero, Francis pales in comparison.
The above hero assessment works when talking about Black Buccaneer in relation to the recent games based on the Pirates of the Caribbean. They all share a similar tone, and they even look a lot a like, but Black Buccaneer comes up short. Even the officiallylicensed Pirates of the Caribbean games failed to excite most critics, which puts this admittedly late adventure on the high-seas an even bigger letdown. It does a few things right, such as offer a good number of puzzles to solve. But in the end, what the game does wrong overshadows most of its highlights.
That is a total shame, because it's refreshing to see a game lean heavily toward puzzle solving and exploration, as Black Buccaneer does. And it's not so much that it does things entirely wrong, because it's combat and platform elements work fine for the most part. It's just that everything in the game, save its use of voodoo folklore, lacks any kind of creativity. So at its best, Black Buccaneer plays like a serviceable, if entirely unoriginal, action platformer. Having said that, it dips below mediocrity at times and sinks any chances of its better components saving the rest of the experience.
At first, though, it does look like a voyage worth taking. Once you put aside the fact it's a shameless cash-in to the recent pirate craze, it actually looks like a decent adventure. It starts well enough with the main character Francis crash-landing on a strange island. After exploring the island for a few minutes, you find a wrecked ship in dire need of repairs. You then decide to scour island for any loot and take off in the ship once you find the parts to repair it. Just as soon as you enter a nearby cave, you find an amulet that transforms you into the Black Buccaneer - a strong, slow-moving voodoo warrior. The whole affair screams Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, another game where the protagonist turns into a volatile, quickly-expiring version of himself.
After this, you navigate tombs and caves in search of treasure, solving puzzles and battling the occasional enemy. Problem is, every aspect of the game, from the tomb navigating and puzzle solving, to the combat and platforming fails to gather any real momentum. Developers did a decent job with the puzzles, but most only require you to move a few boxes or throw a few switches. A little more creativity and variety would have gone a long way here. And the combat, while functional, is very simplistic and straightforward. You can acquire new moves and abilities the further you progress in the game, but it never gets more in depth than using a combination of strong and weak attacks.
You spend most of your time making your way through the game's various caves. The jump mechanics feel like a cross between those in Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, though nowhere near as refined as either of those games. You can shimmy along ledges, leap between platforms and perform a few acrobatic moves by swinging on polls and such, but none of it feels particularly exciting. To make things worse, jumping is somewhat of a guessing game.
Though it works fine most of the time, there are more than a few instances where it's hard to tell whether a jump is possible or not. And not because of distance, or some other ordinary factor, but because your character's jump ability is totally erratic. He'll jump too far or short, seemingly at random. Plus, there's only a matter of a few feet between a painless jump miscalculation and immediate death at the bottom of a precipice.