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Scurvy Scallywags

A Pirate’s Life For Match-Three

The Secret of Monkey Island’s Ron Gilbert returns to the high seas in a match-three game filled with pirates, booty, and loads of silliness. Gilbert and his DeathSpank collaborator Clayton Kauzlaric have crafted an enjoyable adventure with enough RPG hooks in it to keep players busy for a long virtual voyage.

Your Scurvy Scallywag journey starts with a visit to the character-creation section of the game. At first, your decisions are both limited and cosmetic. Once you’re done swapping through various faces, swords, hats, tops, and bottoms, you pick your destination on a treasure map and your tiny ship chugs along the dotted line to the island. Upon landing, the game begins.

Each isle has several different levels to play, and they can be selected in any order. A few occasional rule changes are scattered throughout them, but the basics are largely the same. Your pirate appears on the board, along with loads of doodads – sabers, bottles of grog, piles of gold, spiders, rats, etc. After a few matches, enemies begin filtering into play. That’s why those sabers are critically important to the game. Every time you match them, your strength increases. To successfully fend off enemy pirates and other monsters, you need to meet or exceed their strength. Fail, and you lose a heart; lose all of hearts and your pirate is dead.

It’s a simple system that’s cleverly implemented into an already interesting game. The board replaces tiles by filling columns and rows from the opposite direction. Your pirate moves around with this ever-shifting play space, so paying attention is critical. That seemingly excellent swap could indeed net you some gold, but it might also put you perilously close to an angry plant monster. It took me a while to get the hang of the way individual moves affected the greater board, which led to a few embarrassing losses. It was frustrating when defeat came from the necessarily random nature of the match-three genre.

As you progress, you unlock more clothing from fallen enemies. These provide bonuses, such as a sword that increases attack damage or a hat that raises the chances of performing critical hits. You can also browse an in-game shop to pick up passive abilities or skills that work on cooldown timers. The latter prove particularly useful, turning all the gold on the screen into swords, for instance. The ability to leap toward the nearest quest object (yes, there are collection-based quests) came in particularly handy when I was inevitably cornered. 

When you do eventually die, you can revive your character with the loot that you’ve accumulated. It’s trivially cheap at first, but it becomes a pricier proposition as you move ahead in the story. If you’re out of cash, you have to choose between letting your pirate die or purchasing additional gold. The penalties are light, since you retain all of your items and skills. The only downside is that you need to replay the game from the start. While I appreciated not having all of my progress completely wiped each time, revisiting those early sections was a tedious grind.

Scurvy Scallywags’ generally entertaining gameplay is sandwiched between silly cutscenes and story moments. I’m not usually stoked to scroll through text between puzzle games – just let me match some gems, already – but Ron Gilbert’s writing is a fun sendup of pirates and musical theater.

The seas are oversaturated with match-three games, but Scurvy Scallywags bobs near the top. Its charming presentation and impressive gameplay depth make it worth a download, even if you are close to being pirated out. 

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