This game brings a whole new meaning to the term "poop cruise."
Pixel Piracy is a game from a small indie studio, Quadro Delta. They describe it as a "side-scrolling 2d, real time strategy/sandbox/simulation game," which is quite a mouthful. It's got elements of roguelikes, god games, RPGs, sims, RTSes, and a bunch more which I'm probably forgetting.
The game starts by letting you make a few choices that affect the world generation, and then proceeds to let you create your pirate with a few additional options.
Then the game drops you on an island with 50 gold to your name and a tiny raft. From there, the choice is yours on how to proceed. Will you spend your cash on food so you can last longer on the open sea? Will you blow it on better equipment or training manuals? Will you buy parts for your boat? Or perhaps hire another crewmember?
Once you've figured out how to make the best of your initial resources, then you've got to board your boat and go do some good 'ol fashioned pirating. The world map is dotted with small islands to explore (complete with hostile natives or rival pirates), pirate ships to assault, and other towns to visit. Each potential encounter is rated on a numerical scale that gives you an idea as to how difficult it will be.
Combat plays out like a 2D RTS, where your units clash with enemy units until one of the two teams is dead. While you have some relatively direct control over your captain, the crew can only be given general orders. They may also choose to ignore you if their morale is low.
Assuming your team wins, you can loot and pillage whatever remains. Your captain and crew level up as you play, and can learn new skills or improve their statistics. Loot can be used to buy items, weapons, or parts for your ship. The ship is built in a sort of Bad Piggies style, where you can add and remove blocks in order to personalize your vessel for maximum terror potential.
The overall goal of the game is to take down the four "legendary pirates" and become the most epic pirate ever to pirate the pixelated seas.
While the game is interesting, it really throws you into the deep end early on. It can be difficult to understand how to make money and some important concepts are left unexplained until you learn through your own failures.
For instance, pillaging enemy ships - level 1 enemy pirates are easy to take down, but if you don't return your entire crew to your ship and click the "pillage" icon before leaving the encounter, you'll find that your spoils are almost nonexistent. Getting knocked into the water is instant death, unless you've found a shop that sells the "swimming" skill and given it to your pirates. Health will restore automatically over time, but your Vitality stat determines how fast this happens. You can also "equip" consumables like Crab Meat to use them and restore your health immediately.
There's also a lot of repetition in Pixel Piracy. Every island is roughly the same size, and they tend to contain only a few different types of enemies and treasure. You'll have to visit dozens of encounters to get strong enough to really thrive at the higher levels.
While the game initially seems to have a lot of roguelike trappings, there's a save file that can be restored at any time to undo mistakes (or even death). Updating the save between islands is optional, so you can undertake several risky decisions and undo them if you wish. It's a good thing, too, since even on easy Pixel Piracy can be a challenging game.
In the end, Pixel Piracy is an interesting game that combines elements from several different genres into a single game that actually works on most levels. The replayability of it is hampered by the grindy, repetitive nature of the encounters, and there is a learning curve that will probably turn some people off to the game. If you can stick with it, though, there's a lot of fun to be had for not a lot of cash.
(Cult of the Fiver is my monthly series on great games that can be had for cheap. We also have a Steam Curation Page! In Pre-Cult articles, I collect my thoughts about a game I plan to feature in this month's entry.)