With the release of Monolith's Claw, LucasArts' The Curse of Monkey Island, and now Psygnosis' Shipwreckers, the PC has been seeing an odd trend toward pirate-themed games. Shipwreckers is a light-hearted 3D shooter in this narrow genre, and with bright, colorful graphics, a cartoonish look, and a sense of humor, this is one of the more child-safe games to come along in a while.
In Shipwreckers you control a nimble pirate ship and sail through a series of interconnected harbors in an attempt to capture colonies, retrieve bottled treasure maps, and find the gate to the next level. But a vast selection of baddies is ready to give you a one-way ticket to Davy Jones' Locker, and you'll have to contend with enemy schooners, flame towers, spinning blades, and even troublesome birds who drop bombs from high above.
Fortunately, you're not unarmed. As you sail the seven seas, you'll collect a deadly amount of firepower. Secret areas are stocked with floating crates, which contain everything from cannonballs to rockets. If you prefer the head-on approach, you can fire cannonballs one at a time from the front of your ship - or if careful maneuvering is more your style, you can turn to the side and unleash a volley of them. Changing weapons in the heat of battle is a tad tricky since the weapon-select system could use a bit of work, but most players will get the hang of it with some practice.
Depending on your personal preferences, you can play the game from a variety of perspectives: top-down, 3/4 skewed, or a rear-mounted camera that tracks the engine Tomb Raider-style. Under certain conditions, the view from which you play the game can be critical, and not seeing what lurks behind you can result in a lost ship.
Visually, Shipwreckers is a real treat. Everything from the glistening water to the colonies is bright, colorful, and well animated. If your system is equipped with a 3Dfx card, you'll be treated to a smoother frame rate, shimmering transparent water, and a few other unnecessary but pretty-looking features. And if you have a few Microsoft joypads hanging around, you can link up to five of them together for an addictive multiplayer duel mode.
There are one or two quirks in Shipwreckers. It's impossible to go backwards, since hitting the down arrow simply applies the brakes; you have to turn a full 180 to head in the opposite direction - not good when you run head-to-head with a flame tower. And if your ship catches on fire, you slowly lose your health while your men cartwheel overboard.Shipwreckers is no Sid Meier's Pirates!, but the solid gameplay and the enjoyable multiplayer mode may make this one title you'll come back to. And while it's a bit on the cutesy side (especially coming from Psygnosis, creators of such gritty games as Wipeout XL), it proves that you don't necessarily need blood, flying giblets, or airborne viscera to have some fun.