As one of the winners of Microsoft's Dream Build Play contest, in which XNA developers were invited to submit games and win a Microsoft publishing deal, Yo-Ho Kablammo comes from humble beginnings. While this pirate combat game does have some of the rough-around-the-edges charm of a homegrown game, including some silly humor, it also has some too-rough problems, such as unbalanced AI and difficulty. The multiplayer offers a bit of fun, but the overall experience is too shallow to keep the game afloat.
Yo-Ho Kablammo is a vehicular combat game set in the sea. The weapon power-ups, treacherous environmental hazards, and frantic multiplayer gameplay associated with the genre are all here, but they're covered in a brightly colored coat of pirate panache. A point system deepens the experience a bit by awarding players for capturing neutral mines or collecting treasure from downed enemies.
The single-player consists of 15 challenges that ascend a rapid incline of difficulty. Each challenge has a different goal, whether it is scoring enough points, outlasting enemies, or overcoming nearly impossible odds. The variety is nice, but the difficulty on many of them goes a step beyond a fun challenge and into frustrating territory. You can achieve bronze, silver, or gold scores for completing challenges, and each awards you a number of points with which to unlock new characters for use in multiplayer. These characters are better than the default characters as far as stats go, but not so much so that they're worth the considerable effort.
Plenty of smaller annoyances play a part in making the single-player experience so frustrating. First, there are the controls, which feel slow and unresponsive. Moving your boat through a multicolored minefield is as about as easy as it would be in real life. Pounding on the A button speeds your boat up, but there's no visual indication of when you've reached top speed. Because hitting nearly every obstacle slows your boat to a crawl, you're constantly hammering on the A button, which gets tiresome quickly. The one bright spot on the controls is the cannon indicator--activated by holding the bumpers--that helps you remember which side your shot will fire from, as perspectives and quick turns can make it confusing for beginners.
The enemy AI is also a pain because of its unpredictability. In one match, you might be sailing against experts with perfect aim, but in the next, you'll have one enemy that can't seem to stop turning his boat in a circle. Other times, you'll feel as if the computer has it out for you, beating you to power-ups and pelting you with cannon fire at every turn. With the unbalanced enemies and unforgiving challenge, it's perhaps fortunate that Yo-Ho Kablammo was designed primarily as a multiplayer game. Though it doesn't revolutionize sea-faring combat, there is more fun to be had with a few friends in multiplayer than in single-player, and that's due in part to the plethora of customization options. You can play with up to three other players locally or online, adjusting everything from cannon distance and damage to the power-up types and mine appearance frequency. By tweaking the options, you can create some unique game types that are more fun than the standard Deathmatch. Unfortunately, finding someone online to play is like searching for buried treasure without a map.
The visuals of Yo-Ho Kablammo float safely in tepid waters. The ships turn and sway convincingly in the waves, though the animations get stiff and jerky when the action onscreen gets too chaotic. The water looks nice with an appropriate amount of shimmer and reflection depending on the time of day, but the camera can be frustrating as it pans in and out, sometimes cutting off sections of the screen so that you are left without a good view of the action. The music is the same kind of cheerful and adventurous stuff that appears in other pirate-themed games. It's catchy enough to hum along with, and it's not so repetitive that it become bothersome during lengthy matches.
Yo-Ho Kablammo offers about 400 Microsoft Points worth of fun at an 800 point price tag. If you can get over some control issues and have some friends to play with, the customizable multiplayer is enjoyable. The gameplay offers a bit of frantic fun that's easy to get in to, and the scoring system is complex enough to allow for a number of creative variations. So if you've got a bunch of friends that are down for dropping the points (relying on online strangers isn't a good idea--there don't seem to be many), you can certainly sink a few hours with Yo-Ho Kablammo's high seas combat. However, if you plan on sailing solo the control issues, unbalanced enemy AI and unforgiving difficulty of the single-player campaign will leave you feeling frustrated, like a pirate without a parrot.