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Under The Jolly Roger Review

Pirate games are a bit of a rare commodity these days. It’s surprising, considering they’re all about about adventure, looting, and action. So why aren’t there as many pirate games as there are fantasy and science fiction? Sure we have the excellent point-and-click Monkey Island series, and more recent co-op game Sea of Thieves, but I feel it’s a bit of an untapped market.

Under The Jolly Roger now joins the fray on the Nintendo Switch, for all pirate fans who need a new adventure on the seas. Is Under The Jolly Roger the swash-buckling adventure worthy of joining the ranks of Monkey Island? Or does it walk the plank into shark-infested waters?

Gameplay

Under The Jolly Roger is an open world RPG played in three different ways. You’ll spend a lot of time traversing the game using the map, sailing from one port or mission to another. Then there’s controlling your ship for use in combat, where most of the actual gameplay takes place. Lastly there are moments you’ll be controlling your pirate character in third-person in both sword and gun combat. I’ll talk about each gameplay element individually.

Using Your Map

Your map plays quite a large role in the game. Of course you’ll use it to travel from one point to another, but the main story and side quests are also carried out through the map. It’s not a traditional open world game where you’ll control your character on a sprawling huge map. You’ll simply be moving your cursor and selecting where you want your ship to go.

This is how the story mainly progresses, so don’t expect any cutscenes or even spoken dialogue. The story is told using small snippets of text as you move from one location to another. This, of course, is broken up with many battles out on the sea. It’s clearly not a narrative-driven game, but this game’s strengths lie elsewhere, which I’ll eventually talk about.

I do like how the random battles occur here, where the game prompts you if you want to battle, rather than forcing you like many RPGs. Giving you that choice means you can focus on other activities without that annoying interruption.

Combat on the Seas

The open sea combat is the main gameplay portion that I enjoyed the most. It may not be as polished or spectacular as, for example, the Assassin Creed games, but it’s not without its charm.

As expected you’ll need to align your ship’s cannons with your enemy and allow it time to align up and fire. But what I enjoyed about this game is the variety it gives you. Every ship you face has three different gauges- one for its sails, crew, and hull. Depending on how you want to go about it, you’ll need to use different ammo types for each of the gauges. If you want to stop the opponent’s ship (whether it’s to stop it from moving or to board it), you’ll need to use the bar shots. Otherwise if you want to destroy it outright, good ol’ fashion cannonballs will do the trick. There’s plenty of different ammo types to keep things interesting. But because there’s quite a few different types, I do wish for an easier way to select your ammo in battle, such as using a wheel, instead of frantically pressing ‘R’ to scroll through it all.

But I think my favourite part of combat is the use of artifacts. Artifacts are magic abilities you use for offensive and defensive purposes. It was quite satisfying pummelling my opponents down with fireballs, or speeding up my recharge time to continue firing cannonballs. The use of artifacts just added another fun element to an already decent combat system.

Sword and Gun Action

While the sea combat was enjoyable, I couldn’t really say the same for the third-person combat. It felt very unpolished and more time needed to be spent on it for it to feel better. For example, your sword swings don’t feel like they have any weight to them, and doesn’t feel all too satisfying. Shooting enemies was also pretty awkward, where pulling your trigger would zoom in and fire, not giving you time to properly line up and aim. This resulted in many frustrating missed shots, and then I needed to wait to the recharge time to pass.

Luckily there aren’t many moments you’ll need to fight in this way. It’s only when you board an enemy ship, or undertake an island mission, is when you’ll do combat from the third person view.

RPG Mechanics

Aside from the sea combat, the RPG mechanics were my other favourite aspect of Under The Jolly Roger. In fact, I would say the RPG mechanics are the heart and soul of this game. In the beginning, you start with a smaller and weaker ship. As you progress, you’ll have the option of obtaining more powerful ships, as well as ways to upgrade by purchasing or earning new sails, cannons, artifacts, etc. In fact it was when I took a step back from the main story, and solely focused on upgrading my ship, is when I enjoyed this game the most.

But there’s a lot to consider which made the decision-making more fun. In this game there are various factions, each with their own set of missions to undertake. But each faction specialises in something different that you can benefit from. For example, the Dominion will generally reward you with more scrolls, which are used to upgrade yourself as well as your crew. The Kingdom rewards you more with money, which is obviously essential when upgrading your ship.

Choosing where to start and what you want to focus on will keep you hooked, and will add plenty of hours and value to your time in this game.

UI Issues and Bugs

Now my biggest issues from Under The Jolly Roger stemmed from the UI and a whole nest of bugs. In terms of the UI when you’re docked, there were bugs/issues in almost half of the menu sections.

In the Shipyard where you can view all the ships to buy, it would have been great to be able to compare the stats of those ships with your own. There are quite a few stats for each ship and it was quite tedious to constantly scroll back and forth to compare what ship is better to buy.

In the Team screen there was a bug in selecting the officers. I wasn’t able to select additional officers because it doesn’t work properly using the directional button, but only works using the joystick. I spent half the game only having one officer until I figured a way around the bug.

The Ship Equipment screen, an important screen, also had issues. Apart from equipping sails, cannons, etc. you can equip extra gear for more stat boosts, like ropes and shielding. But they didn’t always equip properly until I worked out an unnatural workaround for it. These obvious issues should have been spotted and fixed immediately and I’m perplexed how they made it into my review copy.

In terms of other bugs, my game crashed quite a few times. These crashes usually came from trying to buy items or when I left cities. Luckily the game saves very often and I never lost any real progress.

Another issue I had was how little is given in the way of explanation. There is a basic tutorial you can go through at the start, but it took me quite a while of playing this game before things started to click into place. Maybe a little more explanation of the factions and general gameplay would have helped me enjoy this game sooner. Luckily I had enough patience to overcome the initial barrier and when it all started to make sense, I started it really enjoy it.

Under The Jolly Roger Review Summary

Under The Jolly Roger’s strengths lie in its RPG mechanics and sea combat. I really did enjoy these two aspects and there is enough depth there to keep you interested throughout your whole time with this game. The variety and setups you can make for combat is what sets it apart. Doing missions and progressing through the various factions was fun, especially with the different types of rewards you earn from each one. Grinding through side missions in order to upgrade my ship never got boring for me, and bringing my newly upgraded ship into battle was always satisfying. The RPG mechanics really feels like the main focus of the game, whereas the game’s main story is really there just to complement it.

It’s really the initial barrier of understanding the game properly that may act as a wall for some people. With a lack of explanation for what the game really has to offer, it can be hard to get into. If you can stick with it until it all starts to make sense, you will get some good fun out of it. The long list of UI issues and bugs are unfortunate and can really hold the game back, but there’s no doubt they’ll be taken out in time through patches.

While Under The Jolly Roger may not be a traditional open world or open sea game that you might expect, there’s definitely enough value here for your money and time. If you can overcome the game’s issues, you’ll certainly get a lot out of it. Now excuse me while I go take down another Kraken..

Score: 7

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3 thoughts on “Under The Jolly Roger Review

  1. Absolutely the best review on this game. With Skull and Bones in limbo, and Black Flag played to death, this game harkens back to Sea Dogs… with more customization. A true unspoken gem for the buccaneer in us all.

    Liked by 1 person

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