What does it mean to be a pirate? At one time, it meant being a bandit of the sea who mercilessly stole from merchants and killed at whim, though nowadays it seems to apply to anyone who likes boats and employs a skull-and-crossbones decorating motif. In the world of Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, on the beautiful Azurbbean sea, you won’t find a more beloved blue-eyed hero than Captain Flint, King of the pirates and all-around good guy. Unfortunately for Flint, some have grown resentful of his heroism. Queen Zimbi, duplicitous wife of Papa Doc, the head priest of Vooju Island, teams up with a low-ranking pirate named Captain Green Beard to capture Flint, turn his crew into zombies, and free some evil Vooju baddies. Now it’s up to Papa Doc, a rotund chef named Blue Belly, and buxom spy Jane Starling to stop them. There’s just one problem: our heroes are already dead.
Luckily, right before they “died,” Papa Doc cast a spell keeping the trio’s spirits mobile and their bodies in a kind of stasis. They can still come back to life, but several tasks must be completed first, and even that is only the beginning of their epic adventure. Before the tale is finished they’ll need to travel all over the Azurbbean, from the sunny shores of Merry Cay to the temples of Azticla, and even into the depths of the (relatively harmless) underworld. Each new land you’ll visit is populated with a quirky cast of one-note characters, like the petulant Child Emperor of Azticla (who hates smelly things) or the sad pirate who’s always been thoroughly “spanked” in battle and goes by the name Red Rump. That’s not necessarily a criticism: for a game like Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, always more concerned with whimsy and one-liners than anything resembling genuine emotion, one-note is all you need, and the variety is appreciated.
In fact, variety is Ghost Pirates’ greatest strength, especially when it comes to the jaw-droppingly beautiful hand-painted backgrounds. With every new location, I was freshly impressed by the artistry at work here. Right from the beginning, when Papa Doc stands outside his temple with the nearby lava moat casting an eerie red glow, I was in love. Whether it’s the light-filled greens and blues of Merry Cay or the decaying swamplands of Grand Fascile, each screen is suitable for framing. We’d expect nothing less from the studio of Bill Tiller, of course, whose unique style is as distinctive now as it was as lead background designer on Curse of Monkey Island over ten years ago, though the gains in PC technology since then allow for even more arresting environments here. Ambient animations like waterfalls and lightning storms further contribute to the visual experience nicely.
Sadly, all the beauty around them highlights the imperfections of the character models. Certainly artistic choices are subjective, but I found the characters’ exaggerated features generally grotesque, like Azticlan priest Itzacoka’s distended stomach or the rictus-like grin of Blue Belly’s little sister. It’s even worse when the character is supposed to be pretty, as troublingly evidenced by Jane Starling’s ample assets. I consider the almost completely exposed (and perpetually bouncing) zeppelins attached to her chest to be less titillating than disturbing. How are we expected to react to her character? Should we take her seriously, even if the other characters don’t? While nobody in-game specifically references bosoms, a large percentage of the one-liners have to do with Jane, Jane’s figure, and Jane’s dating habits, though the issue extends beyond her. Apparently there are precious few clothing stores in the Azurrbean, as virtually every female character chooses to exhibit herself in this way. I can’t fathom why the designers went this route. Don’t women make up a healthy part of the adventure game audience?
But Jane is only one of the three characters you’ll control in Ghost Pirates, and you can almost always switch between them at will. Their goals aren’t intrinsically linked, and in fact the characters never occupy the same screen outside of cutscenes, so alternating protagonists mid-segment is entirely optional. Still, if you get stuck or tired of a certain situation with one, the ability can make for a refreshing change. Despite their separation, Papa Doc’s spell left our heroes psychically linked, so they will comment on each other’s actions and even help out in puzzles. There are three character portraits in the inventory, and you can combine them with other items to ask for advice. When Blue Belly can’t comprehend a Vooju symbol, he can go to Papa Doc, and when Papa Doc can’t figure out how to tie a strong knot, he turns to Jane. It works very well as a mechanic, adding a little more depth to the experience. The adventure is not just about hunkering down and solving a puzzle, but also about knowing when you should stop and ask for help from a friend.
Apart from that twist, the interface is quite conventional, and if you played Autumn Moon’s A Vampyre Story, you’ll already be familiar with it. Hold down the left mouse button over an object, choose between hand, eyes, or mouth icons (to interact, examine, or speak), then release the mouse button to perform the action. Most screens have a half-dozen or more things to look at, a fair percentage of which are functional. In the parts of the game when you have an actual physical form, you’ll be able to speak with other characters, but there aren’t really any dialogue puzzles; you simply exhaust all options until you’ve learned everything you need to know.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island
Posted by thorn969 on Jul 7, 2017
Entertaining Monkey Island-clone
This was pretty obviously and explicitly and thinly disguised ripoff of Monkey Island, by some of the same staff. I thought this looked good, much better than A Vampyre Story - perhaps partly because I was able to play this properly? To get A Vampyre Story...