Plunderland’s Right Up our Galley
Plunderland is one of those games that has a really simple idea at its core but gets a ton of mileage out of it. In each stage, you’re really just trying to get from point A to point B. Various obstacles get in your way, and you need to remove them by firing your cannons. Of course, you want to pump up your score by collecting as much loot as possible, but all that is needed to progress in the game is to reach the end of each stage with your ship intact. Since you’re in a boat, there really isn’t even much of a vertical element to things.
As for the cannon battles, they take a page from the popular Angry Birds model of launching objects. Pull back to aim your shots, then release to fire. If you’re shooting at something that can break, pieces of it will be shattered as you shoot. If your target is live, it probably won’t be much longer. Sometimes there are explosives you can detonate with a well-aimed shot, and sometimes you can get structures to collapse on themselves by removing a crucial piece.
This kind of thing is fun all on its own, of course. But Plunderland takes things a step further by having the platform you’re launching shots from be a moving vehicle. On top of that, the things you’re shooting at will generally be shooting back. You need to dodge out of the way of incoming cannon balls while returning fire with your own. Tilting your device back and forth, trying to get into range to shoot while avoiding hits at the same time, all while trying to manage the pull-back action to fire your cannons is quite an interesting mix of gameplay mechanics. Indeed, the ship battles are some of the most enjoyable parts of Plunderland.
There’s more to the game than that simple explanation covers, however. For example, crew members knocked off of ships can climb back aboard their own ships and resume firing. If an enemy ship is sunk but its crew survives, they’ll try to board your ship and battle your crew. Special power-ups can outfit your ship or those of your enemy with improved cannons that deal extra damage and apply various effects. There’s even a pesky shark that will stick its nose into the occasional battle to attack either you or your enemy, chowing down on any crew members it can get its jaws around.
Aside from ship-to-ship battles, there are also islands with villages on them. You can just pass by most of these islands without incident if you like, but they almost always have treasures you can plunder. The villagers don’t usually take kindly to that, and will begin throwing weapons or stones at your ship. At this point, all you can really do is take off or kill them. Some islands also have hidden treasure chests that you can dig up by tapping on the X marking the spot.
Yes, you can interact with things in Plunderland by touching them. More than you would think at first blush, in fact. You can grab cannon balls out of mid-air and fling them back at the Imperial ships. You can pick up villagers and shake them to make money come out. If an Imperial boards your ship, you can pick him up yourself and send him flying. You can even pick up that accursed shark and send it flying at the enemy ships. You could play the whole game without using any of these abilities, but they’re a lot of fun to mess around with. It can get a little too busy to do all of the things you can do at the same time, but it’s nice to have options.
In addition to the game’s main story mode with its 25 stages spread across 4 areas, there are two other modes you can tinker around with. The survival mode sees you trying to, well, survive a bunch of enemies determined by the difficulty level you select. The arcade mode sees you trying to finish procedurally-generated stages within a set amount of time. Any loot you collect in these modes can be spent in the shop, and you can bring any of the upgrades and new ships you’ve unlocked in the story mode into these modes.
Ultimately, Plunderland is just plain enjoyable to play. It’s really easy to get into a groove while you’re sailing along, firing your cannons at whatever comes your way. The physics sometimes generate some wild situations, which keeps the game from becoming too predictable. While the story mode is relatively short if you’re just trying to get through it, finding all of its secrets and earning all of the medals requires a lot more effort. The extra modes give you a near-unlimited supply of slightly variable adventures to tackle, as well.
The core mechanics are interesting and engaging enough that Plunderland remains a good time to fire up now and then even after you’ve already cleared every stage and unlocked every item. Heading out on the high seas with your crew to grab some loot, wondering if today you will get the shark or the shark will get you, is a joy that never truly fades.