Skull and Crossbones (NES)

  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Audio
  • Visuals
  • Entertainment

Also available on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and MS-DOS

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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 07/13/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

Skull and Crossbones is another unlicensed Tengen game on NES, and that usually means that it’s either really good or really bad.  Unfortunately, this qualifies as the latter.  You would expect that a game about pirates would involve plundering treasure and fighting with cannons and swords.  It does not.  Well, it does involve fighting with swords, and it involves your getting shot with a cannon, but it’s far from the 8-bit rendition of Assassin’s Creed IV that I was hoping to play.

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Instead of doing actual pirate things, this game is actually just “What if Mario dressed as a pirate?”  You’re not actually doing much pirating; sure, you’re taking “booty,”  but that booty is mostly rum and raspberries, and you only ever steal from skeletons and other pirates.  There’s no ship to control or anything; honestly, LJN’s Jaws game felt more pirate-y than this in that regard.  Each level – I think there are half a dozen or so – consists of wandering around a cramped platforming stage killing random pirates, rats, skeletons, demons, and zombies until you kill a certain amount and trigger the boss fight.  Then you fight the boss, collect the alcohol and fruit they threw around the area, and then you’re off to the next level.  This would be fine if the game controlled well, but it doesn’t.  Your character is slow, clunky, and hard to control as he somehow falls like a brick when he jumps while also moving like he’s on ice.

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When I described the game as “What if Mario dressed like a pirate,” I wasn’t talking about the gameplay so much as the plot.  Your wife/girlfriend/wench is a princess who was kidnapped by an evil wizard, and you’re going through these stages chasing the wizard to rescue the princess.  If a real pirate were trying to rescue a princess from an evil wizard, it wouldn’t be to have a dance party on his ship (I’m not kidding, that’s the actual ending); it would be to ransom her for a massive cargo hold full of gold coins and then sail off into the sunset filthy rich.

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Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this game, but literally, nothing outside of the use of a sword and pistol actually feels pirate-y.  Change the costume and nothing else, and this could easily be a game about a time-traveling space ninja.  The game is playable once you get a feel for it, but its length is entirely down to difficulty, and its difficulty is entirely down to bad design.  Your character is hard to control, the bosses can hit you before you’re able to attack them, and your weapons are limited and replaced by finding piles of bones that could contain weapons or could instantly kill you.  Hope you’re feeling lucky.  All in all, this game is just bad, but it didn’t have to be.  The game’s premise was always going to be dumb, but the game itself could have been fun if it had been made by competent people.

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