Arr Matey! This be Cap’n Linkphreak, sailin’ the digital seas with me mates in search of treasure! We fear no ship, curse, or bounty hunter. And when we pull into shore, lock up yer valuables, yer daughters and yer weapons if ye don’t want any trouble. (cough, cough) … Okay, that’s enough of that imitation … It’s hard to come up with pirate dialogue that doesn’t sound cheesy, not to mention that its murder on your throat. But there is something very romantic about the notion of the pirate that remains to this day: The skill of two swashbucklers battling on the deck of a ship, the hunt for buried treasure and the thrill of lawlessness. Well, for all you rogues, scoundrels and scallywags out there, your game has set sail in the form of Pirates: The Legend Of Black Kat.
Ye fill the boots … ahem, you take the helm as Katarina De Leon, daughter of a wealthy governor within the Five Isles. Blessed with a priviledged upbringing in a dangerous environment, Katarina wants for nothing. Nothing, that is, except the taste of adventure and excitement. You see, Katarina has an alter ego. Known around the isles as the Black Kat, she and her ship, the Wind Dancer are regarded as maritime Robin Hoods.
Of course, this does not sit well with Captain Hawke, an evil man whose navy has begun a total conquest of the Five Isles. Hawke decides to strike at Kat by murdering her father and burning his estate. Kat arrives in time to read a message from her father and discover a hidden cache of items from her dead mother. Kat’s mother, it turns out, was a famous pirate in her own right, known for the same righteous deeds that her daughter committed. Reeling from the discovery, and seething with anger, Kat embarks on a quest to bring Captain Hawke to justice. Along the way, she will find herself searching for items, fulfilling tasks given to her by other characters, and discover her mother’s personal lair.
At first, Kat’s search appears almost impossible. While Kat knows Hawke is behind her father’s murder, she doesn’t know where his hideout is or even where to begin searching for him. Luckily, she begins in very familiar surroundings, that of her father’s estate. Here, she (and the player) is acquainted with the nuances of the game. This is accomplished through the help of a non-invasive tutorial system. As Kat discovers new items, situations, or abilities, the tutorial quickly and clearly explains how it applies to gameplay. For example, the tutorial explains Kat’s uncanny ability to smell buried treasure. (If only I had that ability … talk about making life much easier!) While it doesn’t always show up when it’s supposed to, it’s an effective way to explain how to play, what things mean, and how much care Kat should take in her quest.
This is not to say that Kat is helpless. An accomplished acrobat, Kat has a nice jump and impressive flipping double jump. But she doesn’t dispatch her enemies with a butt-bounce like other platform heroes. Instead, Kat favors a beautiful style of swordplay with Spanish rapier and dagger. With skill and finesse, she can string up to four hit combos with the pressing of the attack button. As each blow hits its target, her power attack gauge fills up. This gauge can be filled three times, with each attack more powerful than the last. It’ll come in handy with the enemies that come charging at you. From oversized crabs to skeletal warriors, pirates to apes, the foes you’ll face seem like graduates from the Ray Harryhausen School of claymationized evil. This may not seem like a good thing, but it fits the swashbuckled, Errol Flynn-like air of the game and adds to the flavor of the title. The largest flaw that the swordplay has is the blocking ability. It’s a little hard to believe the way every attack from every angle is deflected. Many times, Kat will be completely surrounded, but come out unscathed with her magic ability to repel each attack.
Just like Flynn’s movies, you’ll take to the sea with your able bodied crew. The Wind Dancer is a very nimble, powerful ship that can exploit the wind, channeling its power into speed boosts. Like Kat, it also has a power attack gauge that can be unleashed in a full volley of its cannons. This assault comes in handy against other vessels as well as guard towers and forts. As you track Hawke down, you will find yourself sailing through enemy territory. Forcing forts to surrender to you not only liberates the land from Hawke’s influence, but also provides an outpost that you can repair or upgrade your ship, receive items, or get information from the townsfolk. Of course, the farther into the adventure you go, the more heavily defended a fort is. Thankfully, Legend of Black Kat also has a ship battle mode that you can perfect your naval skills in, fighting a myriad of ships in a number of situations.
Graphically, the world that Kat inhabits is well done. Each one is filled with life, from the squid that float through the water to the monkeys and butterflies that frolic over the islands. Considering that half the game takes place on the seas, you hope that the seas are impressive. Fortunately, the waters are gorgeous. From the subtle color shift that occurs from shallow to deep water to the waves that roll upon the shores of the beaches, the water within this title is a character in its own right. Unfortunately, the skies are static and pre-rendered, decreasing the believability of the surrounding scenes. The character models are fully animated and articulated within a natural and realistic manner. For example, pirates sprint towards Kat with their weapons drawn when she is detected. Black Kat also shows off great particle effects. From the sparks that fly from a struck sword to the pieces of ships that skitter off when a cannonball smashes the deck of a ship, the effects shown leap off the screen, and are augmented with a Matrix-like slow-motion camera sweep during dramatic moments.
The sound quality within Kat is beautifully done. Much of the music has a seafaring tone to it, with a touch of the heroic, swashbuckling fare you would find from a pirate movie. Tinged with a taste of the Caribbean, the music is heavily flavored with congas, trumpets and flutes, with a few chimes thrown in for support. Most of it is heard when Kat’s on the open seas. However, quick, triumphant chords are played when Kat discovers items that are useful to her quest, such as masks or figureheads. Other effects within the game, such as the clang of coins when Kat discovers treasure, are very well done. The largest issue comes with the voice acting in the game. There are some moments, such as the “Full Sail!” yelled by Kat aboard her ship that are nicely done. However, there are other moments where the accents of the characters, especially Kat, seem to waver back and forth. The Spanish accent that Kat had seemed to be particularly loose, floating in and out during some cutscenes.
All in all, Black Kat is a solid platform title with a great premise, solid action, and a lot of replay value. With hidden artwork, costumes, and other secrets on top of the ship battle mode and story mode, there’s quite a lot to discover within this title. It also captures the spirit of both the old pirate movies, imparting a sense of heroism and roguishness within the player. Any gamer would be proud to join Kat’s crew or her adventures and bring the evil Captain Hawke to justice. So, matey, set sail fer a merchant, get yerself a copy, and bury it in yer Xbox. Ye won’t regret it.