Anyone remember William 'Bill' Tiller? The LucasArts lead designer during the time when The Curse of Monkey Island was released? In 2004 he started his own company, Autumn Moon Entertainment, and four years later it released A Vampyre Story, an adventure game in the vein of The Curse of Monkey Island. Now the designers are busy with the sequel, but in the meantime they also made Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, a more “piratey” adventure title.
As such, if you liked The Curse of Monkey Island from a visual standpoint, you’ll like this one as well. The backgrounds are very well drawn, in colors which are pleasantly combined so they don’t hurt your eyes, and the lack of straight lines further enforce the atmosphere specific to an adventure title which sets out to pleasantly surprise through the story and its characters.
On the other hand, the only available screen resolutions are 1024×768 (4:3) and 1280×800 (16:10), and selecting the latter, necessary due to my native LCD resolution – 1680×1050 (16:10) – led to graphical distortions that made Ghost Pirates unplayable.
If you have some experience with the genre, you’ll reach the ending in about 8 to 10 hours, while a novice will probably get there after around 15 if no walkthrough is used. Mostly because of the first charade scene. The images used in the particular sequence don’t have any name and don’t clearly convey what they actually represent. Moreover, no clues are offered, regardless of how close you might be to finding the solution. So you’ll inevitably get to do random combinations, and if you’re unlucky, this process can take up to an hour or two.
Otherwise, the puzzles are decent difficulty wise and have a specific logic behind them, created by the story and the particularities of the characters. The main story says that Queen Zambi, the wife of Papa Doc – who is high priest of Vooju Island – plans with captain Green Beard to capture captain Flint and his crew for a purpose which will be revealed in the second part of the game.
Jane Starling, serving under Flint, discovers this plan and tries to warn the captain alongside the cook named Blue Belly, who is in the employ of said captain to collect enough money for his sister’s dental apparatus (!). The two manage to warn Flint about the conspiracy before it’s sprung, but Zambi and Green Beard still manage to capture all of them, after which Jane, Blue Belly and Papa Doc are killed. Fortunately for our heroes, Papa Doc uses a spell that spares their life, the downside being that they’re now ethereal spectres.
Ghost Pirates is made up of three main chapters, each with the same amount of sections dedicated to the main characters. You can finish these in sequence one after the other, or you can jump between them at your leisure. However, deviating from the “normal” story flow will just place you (again) in a (new) background with specific puzzles, in case you got bored of the previous one.
For this reason, moving back and forth between the various sections doesn’t really have a practical use, as the characters themselves don’t interact with each other, only meeting at the end or beginnings of the chapters, and what you do with one doesn’t affect the actions of the others. On the other hand, the three heroes cand share clues regarding the objects they found as well as ideas stored in the inventory. Why ideas? Because not all objects can be used if you’re a ghost, but there will be moments when Papa Doc, Jane and Blue Belly will once again be in “corporeal” form.
The objects and ideas from the inventory can be combined, either between them or with your surroundings. To discover which items you can interact with, you need to press the TAB key, an option which will also highlight the exit areas from a certain scene. But unlike Simon the Sorcerer: Who'd Even Want Contact?!, double-clicking on these locations won’t guarantee the instant travel of the characters.
Their “teleportation” to another area doesn’t even depend on their location, but it’s random and clearly a bug which should be fixed in a patch. And since the characters can’t run, it’s frustrating to wait for them to move, at a slow pace, from one place to another, especially since you can’t interrupt said movement once you’ve given the command.
So in order to reduce travel time between scenes to a minimum, my advice would be to interact with all the item possible in an environment. You’ll do this by left-clicking on them, at which point a skull will appear, presenting you with the three main actions available: “touch”, “examine” and “talk”.
These actions can suffer slight modifications depending on context (“touch” for instance can turn into “open” or “push up”). The character’s remarks concerning these interactions are pretty varied, true enough, but hearing "I think it wants some time alone" when you want to “talk” to an item can get pretty annoying. Moreover, in some situations, “talking” to an object will transform into talking about said object, at which point that action overlaps the “examine” one, from a functionality standpoint.
Using all the items in a scene isn’t only recommended to shorten travel time, but also because some puzzle solutions won’t trigger if you haven’t performed certain intermediary steps. So it’s no use figuring out how to complete a certain quest if you don’t follow the in-between steps that imply certain interactions with the items in the background and there will be moments when basically you won’t know what to do.
First off, there’s no journal or something to fulfill its function. Secondly, the character’s lines which remind or show what puzzles you still have to solve are few in number. Thirdly, the cinematics scenes don’t have subtitles, an oversight that can make the story confusing at times.
What’s more, some solutions can be repeated, which in turn leads to quasi-comical situations – for instance, you can replay the scene in which the boy-king orders a guard to leave, even though the latter was already outside.
So is Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island as good as The Curse of Monkey Island? Not really. The truly funny moments can be counted on one hand, and the puzzles lack that spark of genius that could have made Bill Tiller’s latest offering a memorable one. Because you can’t summon Spring with a single Blue Belly.