Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest DS

Within the tangled Venn diagrams that make up popular culture, there's currently no cooler intersection than where 'pirates' meet 'Johnny Depp'.

Of course, in the historical scheme of all things game-related, this should make Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest one of the worst titles ever released. But while PSP owners find themselves drinking the dregs of the grog bottle, DS pirates have been given a game, which, if not a treasure chest full of dubloons, certainly catches the eye.

The problem with movie tie-ins is they're often grotesque hybrids, based on the few of the film's elements that can actually translate into game form. Here, for instance, it means the only part of Johnny Depp's outrageous Captain Jack Sparrow characterisation you really get to enjoy is his drunken walk and the occasional (and increasingly annoying) cry of 'Rest in peace!' as he dispatches another villainous seadog.

There's even less on offer when you're playing as Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann, unless you enjoy running around in a wedding dress while slaying the King's own guards with bloodthirsty regularity; if nothing else, this is an action game where your hands will ache with the amount of button-bashing you're required to perform.

But as you quickly discover, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest isn't really the game of the film, it's more a swashbuckling action game, skinned with some of the film's characters, events and locations. And once you get your mind around that concept, the game's more subtle elements become much easier to enjoy.

The main plus point is the smooth fighting system. This starts off as a simple selection of slash, kick, jump and block as well as the ability to pick up various items such as bottles and barrels and throw them at the enemy to stun them.

Slightly more complex are the smartbomb or signature moves. These are marginally different for each characters – Sparrow fires pistols which ricochet around hitting all enemies, while Swann has a windmill sword attack and Orlando Bloom's Will Turner throws axes. The number of these signature moves you can pull off is shown by your blue Savvy meter, which builds up as you use more complex moves, and is located under your red health meter.

What's more exciting though is the game's progressive beat-'em-up system, which unlocks combo moves as you complete various levels. (You start off playing as Sparrow, who's escaping prison, before moving on to play as Swann and then Turner, and so on, although you can choose to play as different characters or skins once you've unlocked them).

These action moves are nothing particularly amazing – more a case of combining the left shoulder button and 'slash' into a slashing jump that can break through a block, or the 'Y' and 'B' buttons for a quick forward lunge – but they do provide some variation, as well as a shallow learning curve, in keeping with the game's teenage target audience. That said, if you're skillful you can just about complete the whole game with the slash action alone, but it's not an efficient or fun way to play.

Indeed, once you start getting into Dead Man's Chest, you'll find there's plenty of depth. For example, you can replay the levels you've already completed to find various statutes that in turn will unlock more playable characters.

There are also three touchscreen mini-games, which you're encouraged to play inbetween levels: Shoot The Monkey, where you have to tap a monkey whenever he appears inbetween a pair of pirates, a Simon Says-type memory game called Walk The Plank and, most effectively, a 3D cannon game called Boom Barge, where you use a stylus-and-touchscreen first person control system to aim and fire your cannon to move floating bombs away from your ship and towards the enemy. None are outstanding but they're distracting enough.

You can also go head-to-head in them against a friend who owns the game, as well as playing through the entire game in the co-operative mode.

With proceedings wrapped up in the game's excellent 3D graphics, which rank among the most colourful and lush yet seen on the DS, as well as some great sound effects, it all goes to make Dead Man's Chest an enjoyable and surprisingly sophisticated experience.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest DS

Not quite polished enough to be awarded pieces of eight, nevertheless Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest will happily buckle your swashes
Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.