Rule the high seas with Sid Meier’s Pirates, now for iPhone

Sid Meier’s Pirates has a long history. Originally released in 1994 on the Commodore 64, it has since seen Apple II, Mac, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, NES, Xbox, PSP, Wii, iPad, Windows Phone 7 and several PC versions — and now, an iPhone-specific version can be added to that list, too. The new iPhone edition, published by 2K Games, is a separate app from the company’s 2011 iPad version, as neither are Universal apps.

Pirates casts players in the role of a young man who escaped the capture and enslavement of his family by an evil Spanish nobleman. By signing on with a ship’s crew and subsequently leading a mutiny in protest at the captain’s harsh treatment of his men, the player finds himself in command of his own vessel in the middle of the Caribbean, with little in the way of direction on what to do next. The decision on how to proceed is left entirely up to the player — they may choose to pursue their lost family and defeat the evil Marquis de Montalban, or they may simply attempt to amass as much fame, wealth and power as possible in an attempt to retire to a life of luxury.

Pirates is split into a number of components depending on what the player has decided to do. Moving around the Caribbean takes place on a top-down map screen which is controlled by a simple touch interface. Dragging one’s finger around the screen causes the ship to turn, and a button in the corner of the screen furls or unfurls the sails of the ship to control speed. By tapping on nearby port towns or ships, the player is able to interact with them — towns and other settlements may be visited, while other ships may be attacked or boarded.

When in town, the player may speak with the local governor, who will give them information on the local political situation and sometimes offer then a Letter of Marque rewarding them for destroying rival nations; visit the tavern to recruit additional crew or gather information; visit a trading post to buy and sell goods; or visit a shipbuilder to upgrade or replace vessels in the player’s fleet. Sometimes gathering information in town will provide player with details as to the whereabouts of information on their missing family or rival pirates in the region. This information may then be tracked on the in-game map, allowing for easier navigation. Previously-visited towns may also be “auto-sailed” to, removing the need for direct control on regular trading routes.

Depending on the player’s actions in the game, they may also find themselves indulging in ship-to-ship combat, swipe-controlled sword fights, tap-based ballroom dancing with governors’ daughters, capturing cities, strategic land-based combat and sneaking into unfriendly towns. Each of these features its own unique minigame, making Pirates one of the most uniquely diverse gaming experiences there is, even some 18 years after its original release.

The iPhone version of Pirates works very well on the small screen, with stylized, smooth 3D graphics depicting the action and a varied soundtrack helping to set the mood. Game Center leaderboards and achievements help add a layer of social competition atop the experience, too — it’s just a shame that the decision was made to separate the iPhone and iPad versions of the game, as there are likely some new players who only own an iPhone who would enjoy competing against their iPad-toting brethren.

The game is likely to sell well among “core” gamers, though more casual players may shy away from the title due to its complexity. The game’s tutorials are not very comprehensive and do not give the player much direction in what to do from the beginning of the game. It also takes a little time to learn what all the functions on the icon-driven interface do, which detracts a little from the game’s immediacy. Once over this hurdle, however, and perhaps after consulting the comprehensive in-game “Pirate-O-Pedia” reference guide, players will find a deep, satisfying and highly replayable experience that is sure to find a permanent spot on many iOS devices.

Sid Meier’s Pirates is currently No. 101 in Top Paid Apps, No. 52 in Top Paid Games and No. 318 in Top Grossing Games, and is currently available for $0.99. Follow its progress (and that of its iPad counterpart) with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.