An Under the Jolly Roger review for the Switch, a large open world mission-based, strategy, third-person adventure – you name it – from HeroCraft.
I wrote a news piece about this before and was looking forward to trying this out, as, like most, I thoroughly enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, and this game appeared to be an extension of that without the Templar/Assassins feud.
For a Switch game, it’s packed full of genres. On any other system, it’d look dated, but it works well here. How does the gameplay fare though? Let’s find…
Under The Jolly Roger Review
If you’ve ever read up on the Golden Age of Piracy, you may be aware that a lot of these pirates scallywags by choice that dominated the seas instilling fear, were educated people, former merchants and even those appointed by the Queen under the guise of ‘Privateer’. Not pirates, oh noooo.
Anyway, as educated as some of them were, there’s never been anywhere in history about the institutions that teach the pirate trade. It is introduced in Under the Jolly Roger though, a haven for students wanting to learn how to plunder.
The real skills required at the time were resource and people management, psychology, self-promotion, and having the best flag as a reminder of how badass you are.
It is a requirement in learning the ropes of piracy, however, and it does teach you the fundamentals of running a ship such as how to plot a course by matching the wind, recruiting crew from the local tavern and positioning them on the ship for the maximum efficiency of 120%.
This all happens after a brief introduction where you sink a rival pirate ship, but while sinking, the enemy captain summons a Kraken that destroys your ship, forcing you to find a new one and re-hire some of the old crew.
There’s a hierarchy in the game with officers being your go-to people to run the ship efficiently, some more loyal than others. You can also join up with a faction getting free repairs with the pirates or firepower with the Dominion, and much more as you progress, moonlighting through the ranks.
Actual sailing seems a little interesting on first inspection as it is heavily reliant on the wind direction. It’s a welcome realistic approach but soon becomes a pain when you’re trying to engage in battle. Also, the Y button operates the sails, both opening and closing them, so you’ll end up start/stopping unnecessarily. Why there wasn’t a dedicated button…
Shots are automatic when lined up, which could be seen as convenient when you’re tackling the wind, but when you’re trying to capture a ship and your crew fire upon then sink it, it’s an absolute bitch. I later found you could disable this. Otherwise, the arsenal at your disposal it pretty decent, but be forewarned you’ll need to progress to unlock.
I get that being on the sea will be a slow process when relying on the wind, but it was pretty tiresome that I made every effort to avoid sea combat – which is the bulk of the game. You’re often wrestling with the changes in the wind and especially if in pursuit, it can take an age catching up.
In one scenario, I chased another ship for what seemed like 10 minutes without conflict. They’d taken a hit so were escaping, so based on that advantage, I went to pull up by their side to unleash hell, but the cooldowns were so slow, my ship was obliterated.
Of course, a better ship offers better protection and the more guns, the merrier. You can upgrade your ship, get new gear and crew as you go along to rule the seas and at the same time earn a reputation as either a dastardly swine or uber trader.
Exploring the world is done through a world map that looks like a novel idea at first, but unless I missed it, there wasn’t any fast travel. You’ll encounter enemy ships, but these are avoidable, and that is something I took advantage of.
If you do encounter a battle (stupid assumption – that’s the game), you can board the enemy ships. In the boarding mode, it’s an Assassin’s Creed Black Flag experience, only the animation and controls are very clunky. It’s not a terrible experience – the models look good, but it does lack options.
Under the Jolly Roger is the kind of game that I can get lost in, especially as it’s a pirate theme. However, ignoring the slightly dated visuals, it’s the fundamental mechanics that put me off. That meant I’d only play it in small doses – not the ideal result for a game of this size.
The game did feel somewhat familiar, and no, not s Sid Meier’s Pirates! reference, but Tempest. Under the Jolly Roger is a reworking of that. It works perfectly fine on the Switch, but some of the gameplay mechanics and UI (I don’t need to see a spinning ship wheel onscreen) clutter the screen real estate on the Switch.
Who’s it for? I want to say for those with a similar taste as me – pirates, strategy, open world. Unfortunately, it’s not as well-executed as it could be and feels like a port of an old PS2/PS3 game. It’s not bad, it’s just not something to get excited about.