For those of us who cherish romantic notions of buckled buccaneers and pillaging pirates braving the waves in search of loot, the life of a privateer seems pretty much ideal. All that robbery and violence - the appeal of leaping aboard some creaking galleon, pregnant with glittering spoils, and getting down to some serious cutlass-swishing, dagger-digging fun seems pretty clear to me.
Yep, it's a laugh a minute on the high seas al-right - until the big boys get wind of your little adventures and figure out a way of stretching your neck, of course.
Now all you budding Blackbeards can practice the art of profitable slaughter thanks to Domark's Skull And Crossbones. It sounds like a little gem, giving you the chance to kill without mercy until you've tired of producing piles of lifeless corpses and stuffing your breeches with bountiful booty. Unfortunately though, the word sounds is actually the most important in that last sentence. You see, our friends at Domark seem to have forgotten that killing should be a jolly good wheeze rather than a tiresome chore...
Here's the plot: you're striding the deck of your beloved sloop when a band of bloodthirsty curs appear below the mainsail. Your mission is to cut the blighters in half, jump off the ship and chase their leader. He's a wizard who gives you a fair old keel-hauling before stealing off with all your precious gains. Thus the scene is set for a gigantic, multi-level chase, featuring much hacking up of Spaniards and assorted monsters in a number of locations. All very well, if only both hacking and backdrops didn't hold the dubious distinction of looking and feeling exactly the same.
Yes, I'm afraid killing villains is but a matter of arbitrary joystick bashing in Skull and Crossbones, and good swordsmanship is not necessary a useful skill at all. A bit of a blow this, especially as we're talking a game where the scrapping should be the high point. Enemies may get tougher, collectable treasure might crop up at regular intervals throughout the game and generally things might progress exactly as you'd expect throughout the seven stages, but nothing ever happens to really make you want to keep going. You're unlikely to be itching to get back into the swing of things once you crash to the ground and shuffle off to that great quarterdeck in the sky. Nope, you're far more likely to pull S And C out of your disk drive and boot up something a bit more interesting instead.
There's nothing actually wrong with Skull and Crossbones, except that it's desperately and totally useless. For a start, your sword arm can only manage about five moves, of which but two are profitable. For a second start, at certain stages our hero is forced to walk into combat backwards! (If anyone has any records of the infamous Captain Kidd tackling three jolly jacks with his back turned, the British Museum would surely be most interested to see them!) For a third start... but no, I can't go on. Will it just do to say this game is ever so slightly crap? It's not just me either - I've yet to meet a single person in 16-bit land who's got a good word to say about it.
And there we have it, I'm afraid. As an exercise in the absurd Skull and Crossbones is unsurpassable, but as a valuable piece of entertainment software it falls somewhat short. Splash out on this game, and you really will have been jolly well rogered...