Pirates game is not in shipshape

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Here’s some software for the Disney swashbuckler in the family. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, from Disney Interactive Studio, For Wii (rated T for Teen, $49.99), Xbox 360 (rated T for Teen, $59.99) and DS (rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $29.99). Captain Jack Sparrow’s latest high-seas high jinks arrive in several video-game formats to take players on a virtual summer adventure. The three versions reviewed all offer third-person action as players mainly control Jack, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann in a jumbled story mixing action from the second and third films.

Wii owners who can get past the game’s average graphics are in for a fun and exhaustive experience thanks to the console’s motion-detecting controllers. Players participate in sword fights by sweeping the remote up and down, left and right to strike, pulling back on the nunchuck to grab and twisting around with the nunchuck’s analog stick to deliver a slick combination of strikes.

Better yet, as a character’s health declines, his heart starts to beat louder, so a player must slash away at opponents and stay mindful to find a constant stash of roasted turkeys to replenish it. Neither of these ideas is particularly revolutionary, but the combination gets the blood pressure up.

Luckily, the game is not just about swordplay, but also interaction with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” world. Players explore famed locales such as Port Royale and Tortuga, talk to and perform side missions for secondary characters, collect lots of booty and encounter levels that might take them on a high-speed raft ride or to the top of a crow’s nest.

Sore-wristed folks can get a break with extended versions of pirate poker and Liar’s Dice. A second player can come aboard for a wide range of challenges that eventually unlock a dueling mode so a pair of Wii-fied humans can get a workout as they select from a deep lineup of “Pirates” stars.

Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 game is an adventure mired in hack-and-slash, button-mashing repetition, giving the overall feeling that the title was not ready to ship. What else could explain the beautifully rendered environments and perfect computer-animated presentations of major characters marred by lazy designs that allow secondary, non-playable folks to pass through doors and terrain, and evil minions that turn their backs, cower and easily die after a few sword hits.

A saving grace could have been the boss duels that require a player to use the directional stick to match an enemy’s three basic sword strikes, then unleash his own combination of strikes. However, I felt that the game cheated too often — the stick was suspiciously unresponsive at critical points — and it gets boring after a few matches.

Exploring Davy Jones’ barnacle-encrusted ship, the Flying Dutchman, as Will Turner was a treat, and the two-player cooperative action had its moments (on a split screen, ugh) but not enough to spend that kind of loot.

As for the DS version, hand-held owners are in for a treat with slick sword fights that use the stylus pen in tandem with the touch screen, and multiplayer, wireless options for Liar’s Dice (single cartridge required) and duels (each player must have a cartridge).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, for PlayStation 3 and compatible Blu-ray computer and home entertainment systems.

Why should fans who already own the super-duper collector’s DVD set bother with this two-disc Blu-ray set?

Besides a fantastic picture, those who buy it will be able to interact with an example of the future of the Blu-ray format, specifically a hands-on, live-action, digital video version of Liar’s Dice. Hosted by a group of scalawags, the game has the player challenge the mouthy Pintel with help from the console’s controller.

Cut scenes intermix nearly seamlessly as the player makes dice bids, with success determined by strategic decisions and luck. Actor Lee Arenberg reprises the role of Pintel, and his over-the-top performance is a guaranteed laugh.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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