Judging by how you interpret the title Age of Booty, you're probably expecting a pirate-inspired game, or the latest rap video. To cut to the chase, it's definitely not the latter. Developed by Certain Affinity and published by Capcom, Age of Booty is the latest real-time strategy game for the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. And like most downloadable games out there, Age of Booty is focused on arcade-style simplicity. So for the hardcore RTS players out there, you'll probably need a stiffer drink than this. But for the newbies and the non-hardcores, Age of Booty might just be your cup of tea. With simple controls, solid online Multiplayer, and a light-hearted tone, it's a fun and painless way to spend some time.
Like other RTS games, you play a map, and the goal in Age of Booty is to capture a set amount of towns. Each map in the game contains an assortment of pirate lairs, towns and villages. Your pirate lair is an unconquerable fortress where you start the game. It is used for ship repairs and upgrades and is also the location where you respawn if your ship is destroyed. Towns are the object of the game, and once they are captured, they can be used to gather adjacent resources - gold, wood, or rum - for ship and town upgrades. Villages are small settlements which can be destroyed and pillaged for additional resources. To add a little spice to the offensive aspect of the game, special items called curses can be found when you destroy a merchant ship. Depending on their function and how you use them, they can give you the necessary edge in order to defeat your opponent.
Age of Booty is an easy game to pick up and play. The maps in the game are laid out on a hexagonal grid. To move from hex to hex, all you need to do is select the desired hex, press A and your ship will automatically navigate there. To attack, you simply need to move your ship next to the desired target and firing will automatically start. To use a curse, select the hex and press Y. It's that easy and you should get the hang of things within minutes.
The look and style of the game are very much in line with the playful nature of the title. Age of Booty has a goofy, animated quality with a color palette consisting mostly of vibrant colors. Music and sound design are standard fare. The pirate-inspired music is confined to the menu and the map editing mode. It does its job of helping to establish the jovial tone of the game. The sound catalogue dominates the gameplay and is mostly comprised of the occasional pirate yell, cannon-fire, explosions, waves and bird calls. All in all, the visual and audio aspects are nothing spectacular, but they get the job done.
The game gets the majority of its value through the online Multiplayer mode that supports up to 8 players. There you can choose one of three options: two-on-two, four-on-four or a battle royale where four teams of two ships each duke it out for supremacy. Offline Multiplayer supports up to four players on a split-screen. So, if you team up with communicative people, you can coordinate your attacks and start utilizing the strategy element of the game. But where the Multiplayer mode shines is ultimately where the single player mode fails.
In Single player mode, there are twenty challenge levels of varying difficulty. More often than not, you're going to have a team with at least one other ship. The problem in the single player mode is that you can only control your own ship while the other ships are controlled by AI. So the strategy element becomes moot since you can't control your ally ships and they won't listen to you. For the most part, you're off doing your own thing hoping that the AI helps you out. All this adds up to little as the game only gets more tedious when you have more ships on your side.
The one saving grace of the single player mode is the Map Editor where you can create your own map. The fundamental elements of the game aren't as extensive as most RTS games so you should find it fairly easy to get a map going. You construct a map hex by hex by putting down lairs, towns, sand, trees and other things wherever you see fit. You can build an island with nothing on it or set up an autonomous town in the middle of nowhere. This is a mode where you let your creativity shine as you can make a map as big as 48x48 or as small as 9x9. Settings such as number of towns to capture and starting amount of resources can also be changed to suit your tastes. So if you're feeling industrious or just want to dabble in RTS map design, this feature is a good place to start to learn the basics.
If it weren't for the online multiplayer and map editor modes, there wouldn't be much to say about Age of Booty. But this game wasn't designed to be played as a single player game so a lot can be forgiven. This is a heavily multiplayer oriented game and although it could've been improved with a little more variety, i.e. something other than capturing towns, it's still pretty fun. Therefore, if you plan on getting Age of Booty, do yourself a favor: forget the single player, go straight to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, and test your digital sea legs.