These days, there's a massively-multiplayer persistent universe online game to suit everyone - everyone under 30, that is. This is great if you can filter out the frequently offensive behaviour of your average teenage gameplayer, but what if you want a less aggressive gaming experience?
This is where the utterly charming Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates (or YPP to its players) comes in. Based upon the same persistent universe principles of Everquest or Anarchy Online, YPP offers the same level of involvement and interactivity with your fellow gamers, plus the ability to make your mark on the virtual landscape around you.
You start out as a lowly castaway with nothing but a basic blade and the rags you wear, taking jobs on navy vessels or local crews to build up your skills and earn pieces of eight (POE). Eventually, you may join a crew, and take your officer training. Then you can sail your own ship, hire your own crew and take to the seas in search of booty.
What makes this game so different is that the tasks (bilging, navigation, carpentry, swordfighting, carousing, etc) are all puzzle games - think variants of Tetris and Bubble Bobble and you'll get the idea. This makes it a more cerebral affair, and has drawn together a generally friendly (and often alarmingly committed) community, making the game extremely accessible to all comers.
Because your performance depends entirely upon your puzzling abilities, character levels don't really exist - it's your rank (pirate, officer, senior officer, captain or even king for example) that restricts what you can wear, do and own.
YPP can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You could spend your time as a jobbing pirate, enjoying the on-ship banter as you save up for a new sword, but there's nothing stopping you from putting a flag of your own together, opening up shops and trading posts, creating your own merchant fleet, blockading islands, foraging for goods, or earning your keep by taking part in the frequent carousing or swordfighting tournaments held around the Midnight Ocean.
There are a couple of caveats, however. Like most online games, you'll find that activity peaks while the US is awake - though there are a couple of dedicated Aussie crews out there - and some may find that progressing from Pirate to Officer (at which point the game really takes off) takes a little too long. That said, YPP is one of those games that's easy to pick up and difficult to put down, and that's as much due to the community as it is the game itself.
If this appeals, you'll find the demo on this month's cover disc that'll let you play for free for 10 sessions, then it's $US9.95/month (or $US6.25 if you pay for a whole year). Give it a go, and if ye be lookin' fer a crew, tell Cap'n Silkprincess o' the Dagger Revolution that Bilgewash sent ye. Arr!
Visuals: Cute characters and isometric views give the game a toy-like feel
Audio: Occasional musical stings used more for punctuation than atmosphere
Gameplay: Engrossing, entertaining and completely habit-forming thanks to the game design and strong community base
Score: Four out of five stars
Developer: Three Rings Design