Sea of Thieves review: Pirate adventure sails its own course
Sea of Thieves
(XO/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 12+
It's easy to get lost in Sea of Thieves, in every sense of the words. This unpredictable pirate adventure revels in its physicality, eschewing many common game protocols to force players to think and act as if it's a real world.
When you set out aboard your ship on your treasure-hunting escapades - either alone or with up to three other players - a sense of direction becomes paramount. There's a map all right but it's fixed below decks, out of sight of the wheel, requiring you to navigate via ocean landmarks or rely on a teammate to shout out directions. Likewise, when seeking X-marks-the-spot booty on an island, you cannot rely on a "you are here" style map, you must orient yourself via the hills, trees and shapes around you,
Cooperation then is the essence of a successful pirate life. Thieves can be played solo but it bursts into life with pals or just online randomers. The arguments, the comedy, the euphoria - all of these elements of a fruitful voyage are multiplied by multiplayer.
So, yes, you can easily lose track of where you are in the world, but equally you can be drawn inexorably to Thieves' compelling narrative scaffolding that enables you to write your own stories.
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Admittedly, that scaffolding is desperately limited for now: just a few types of quests, weapons and enemies. But the manner in which they combine - by your own hand or by chance - makes this a unique game that thumbs its nose at convention and defies you to submit to its enthralling vision.
If you don't cry with laughter the first time you get shot out of a cannon or puke on a pal after too much grog, you might actually be dead.
Kirby Star Allies
(Switch) ★★★ Age: 3+
Kirby's adventures in 2D platforming have never been remotely demanding, focusing instead on a sugary confection of colour, wacky scenery and Mr K's signature ability to absorb enemies' powers. Star Allies sticks to the blueprint but the addition of co-op multiplayer dumbs it down to the point where the game offers near zero challenge.
That it remains enjoyable comes down to the exquisite art design and humour. But there's no escaping the overly facile gameplay. Even when played solo, the AI controls the extra characters who make short work of the enemies, leaving Kirby to stand on the sidelines.
Obviously, a younger gamer will appreciate the helping hands, yet you suspect even they will resent their lack of agency for what could have been a fun outing with an old pal.