It turns out that cannonballs bounce. Once fired from a cannon, you can place a dozen blocks in front of them and they will ricochet round and round. It has to be a block, though. Stick a pirate ship in front of them, and that pirate ship will explode in a shower of splinters. Arr, that be pirate physics. We suspect that Pirates on Target doesn’t abide by Newton’s Laws. But while it might not be wholly believable, it makes for a rather neat little puzzle game.
Pirates on Target is as simple as you like. A cannon sends volley after volley of cannonballs across a puzzle grid in a diagonal fashion. To complete the level, though, you’ll need those cannonballs to be hitting enemy pirate ships, and therein lies the complication. To scuttle the enemy, you need to be bouncing your cannonballs off blocks, and only then will you be able to sink their battleships.
There are strict rules about where you can place the blocks. Those rules make this a puzzle game rather than something more physics-based and finicky. There’s a grid painted on the water, and you can only place your blocks within a square. You’re limited to the number of blocks too, as most of the puzzles will keep you to a maximum of four or five.
It might seem like a lot of parameters to fiddle with, but you’d be surprised at how quickly your options start whittling down through the power of elimination. If a cannonball careens away, outside of the puzzle grid, then it’s not going to help you in the slightest. You want to be chaining bounces together, and the correct solution begins to feel right. There’s the snap and satisfaction of the puzzle coming together, which is probably Pirates on Target’s greatest achievement.
Pirates on Target doesn’t just keep to movable blocks, either. It soon introduces locked blocks that get in the way and can’t be moved, while multiple galleons start appearing, requiring multiple solutions from the same puzzle setup. Beyond that, there are triangular blocks that can be swiveled rather than moved, multi-cannons start turning up, and a few puzzles get cheeky by dropping in a ridiculous number of blocks. In those grids, it’s more about getting out of the way than it is redirecting cannonballs.
The best word to describe Pirates on Target is ‘elegant’. That’s a holy grail descriptor for puzzle games, as most strive to be easy to learn, hard to master. That’s the case here. While each puzzle may be daunting, there are only a few feasible places for your first block, and only a few feasible places for the resulting ricochet. The puzzle holds you by the hand and leads you step by step through the bounces, creating an experience that is satisfying but not overaweing.
At least, that’s the case for the first twenty or so puzzles. Once it’s confident that you’ve got a handle on the various approaches to solving a problem, only then does it start messing with you. Some of the latter puzzles are devilish, and we will hold our hands up and admit that we looked up a guide for a few. Honestly, once you get past the point where achievements unlock, Pirates on Target morphs into an utter bastard.
For all its elegance and simplicity, it does have quirks. Nobody tells you that you can stack blocks on top of each other. No tutorial utters this important information, yet it’s essential to complete a couple of the busier levels. We got righteously angry when we looked up the walkthrough to find this was the case. It’s also not overly fun to move, one after the other, over a dozen blocks in more cramped puzzles. We desperately wanted a ‘select all’ function.
The larger issue, though, humming along in the background of Pirates on Target, is fatigue. This is a good game, don’t get us wrong, but it doesn’t have a large toolbox filled with different elements to mess with you. If you’re like us, the sense of ‘been there, done that’ began to creep in at the midway point. We’d appreciated the simplicity of what it wanted, we enjoyed learning some of the best approaches, but beyond that? There’s not a whole lot. The diagonal bricks, multi-cannons and multi-galleons are welcome additions, but they’re not switching things up on a large scale.
For £4.99, though? We can stomach a bit of repetition. Pirates on Target is a budget puzzler that doesn’t aim high, but hits the bullseye in terms of smart, elegant brainteasers. While it might lure you in with easier geometric challenges, there’s always an absolute beast of a puzzle just around the corn-arrrr.