I learned about Iron Dukes thanks to a thread on Ars Technica’s forum (thanks, mojo-jojo!!). Iron Dukes part RPG, part shooter, and part arcade-like driver (well, “sailer” … is that even a fucking word?). It’s a nifty little Flash game so you can play it at home or at the office, should you dare to do such a thing. It’s not really a pirate-themed game, it’s not really a steampunk-themed game, it’s got a privateering bend to it where you’re out for blood but I just get the feeling that it’s not every man out for himself. The game’s them is sort of, well, pirate-y. You are the captain of a pirate-y type ship. You can command up to three crew members, whom you can hire at the Shop for free. You make money by diving for sunken treasure, fighting other pirate-y type duders, or navigatating OMG SCARY storms. You can spend your hard earned ducats on equipment or goodies for your crew. Each crew member has three equipment slots: head, hand, and body. Equipment raises one skill stat and health. Iron Dukes keeps things simple, and there are only three skills: fighting, diving, and being “salty,” which is a pirate-y word for “bad ass sailor.”
This is the game map. You pilot your little boat (near the bottom, with the green arrow) by pointing your mouse where you want to go and pushing the left mouse button. Easy. The black spade-looking things are actually pirate-y fellows on steampunk-ish jet skis of doom (they even formation ski before shooting at you). The black clouds represent a ship navigation challenge. The white ovals of light are dive locations. The big freak-ass dolphin with an island on his head (top left corner) is the level boss, and killing him ends the demo. Sailing your boat into any one of these obstacles results in a mini-game challenge.
Here’s my crew. I am about to go into a fighting challenge. As you can see, I specialized each of my crew for each challenge. I recommend that you spend your starting money strictly on fighting gear, jack the first ship of pirate-y manly men you can find, and then up your diver. You can avoid storms on the first level long enough to complete a few fighting and/or diving missions.
You fight different types of pirate-y scoundrels and their mechanical contraptions. This particular enemy is some sort of flying-bird-ship-galley-zeppelin-of-death, crewed by really angry guys. Oops, really angry pirate-y guys. You shoot your pistol at the enemy by aiming with the mouse and clicking the left mouse button. The higher your fight skill, the more damage you do. I believe it also shortens the “cool-down” time before you can fire again. The aiming reticle will become smaller after shooting, until you can fire again. Certain areas will highlight red for a moment. You can score a critical hit if you zap these red areas and do double damage. Unfortunately there is a pattern for these vulnerable areas, which takes some of the challenge out of the game.
If your life goes to zero you lose the crew member. You can pillage his stuff (if you have room in your cargo hold), otherwise his gear drops to the bottom of the sea, along with his lifeless body (sniffles).
This is the end of a diving level. The object is to bypass dangerous areas and get to the treasure chest on the ocean floor. Dangerous areas are marked by a skull and crossbones icon on the dive depth sidebar on the right. This screenshot sucks because my mouse pointer is over the icon that represents your crew member, but you can sort of see that he’s in an old-school bell diving helmet outfit. The arrow icon on the left of the dive depth sidebar goes up and down quickly. You click the mouse to dive to wherever the arrow is. If you stop the arrow on a dangerous area, a giant octopus tentacle comes out and throttles your dude.
I am not entirely sure what the better diving equipment does. I think it helps you dive deeper per click. It makes diving past obstacles easier because you have a longer time to pace the arrow. Better diving gear also ups your strength, and that came in handy when I clicked too soon and wound up in a bro-hug with an octopus.
This is the sailing challenge. I have to say I wasn’t too fond of this one, but the implementation is clever enough to be amusing. The object is not to get capsized by waves. You steer left and right with the mouse, trying to avoid icebergs and tall waves. You take damage if the boat tips too far.
The art direction for Iron Dukes is bad ass. The production value on Iron Dukes is really high, especially considering two guys did the majority of the work on it. One of the things that shows their attention to detail is the items. There are TONS of different things you can buy for your crew. My crew member on the right has a weapon that helps with diving. Go back and look at the screenshot. I’ll wait.
That’s right, it’s a fucking hawk with a dive helmet on it. I loved the item so much I didn’t trade up to something better when I could do so.
Iron Dukes isn’t without its weaknesses, however. There are a few usability/UI issues that I would want changed before the final version. The most annoying one is that the equipment should be sorted by function (dive, salty, fighting) and then by slot (head, hand, body). There’s also a point of confusion when you switch an equipped item out for something you buy in the store. If I click on a crew member’s head item and then buy a head item from the store, do I get money for the original item? Also, there are some items that are listed as “Ungettable.” What does that mean?
I am also concerned that the game will become too monotonous. You can upgrade pretty quickly in the game, and before long I was one-shotting some of the bad guys with critical hits. I hope that the final version has a more stingy loot table, and I hope that there are random drops from bosses that aren’t available in the store.
The game is only available in a one level demo right now, which is a shame. There is no official word on when the full version will be out, but based on an interview with the creators it might be as long as a year. I really really wish they would make this game for the 360’s Xbox Live Arcade. Iron Dukes has that same fearless, clever, unique spirit that made me fall in love with Alien Hominid.
Please check out Iron Dukes. It is a finalist for the best independent game at the Game Developer’s Conference this year and is a blast to play.