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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Sid Meier's Pirates! & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'm thinking of retiring early from piracy. Sailing the aquamarine seas of Sid Meier's Pirates!, even on the lovely palm-sized screen of the PSP, is starting to lose its charm. Early in my career, before I had discovered any lost cities or gained any military rankings, I enjoyed sailing carefree around the Caribbean, firing my cannons at errant trade galleons. But very quickly, piracy became work. My crew was unhappy and needed attention. Governments want my help. Prices fluctuated wildly from city to city, making it difficult to earn a profit even by selling stolen goods.





Of course there have been highlights. When I invaded the Florida Keys for my 28th birthday, I gave the snooty French governor's daughter a ruby ring after I had sacked their city. She even asked me to dance with her, though at the time I was too shy. I was also worried about the fact that their 200-odd soldiers had killed more than half of my 150 buccaneers. When I visited the local tavern after retreating from the governor's mansion, however, 50 new men signed up to sail with my fleet. Their shipwright even upgraded the hammocks on my flagship.





I eventually conquered my fear of dancing, which led to one of the happiest marriages of my life. The daughter of a Dutch governor took a liking to me. I was terrified at first, but a few awkward dances taught me that I simply needed to trust her. All I was required to do was watch for her signal and press the right buttons at the right time. Before long I had charmed the governor's daughter enough to make her fianc & eacute;e hate me.





When dueling, I always chose the rapier. Its speed gave me an edge. When fighting with crews of men hacking at each other while seagoing paraphernalia scuttled around on the deck, speed was more important than power. It helped me defeat eight of the nine most notorious pirates sailing the Spanish Main. (In real-CGI none of them resembled their pictures from the game's legendary pirate checklist.) Now, however, it's just Blackbeard and me. He's been sailing longer than I have, and I'm hoping he's ready to give up. I know how irritating it can be listening to pirates complain while you worry about the bottom line.





THE GOOD: Pirates! for the PSP takes the most active elements from last year's PC/Xbox game -- such as open-seas battles and simple fencing duels -- and bases the handheld game around them. The economics of the Caribbean aren't as fussy in this version, which is fine. When playing a game for minutes at a time, long-term strategies aren't top priority.





THE BAD: In the conversion to the PSP, the graphics in Pirates! have been scaled back from their lavish originals. Some of the results are goofy -- ships zipping rapidly through solid land. Others are distracting, such as the jump cuts between sections of the CGI characters' speeches, making many of the game's flavorful characters look like stuttering Max Headrooms.





THE BOTTOM LINE: Full of checklists, politics and upgradeable pirate ships, Pirates! takes piracy off the seas and makes it a career.

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