January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Wook Kim plays ”Pirates of the Caribbean”

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
(Buena Vista Games; Teen, Nintendo DS, GameBoy Advance, and PSP)
PlayStation2 and Xbox owners looking to play a video game based on what’s likely to become one of the year’s box-office hits might find themselves letting loose a string of obscenities that would make a pirate smile. Would-be buccaneers must either settle for the similarly titled Pirates of the Caribbean: Legend of Jack Sparrow for the PS2 (it doesn’t follow the plot of the current movie and is published by a different company) or make do with a trio of middling handheld games in which the immediate danger isn’t a fleet of marauding pirates, but acute carpel tunnel syndrome.

Though there are some differences between the three flavors (you play exclusively as Jack Sparrow in the PSP game while you take turns playing as Jack, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann in the DS and GameBoy counterparts; the GameBoy edition is an old-school side-scroller), they’re all essentially hack-and-slash marathons that reduce heroic swashbuckling into ordinary button-mashing. It’s a huge letdown, especially considering the movie’s most spectacular action sequences, like Will’s lengthy swordfight atop a rolling water wheel, would have resulted in some killer game levels that are too demanding for the graphics-challenged handheld consoles.

In spite of the technical limitations that its game designers had to deal with — not to mention the low expectations inherent in a game based on a sequel to a movie based on a theme park ride — Dead Man’s Chest generates an occasional creative spark. The PSP game features a multiplayer ship battle mode, complete with mini-models of the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman, that can be played over the devices’ Wi-Fi connections. Less seaworthy is the DS version’s multiplayer mode, which integrates the DS’ touch-screen into several mini-games (e.g., Walk the Plank, Shoot the Monkey) with varying levels of success.

Fans of the Pirates franchise shouldn’t lose hope; they just need to find patience. Games based on the third movie, due next summer, are in the works and will be available on all systems, even the powerful PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 machines. Until then, expect to feel a bit plundered if you decide to pass the time with this collection of Dead Man’s Chest games.

All versions: C?

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