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Captain Silver puts the player in control of the dauntless adventurer Jim Aykroyd, as he attempts to fight his way across several stages to locate the lost treasure of the titular pirate. Each version of the game - the Arcade, the Sega Master System and the NES are all slightly different in their execution, but all play mostly the same.
The Arcade version, released in 1987, has a total of three stages. After defeating the now undead Captain Silver at the end of Stage 3, the player restarts the game with slightly tougher enemies to defeat. The US Master System version was released on a 1mb Cart and has a total of four stages, with two pirate captains (including Captain Silver) as bosses. The Master System versions for Europe, Australia and Japan were all the same 2mb Cart version that instead had six stages, with six bosses instead of the US version's two. The Japan-only NES version is the most divergent from the original Arcade game, as it features more platforming and less swordfighting. There are different bosses and stage layouts, a health gauge instead of the one-hit kill rule found in other versions and NPCs that will either help or harm Jim if he talks to them.
Jim fights using his trusty cutlass, which swings horizontally while walking or crouching and vertically when Jim is climbing a ladder. There are a few power-ups Jim can acquire also, those the effectiveness tends to vary per version:
- Fairies: These provide Jim with magical powers, allowing him to fire projectiles from his sword. They can be powered up a total of six times, increasing the power and size of each projectile.
- Longsword: A powerful sword that can take out enemy projectiles fired at Jim. It is only available in the Arcade version.
- Boots: These allow Jim to jump higher and walk faster. Like the Longsword, it is a temporary item. In the Arcade version, if a second pair of boots or a second longsword is found while Jim is still equipped with the previous, they become permanent (at least until Jim loses a life).
- Treasure: Simply adds to the player's score.
- Keys: Open treasure chests and item shops, where many of the above items can be bought. The player uses their own score for currency in the Arcade version.
- Potions: A potion will give Jim a second chance if he is hit, saving him from an untimely demise. In the Master System version this bonus remains with Jim until he needs it, though it's only temporary in the Arcade version.
- Letters: These symbols can be found after defeating enemies and will give the player an extra life if they find all of them, which spells out "Captain Silver".
- Weapon Upgrades: Unique to the NES version, these upgrades to Jim's attacking power can be bought in stores with money.