Developer: WayForward Platform: 3DS, Wii U
Release Date: October 23rd (3DS), Winter (Wii U) Price: $19.99
I’ve been looking forward to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse for a while now, even with the huge amount of 2D platformers that have been coming out and are coming down the line. I’ve been a fan of WayForward’s previous work with Mighty Switch Force and Ducktales Remastered, but I have yet to play a Shantae game until now. After having done so, I have to say that I really want to go back and play the first two after playing this game.
The story of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse picks up where Risky’s Revenge left off, with Shantae having nightmares of a mysterious lone grave after losing her genie magic. She runs into Risky Boots, the one responsible for her missing powers, and learns that a prevalent Dark Magic is overtaking Risky’s Tinkerbat minions. It turns out that the Dark Magic is a sign that Risky’s old mentor, the Pirate Master, is trying to return. Now, Shantae and Risky need to team up and set sail to find and destroy Dens of Evil on different islands to prevent the Pirate Master from recovering his power.
With that setup, the plot is really relatively simple and straightforward. The end goal is stationary, but is set up nicely. The flavor text that can be found strung throughout the plot helps this end goal to not feel tedious to get to. This also applies to side quests, but I use that term lightly considering their comparatively small fetch-quest style. From what I can tell, the story also does a good job of recalling events from the previous two game while not making you feel like you missed out if you haven’t played them.
The way that Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse handles itself through the presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. The main reason for this is that the game makes plenty of references to other properties. For some players, this can seem excessive between characters breaking the fourth wall and jabbing at a variety of tropes.
I found myself enjoying these for the most part, but a bit of a sticking point for me is Shantae’s spike death animation mirroring Megaman’s. This in particular may have made sense in the past, but now that Shantae is human and no longer a genie, it feels weird.
That said, I still like everything else about Shantae. In fact, I pretty much love all of the character in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. There’s so much variety in both allies and villains alike, and as a result it makes these characters memorable to me.
I especially love Shantae herself for many reasons. Her voiced dialogue cues make her stand out and her range of emotions are well portrayed through her character art. Even her in-game movement and idle animations matches her bubbly, peppy attitude.
Visually, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse looks very nice. The way that I would describe the art direction would be pixel hybrid. Many of the characters, enemies, and environments are pixel based, but elements like character portraits, environmental effects, and the UI are more modern. The UI itself is a bit in between good and not so good, with some parts stylized and some things like menu prompts and dialogue in plain text.
That aside, this style fits the game very well. Tropical and Middle-Eastern themes are here as you may expect considering the presence of half-genies and pirates. There is also more variety in islands in the later portions of the game.
The music of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is composed by Jake Kaufman, one of my favorite Western composers and a man I gave high praise for his work with Shovel Knight. The setting and style of this game doesn’t force the music composition into the same mold as Shovel Knight, but rather affords experimentation with musical variety. As far as the rest of the sound design, it get the job done with nothing really unique standing out besides Shantae’s voice.
If it hasn’t been apparent by the screenshots you’ve seen so far, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a 2D action-platformer. Just like its presentation, it pays homage to a variety of games. The combat looks like Castlevania, level design reminds me of Metroid, and dungeon/boss design is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda.
The game is a bit generous with borrowing these elements, but it does expand on them and adds to the fun of the game. Would it be as good without these elements? I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. My favorite of these elements has to be the boss introduction subtitles inspired by The Legend of Zelda. I don’t want to spoil any others, so all I’ll say is that they add a nice humorous touch.
Inventory and currency systems are also used for things like health items, attack items, power-ups, and flares that help you return to your ship. You can buy potions and flares from the shop in Scuttle Town and you can find other health and attack items dropped by enemies. Collectable like Heart Squids for upgrading your maximum health and Dark Magic can also be found throughout the islands.
The game structure of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has a pretty stable difficulty curve. I enjoy that the game isn’t inherently a cakewalk for being a Nintendo platformer. Some of the early game moments are challenging as you get used to the game. While we’re on the subject, there is one island that you reach that ups the ante considerably, especially if you haven’t upgraded your health yet. The core progression is also supplemented by Pirate upgrades that grant new platforming and combat skills.
Level design is another praiseworthy aspect of this game, and is where the bulk of the Metroid influence lies. The main island areas are straightforward, but the dungeon design is where the real labyrinths can be found. This design also incorporates visiting multiple locations for the sake of finding key progression items. I’m still on the fence about whether or not I like this.
On one hand, it helps with the world building to see everything connected like this. On the other, backtracking doesn’t really become fun until you get the ability to dash attack through the Boot upgrade. As a result, when you can’t quite figure out where you need to go, the levels and enemies you have to fight through can get repetitive. Even so, it’s still worth mentioning that the amount of information you’re given isn’t vague nor hand-holdy, but pretty much spot-on.
Many of the complaints I have with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse so far have been pretty minor and the other features do make up for it. That said, the biggest complaint I can say about the game is that it feels like it could be longer. I normally don’t like to judge a game by its length, but in this case it’s the only sizeable flaw in the game. It’s not to say that this game is lacking in content, in fact I’d argue that it has just enough to not overstay its welcome. It can be replayed, and the game even hints at the different types of playthroughs you can do. It just doesn’t give you a feeling of mastery, but rather has more of a “you want to play the game again? Here you go” sort of attitude.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is an excellent game and another quality title to add to WayForward’s roster. You can feel the heart that went into this game in practically every way. It’s overall charming, funny, and fun to play, even with the minor flaws in its homages and story progression design. While it is a tad short, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and is arguably good enough to pick up and play again just for the fun of it.