Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a 2D platformer adventure game by Wayforward. It is the third game in the Shantae series so this review will assume you’ve either played the previous two or are familiar with their basic mechanics. I’ve played both the PC and Nintendo 3DS versions of the game, so I’ll try to base this review on both. The plot continues from the previous game Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Shantae has lost her magical powers, rendering her half-genie status rather moot. She also gets into some hot water with the authorities of her homeland of Scuttle Town when trying to get back the deed to it. Apparently the lovable oaf of a mayor sold it to the Ammo Baron for… a bunch of food. Not wanting Ammo Baron to demolish the town and rebuild it as a military base, Shantae ends up threatening the legal owner of the land. Upon waiting for her trial, Risky Boots returns on the scene and accuses Shantae of stealing her belongings and her men. As it turns out, it’s not her but rather the minions of the long-dead Pirate Master. Apparently this Pirate Master was Risky’s captain until she betrayed him and took over command. He was sealed away by the magic of the genies but now seeks his return… and his revenge. To do so, he is influencing the dark magic of the land to take over Risky’s men as well as inhabit these dens of evil across various islands in order to bring himself back to life. In light of the circumstances, Shantae and Risky decide to team up and help one another in their shared goal of stopping the Pirate Master’s return.

You still run, jump, and whip your hair through the game. You collect gems to buy items and upgrades to your basic abilities. You explore areas, obtain new abilities, and in turn can better fight and explore even more. The main world is more of a hub with a dock that allows you to set sail to any other island you have the map for. You’ll have to retrace your steps to the docks on those islands in order to leave as well. Each island has an open area to explore, typically with some sort of main or side quest to do, as well as a den of evil which tend to need unlocking. These dens act as dungeons for the game where you’ll find most of the action. Each dungeon contains one of Risky’s items that give you a new ability. The ability will help you explore the rest of the dungeon and usually help you fight the boss, much like the Zelda series in that sense. It will also be useful for finding previously inaccessible secrets. The two main secrets are heart squids and cacklebats. For every four heart squids returned to the appropriate shop in the town you’ll get another heart of maximum health. The cacklebats, which are Risky’s tinkerbats turned into monsters by the dark magic, can be fought and defeated. Once defeated, you can collect their dark magic into your magic lamp. Collecting all of the dark magic may just net you with something special at the end and each island gives an indicator of how many heart squids and cacklebats are present as well as how many you’ve collected. Oh, and after beating each den of evil you’ll be given a map to the next island. The essentially follows this formula until the final level and the last showdown with the Pirate Master himself.

Honestly, I kind of love this game. The music is pretty good and the art style is even more appealing to me than the last game. They made Shantae (as well as the other ladies in the game) cuter yet still retain their sexiness. Is that a sad thing to note? Maybe… but it’s me. Of course I noticed. But it’s not the kind of game to sell harder on the eye candy than the gameplay. It may not look like a big improvement over the previous game, but in many design choices it is. The game uses multiple Metroid-style maps for the areas you go to rather than the more confusing map system of the previous installment. It now focuses on your abilities through items rather than constantly transforming back and forth between different forms. Also, with the dungeon designs the game takes on a very Zelda-esque flow of progression, which a Zelda fan such as myself can greatly appreciate. And the control feels so natural you don’t even really think about it most of time. The challenge of the game has also been increased, making you do some trickier platforming with your abilities in order to finish the game. This is a nice way to follow the previous game and also offers more for those who thought the last one was too easy. It just does a lot of things a sequel should do and does them well. Did I mention how cute Shantae is?

But it’s not all the best. I’ll admit that the separation of islands does make the game feel smaller and more splintered. The formula also makes it lack much surprise. Getting the cacklebats is an all or nothing task, which makes it demotivating if you’re having trouble finding one. The game can also be a little too forgiving in some respects. For instance, you can stockpile many healing items to use as you see fit, on top of what is a game where it’s not that terribly hard to stay alive. Basically, you end up with a means to never actually risk a game over. I guess maybe not having the healing items, having less of them, or simply making you take more damage would make more sense. I also have to admit that exploring the islands always felt a little empty since most of the interesting parts are in the dens of evil. Maybe having one big, connected world with these dungeons littered throughout would’ve felt more cohesive and engaging. It can be frustrating to go back to an area and run all the way through it just to find you still don’t have the ability to get that secret you’re after, and then have to run all the way back to the dock to continue on. I guess it’s more a victim of the cons of this design type, despite it also benefiting from the pros.

I’d also like to take a moment to bring up the 3DS version in comparison to the PC one. Essentially it’s all the same, but you can get better resolution and larger visuals on PC while the 3DS version is portable. I like that you can keep the map or your consumable items up on the touch screen of the 3DS, especially for the quick access of items, whereas in the PC version you must pause to use these features. The downside is that the key items are also in the rotation of possible bottom screen displays. This not only gets in the way of cycling between the consumables and the map, but it also switches to this tab by default every time you give or receive a key item, forcing you to reorient the screen to the selection you want. Outside of that, it’s more or less up to availability and preference as to where you’d like to play it as both are equally enjoyable for their own reasons and almost totally identical outside of those few features.

Overall, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse may not LOOK like a huge improvement, but the refinement of the design, the Zelda-esque structure, and the increased challenge make this an excellent sequel as well as an appealing standalone game. Once again this team manages to take a great core game and slap a lovely coat of fan service on top of it. It’s the best of BOTH worlds. It’s definitely worth the price if you have a system that can run it. I believe it’s on PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U as well as the two platforms I’ve played it on. And you know what? It was worth getting a second time, too. Not that I’d recommend that for everyone, but I certainly don’t regret the double purchase. So whether you played the previous ones or not, if you like the Metroidvania style of 2D platforming adventure, along with Zelda style dungeon design all wrapped up in a game featuring cartoon cuties, this is the game for you. I feel like I could’ve praised Shantae’s attractiveness more… but… that requires another review unto itself 😉

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