Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a vibrant platform adventure game developed by WayForward. It is currently available for WiiU, 3DS & Steam. In this game you play a fallen genie named Shantae. A sweet, cheerful, purple haired belly dancer who uses her long locks as a whip to attack enemies and thwart the dangers that are threatening her island. Since her previous adventure she has lost her genie powers and her home has fallen into the hands of a new government. She is captured by her former nemesis ’Risky Boots’ who needs Shantae’s help in finding some cursed pirate artefacts which are scattered across multiple islands.
The game is structured in a very interesting way and draws inspiration from many other franchises. You begin on your home island which has a few useful locations like stores to purchase power ups, an easy to reach save point, a health replenishing pool etc. After a few short tutorial style missions to ease you into the game you have access to ‘Risky Boots’ sailing ship and can travel to the next island.
The islands all feature their own styles and gimmicks (Tropical, Desert, Haunted, Snowy etc) and consist of an overworld map and one or two labyrinth / dungeon maps. When playing through an overworld your objective is to find the entrance to the dungeon. This is achieved through a mixture of platforming, solving puzzles, speaking to NPCs and assisting them in small sub quests. Once inside the dungeons you have two tasks, the first being to find the pirate artefact which will grant Shantae a new ability. These items / abilities include speed boots which allow her to dash, a cannon which allows her to double jump and a hat which acts like a parachute. In addition to finding these upgrades each dungeon includes a boss which you need to beat in order to be able to access the next island. The dungeons are reminiscent of the types you would find in a Zelda title with chests, locked doors, communal keys, switches, mini bosses etc.
The new abilities acquired in these dungeons are essential in order to progress as a lot of the platforming and puzzles will be dependant on them. However if you feel inclined to explore the game thoroughly you can revisits previous islands at any time and use your newly acquired abilities to reach locations and find items which you were previously unable to access. As the game is split into different islands which unlock one by one it’s not strictly a Zelda or Metroid style of game although the option of backtracking is always there. It blurs the lines between linear and non-linear styles of game play to suite your play style.
On the WiiU version you have the option of playing with either the game pad or pro controller. You can move Shantae with either the D-Pad or left analogue stick and each or her abilities are automatically assigned to the face and trigger buttons. Unfortunately there’s no option to rebind the controls however I personally had no problem with the button layout. Shantae moves swiftly, responds really smoothly to button inputs and can be controlled in mid-air as well as on foot. In short she controls like a dream.
During my first play through I was extremely divided on the graphics. In most cases the game looked very pretty and colourful. The sprites for the characters and enemies all look charming and remind me of the Neo Geo / 16-bit era. However when it comes to the larger back and foreground items such as clouds and scenery something was amiss. Although the main sprites were all very well drawn pieces of pixel art a lot of the larger assets didn’t look as if they were drawn in the same way. Instead they looked as if they were originally high-resolution assets with a mosaic filter placed over the top in order to make them look like pixel art artificially. For me this looked really cheap and unappealing, however I think I may have worked out the reasoning behind why these graphics look inconsistent.
After my original play though I tested what the game was like on the WiiU gamepad and I didn’t notice this filtering problem at all. I’m guessing that this game has been optimised for use on the 3DS screen and WiiU gamepad. As a result the filtered assets were not a deliberate attempt to make the game look pixelated but simply the game being upscaled to a full TV size while maintaining the gamepad resolution. This is disappointing as playing the game on the TV is my preferred method of playing it as the colours are all really bright and vibrant.
When it comes to the sound however I have no complaints. This game features another soundtrack by the very popular tunesmith ‘Jake Kaufman’ who’s previous works include the soundtracks for ‘Retro City Rampage’, ‘Double Dragon Neon’, ‘Duck Tales: Remastered’ & the almighty ‘Shovel Knight’. Just like the rest of his back catalogue the quality of the music here is extremely good with a variety of styles ranging from eastern influenced tunes to suite our belly dancing hero’s surroundings to smooth jazz for those quieter moments spent talking to NPCs. The music is so catchy that I bought the soundtrack album which can be purchased for a small donation and includes over 50 tracks and totals over 2 hours of music.
Overall the game is not particularly tough and average players who are familiar with the platforming genre should be able to breeze through most of this game without issue. There were some intense situations in the final tower which I lost a fair chunk of lives on but there was nothing overly frustrating to deal with. The game kept note of my play time which totalled around 8 hours to score a perfect 100% (not including failed attempts or lost lives) and consisted of two to three comfortable sittings.
It may be worth noting that this game has no difficulty setting so everyone plays on a level playing field regardless of ability. This may not suite everyone, particularly young children or players who are after a good challenge. As a matter of fact this game has no options whatsoever. There are no control or button mapping options, audio-visual settings or sound tests. The game offers you three save slots and if you’ve beaten the game you have the option to play the regular version or ‘Pirate Mode’ which acts as a sort of ‘New Game Plus’.
Pirate mode slightly confused me as it was essentially a second play though only this time you start with all of your pirate abilities. Outside of a few sequence breaking opportunities I do not understand the point of playing the game on this setting. If anything all it’s going to do is make a game that’s already not too difficult even easier.
The game has two different endings depending on whether or not you’ve found all of the collectibles. A few of the collectibles will require a bit of additional searching and back tracking, so it adds a bit of replay value to the game if you’ve fallen short by the time you reached the end. The game doesn’t offer a great deal to encourage you to come back after completion as there is only the one additional game mode and no achievements, speed run options or leader boards. This being said the game is such a joy to play that I’d happily play it over again from time to time just for the sheer joy of playing it.
I experienced no major problems while playing this game. I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches and conclude that this is a very solid and stable game. The menus, controls and maps are all simple and user-friendly. My only personal gripe with this game aside from the TV resolution is that there’s quite a bit of dialogue that you need to plough through while interacting with the NPCs. It wouldn’t be considered a lot for an RPG, but for a platform game it would have been nice to be able to switch these segments off or make them quicker to skip. The writing itself isn’t actually bad and some of it can raise a dry smile but personally it’s not for me. One positive point about these dialogue sections is that when a character is talking you get to see a lavish full resolution portrait of them which displays their current mood and are beautifully drawn. In fact I would love to have seen all of the games graphics in this style.
All in all Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is really lovely. Aside from a few graphical gripes the gameplay is great. It’s a decent length, not too difficult, controls extremely well and the islands are fun to explore.
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