Shantae is a series of games that has defined WayFoward since the release of Shantae on the Gameboy Color. They worked on many other productions before Shantae but it was their very first original franchise and with amazing animation, charming cast and solid core mechanics, the series only grew as future releases came out in the future.
In 2015, after many years of waiting, Pirates Curse finally released on 3DS and Wii U, having a PC and PS4 version not long after. Changing up the formula a bit with pirate abilities and more linear structure, does Pirate’s Curse offer a fun experience to both newcomers and fans alike?
The story opens up after the events of the last game, where Shantae is now a full-on human after losing her Genie powers after defeating Risky in a prior adventure. She hears that Scuttle Down is under attack and she rushes into action. After helping fend of the attackers, she decides to take a bath to cool off after a hard day but then realizes ‘Wait a minute……I DON’T HAVE A BATHTUB?!’ and Risky captures her. After some witty banter, the main threat is discovered with evil magic being on the loose, threatening to awaken the dreaded pirate King.
After talking with Risky, Shantae rushes off to adventure to save the world with Risky helping her out. Shantae is a funny series, as the writing is oozing with personality. Shantae is a wonderful main character, as she isn’t afraid of anything, gets stuff done and always has a positive outlook no matter the situation. She is a main character you can root for, and this is helped by the games quality writing.
It is self aware and filled with charm. Every character has a strong personality that sticks with you. The game even is a bit emotional at specific points and even those moments are successful. Even if you are new to the series, you will grow to love the entire cast and want to see more adventures with Shantae and friends.
The Gameplay & Design
This game is quite interesting, as it kinda deviates from what the first two games in the series set out to accomplish. Originating as a Metroidvania with heavy platforming elements, Pirates Curse is more of a linear action platformer with a heavy exploration focus. What I mean, is that the game is a mixture of the high-paced platforming you would see from a game like Sonic or Mega Man X but with heavy exploration and puzzles for key dungeons that you would see in a Zelda game.
But lets start with the main hub ‘Shuttle Town’. Here you can purchase upgrades for your hair (main method of attack) and different tools (weapons for combat and health restoration potions). You can also talk with NPC’s that can offer charming dialog and some insight on where to go next.
To start exploring the different islands to save the world though, you need to talk with Risky, as she will take you to one of the six islands in the game world. Each level is set up like a basic platformer with hidden goodies if you have the right tool when you revisit them (and you do limited backtracking later in the game). But you have the main ‘dungeon’ of the levels and they are greatly designed. Every one feels like a 2D Zelda game, where you need to use the main item Shantae finds (one of Risky’s Pirate items) to progress through the area.
Shantae can use her hair to attack but she also has Risky’s Pirate tools. Why would she need to use them? Well, her genie powers are gone, so Risky lets her ‘keep’ the pirate tools once she finds them. This allows for really tight controls for all of Shantae’s actions. A simple press of the shoulder buttons triggers the hovering pirate hat or sword, pressing Y when running right enough times triggers the super boots and tapping A uses a pirate pistol. These are used in conjunction the more you play the game, making level design really fun. I loved using the pirate boots and then jumping with the cannon a few times, then getting over a gap by gently hovering with the pirate hat for example.
Combat is rewarding too, as through usage of the pirate tools and Shantae’s hair whipping, it is a bit more complex compared to past games. It is simple enough and items can make fights very easy. But I still had fun in combat. You also earn money through this and exploring, which can be used to purchase items and upgrade yourself & pirate tools.
Boss fights are quite fun, with each one using the pirate tools and your base abilities in clever ways. They have patterns you need to figure out and with how many tools/items you have at your disposal, it isn’t that difficult to get through them.
Overall, the gameplay here is strong and it offers a great platforming experience that uses elements from other games (Sonic, Mario, Zelda) but in really inventive ways to feel unique at the same time.
The Lasting Appeal
This game offers a lot of content, as the base campaign lasts up to 7-9 hours but fully 100% the game for the ‘real’ ending will take two or so hours more. When completing the game, you unlock a Pirate Mode, where you have all the pirate tools the moment you start the game. This is great for speed runs I feel, as with having the entire tool set at once, you can find clever ways to get through sections of the game.
Overall, you have a decent amount to do once you finish the main story, so you have a lot to experience with this game.
While many of the character sprites are pulled from the prior Shantae title (Risky’s Revenge) the game looks fantastic on the Nintendo 3DS. The sprite work is alive in many ways, with every character having a lot of animation frames to their sprites and they are so expressive. Shantae is a great example of this, as a lot of little animations are charming.
Level backgrounds and assets are also very stylized, matching the cartoon-style this title stets out to offer. Character portraits when you are in cut-scenes are nice and detailed as well, with the characters showing a lot of emotion through their facial expressions and body language. The game had no voice acting but some characters make brief voice clips (mainly Shantae) when saying character names or specific phrases.
Musically, this game is a audio treat, with many tracks beings so catchy and feel ripped right out of the SEGA Genesis or Super Nintendo era of gaming. The main theme of Scuttle Town is catchy and fits the Arabian Night-style setting it has on display. But the music can also be more atmospheric and really up beat as well. I feel this soundtrack is one of the series best.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5
Shantae and the Pirates Curse is a fantastic example of changing up the formula of a franchise while still retaining the charm and heart of the series. Gameplay here is not unlike past and future games in the series, but you still have everything that makes the series, well, Shantae. You have the charming writing that oozes with personality, the tight level designs with a push for exploration, catchy music that fits the mood of every location and amazing pixel & sprite art showing expressive characters. While this game isn’t perfect, it comes very close to that for me. Pirates Curse is one of the best 2D Action Platformers I’ve played in a long time and highly recommend it for fans of the genre.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 2DS using a copy I purchased myself. The title is also out on the PS4, Nintendo Wii U and PC (Steam).