Every now and again, when the gaming market shifts focus to another console, excellent games are released, only to be buried by new technology. This is the same thing that happened to the excellent Shantae, a Gameboy Color game overshadowed by the growth and acceptance of the Gameboy Advance. Well-received by critics, Shantae saw a life that could’ve been much bigger, which is why there are so few games in the series. However, thanks to those who enjoyed the game spreading their thoughts, Way Forward kept Shantae as one of their most beloved characters, releasing Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Pirates Curse has been on the 3DS E-Shop since 2014, however it is soon coming to the Xbox One on March 16th, while a fourth entry is also in development.
Starting up Shantae, it immediately draws one in with its art style. Delightfully animated characters play out a simple, but timeless story of a Half-Genie who has lost her powers from the results of the first two installments. Now, Shantae is plagued by a terrible dream and runs into her rival, the pirate Risky Boots. Risky Boots joins with Shantae, after one of her Tinkerbat minions transforms due to dark magic. Only the Pirate Master, a long dead villain of old, could be up to such dark happenings and the now human Shantae, Risky Boots, and several other characters set out to purge the world of evil.
Pirate’s Curse is akin to Metroid and Castlevania, in which the player acquires items and skills to reach new areas. The platforming is a lot like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, if Alucard moved like Megaman. Once a player masters the super tight controls, Shantae can make her way through levels with incredible agility. Instead of a sword or a blaster, Shantae utilizes her long, purple hair, cracking it like a whip of justice. Along her journey, Shantae also gains some sweet pirate gear, like Risky Boots’ Pistol or a sail to float on a breeze.
Level design is precise and teaches the player the mechanics through situations, rather than a tutorial. The first level for instance, has a moment where an enemy fires a line of bullets at chest level at a steady paced, three-shot burst. My first time through I took a few hits and wanted to not die, so I threw the analog stick down, and low and behold Shantae can crouch. Being that the rate of fire was fairly high, jumping between the bursts normally resulted in a hit and I needed to get closer due to the hair whip being at close range. Through trial and error, the game coaxed me into crouching and wanting to move forward, resulting in Shantae crawling beneath the bullets! This sort of design permeates the entire game, introducing concepts and then slowly coaxing the player to mastery. Most classic, timeless games utilize this same sort of design, like Megaman or Super Mario Bros.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the level design without discussing the art style more. The sprite style of the game is fluid, with tons of animations for even minor characters. Backgrounds are beautiful and gives each level a uniqueness. One moment Shantae is exploring a hub town, popping into odd shops with odder characters. The next, Shantae is battling a one eyed plant monster in an underground temple. Shantae herself has plenty of idle animations and sound bites, making her one of the most memorable and charming characters I’ve played as. Personally, Shantae deserves a spot among Shovel Knight, Crash Bandicoot, or Ratchet and Clank.
Pirate’s Curse is also filled to the brim with humor. Each scene normally has Shantae meeting characters in the strangest situations, often putting a spin on tropes. For example, in a jungle level, a man is found lamenting over over a prone woman, frozen in stone. He weeps over her, asking the once-magical Shantae for help. When Shantae eventually finds the solution, a Petrification spell, the man is ecstatic and quickly casts it. Unfortunately, he too turns to stone and the combined weight crushes the platform below, opening up a new level. Flabbergasted, Shantae replies with a simple, “oops.” Many scenes like this one play out through the game, having me practically rolling in laughter.
There is little to complain about in Pirate’s Curse; it’s a wonderful game filled with the charm and programming mastery. There were a few moments of frustration, usually leaving me to wander back and forth through areas while scratching my head, but those aren’t plenty enough to sully the overall experience. Way Forward is a skilled studio and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a game that’ll survive the ages, just like the classics of old and the games they’ve inspired.
Playing on the Xbox One is delightful with no noticeable problems and achievements that usually have funny descriptions. I’ve yet to finish Shantae’s hearty adventure, but there are multiple endings and an unlockable Pirate-Mode for tons of reputability. I would love to see Shantae released as a physical copy, due to my collecting habits, to put her newest adventure on the shelf with the greats, where she belongs.
Pick up Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse on Xbox One on March 16th or snag it now on the 3DS E-Shop, Steam, Wii U, or the Amazon Fire TV. Either way, definitely give Shantae, in any form, a try.