I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with as much charisma and enthusiasm as Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, and I’ve been playing games for a while. The way it achieves it’s charismatic status is because the game has so many aspects working together to grant it that feeling: it’s beautiful art style, great level design, and it’s lively soundtrack – but the part that fascinated me the most was the fact that it’s filled to the brim with enthusiasm. From a random NPC to the final boss, every character you come by has their own unique charm. It’s abnormal for a platformer to have all of these elements collaborating harmoniously, but it works. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse swabs the deck with it’s adversaries and sets new standards for the platforming genre.
Getting on Board
During the game you play as the titular heroine Shantae, the half-genie, who has lost her powers. At the beginning you’re greeted by the sweet morning sounds of your home, Scuttle Town, being plundered by a bunch of comically large criminals that are lead by a brute called the Ammo Baron. He’s a pretty funny character and I was under the assumption he was going to be the main antagonist in the game, but he’s just the first mini-boss you face. The real plot is what happens after you defeat him. Your pirate nemesis of the series, Risky Boots, appears in your house accusing you of stealing her missing henchmen and gear. During the confrontation she deduces that it was probably her old captain called the Pirate Master who stole her stuff in an attempt to revive himself. She comes to the conclusion that he’s too powerful to handle alone, so she’ll need your help to get back her pirate gear, henchmen, and to defeat the evil sources of his powers which are hidden on each of islands you’ll visit. Sit back and hoist the sails because it’s gonna be a long, but genuinely satisfying journey.
You can tell that Pirate’s Curse was first created for a handheld system. The chiptunes, pixelated action, and semi-squished character sprites are all signs that this wasn’t made for the PS4. While they’re all beautiful, charming aspects of the game, sometime it seems like the sprites were out of place on a television screen. That didn’t turn me off of the game because Wayforward made every piece of character dialogue and cutscene gorgeous by adding a high res character model to better encapture the emotions, character changes, even jokes that you would miss if you only had the small pixel sprites. The writing is pretty solid as well. As I said earlier, each character has their own personality and is funny in their own way. I give props to Wayforward for being able to show off each of them even with minimal dialogue. There’s this one character called ‘Squid Baron’ who I personally enjoyed because he’s extremely self aware of his status as a mini-boss and pokes fun at it throughout the whole game.
Not only is Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse charmfully entertaining, it’s also jam-packed with stuff to do. It took me around 7 hours – which may seem like a long time for a game like this, but each section felt new and interesting. You’re constantly going to new islands that have different environments spanning from lava deserts to subzero icey plains while concurrently collecting new pirate gear that changes the gameplay mechanics. There was never a point where I felt any sense of repetitive play.
Shantae’s main weapon of the game is her hair. Yup, her hair. She uses her luscious locks it to whip foes high and low, and it can be upgraded to do more damage or faster hits. The more interesting things you can attack with is the equipment you gather. There are five pieces of Risky’s pirate gear that you unlock throughout your journey, a Pistol, a Pirate Hat, a Scimitar, a Pair of Boots, and a Cannon. Each one significantly changes the way you play. For example, the Pistol allows you the much needed range to hit targets that unlock doors and the Pirate Hat lets you float slowly in the air which helps you access hidden areas. The controls for these items are simplistic and easy to understand, but they require you to look at situations in a different light to solve them, and you’re awarded for your creative thinking.
Getting comfortable with the controls is easy, but the further you get into the game the more mentally and technically demanding it gets. You have to go back to the previous
islands after you collect a piece of pirate equipment and use it to find other items you’ll need to progress. Doing this early on in the game is a pretty taxing and dull experience, but eventually it becomes fun re-exploring with the new gear you’ve gathered because you can playthrough the level in a completely new way and unlock different areas. The level design also becomes more intricate, introducing new enemies and terrain dangers around every corner; you always have to be ready for the next challenge. With it’s increase in difficulty comes an increase in your satisfaction. Studying a mini-boss’ movements and finally defeating him after 13 attempts feels innately rewarding, and in this game you really feel like you’ve earned it.
Heading to Port
If it wasn’t obvious before, I had a great deal of fun playing through Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. It’s a loveable game that made a connection with me through it’s personable characters and appealing world. Shantae may be one of many retro-inspired platformers, but it’s stylistic choices (both graphically and audibly) make up a sturdy ship, and it’s personality helps that ship sail above the rest.
Overall Score: 8.5/10 (Great)
(Written for Pixlbot.com)