Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Release Date: October 23, 2014
Available for: 3DS (reviewed for), Wii U
As a kid, some of my favorite games were Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Since then, Metroidvania syle games have always held a special place in my heart and apparently in the heart of Wayforward as well. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a love letter to the genre. Shantae’s genuinely fun writing and quality gameplay make for a very good game.
The gameplay is traditional 2D platformer fare, but Shantae executes it well. Shantae’s hair is her weapon of choice and is how she’ll fight most enemies. Throughout the multiple islands, Shantae will gain access to sub-weapons such as a cannon and sword which have applications both in battle and exploration. There are a ton of hidden areas to find, some of which serve to make your road back to the ship easier, while others hide squids(heart pieces) or currency. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse hides some of these hidden areas really well, which helps make full exploration of areas feel rewarding. There are a few puzzles, but most are fairly simple, with only a few that required much thought. Most of the time, to advance you’ll simply have to talk to an NPC who’ll give you the answer to the puzzle. The money you earn from killing enemies and exploring can unlock quicker and more powerful hair attacks in addition to other moves like backdashing which help make Shantae a more powerful fighter.
Over the course of the seven plus hours it took me to complete the game, I never found the pacing to be a problem. Since the islands in this game are all separated, I was never confined to one island for too long. Any time I felt that the game started to drag, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse threw me something that remedied that problem. Sometimes the remedy was a special gameplay segment such as carrying your zombie pal through an area filled with enemies who are out to get the two of you. In other situations, puzzles or the comedy are what fixed any slow areas of the game. Even after you beat the game, the game lends itself well to additional playthroughs with Pirate Mode which has you start with all of the subweapons unlocked. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse also encourages speedruns and even gives you a reward for beating the game quickly enough.
While the gameplay is solid, there are a couple of problems I have. For the most part, the game is a cakewalk and I rarely found myself using any items until the very end. Despite the game’s general ease, there was one island that was frustrating. Mud Bog Island has multiple enemies that pop out of the ground and ceiling. These enemies are fairly hard to see and on top of that, they can respawn endlessly, which hinders the spirit of exploration that the game promotes. This island’s enemies also only drop the weakest recovery item, which is pretty much worthless by this point in the game. While the controls are slick for the most part, some of the more complicated maneuvers required at the very end of the game were difficult to perform with the tiny buttons on my 2DS. I also can’t help but think that being able to return directly to your ship (or fast travel in general) from save points would’ve helped mitigate some of these problems, as you would be able to avoid trekking back through the endless horde of enemies in areas you’ve already completed
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is one of the prettiest girls at the dance and likes to show that off. The game’s gorgeous sprites are all crisp and clear even on my 2DS’ tiny screen. Action flows smoothly and I never experienced any slowdown, even in areas teeming with foes.The games beauty extends to bosses and NPCs. The varied enemy design, and distinct environments help each island feel unique. Character pop-ins during conversations are well drawn and are more than expressive enough to help the dialog move along.
The story in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is lighthearted and fun. Shantae is head over heels with the idea of becoming a pirate (temporarily) and is more than willing to butcher many a famous pirate saying. There is one boss can’t help but be depressed with his role as a “Mid-Boss,” yet finds solace when he’s defeated in battle, even going so far as to thank the “Purple haired warrior maiden” who defeated him. Even the villain taking over your village in the early game is fairly cordial and friendly throughout the story. I liked the little bit of back and forth we got between long-time rivals Risky and Shantae and really wish there would have been more than just these snippets that we received at the end of an island.
Pirate’s Curse is an example of how to do a 16-bit styled Metroidvania game right. It’s solid gameplay, lighthearted fun, and gorgeous graphics make for an excellent game. A couple small problems do little to mar a great experience that is a worthy addition to any Nintendo owners digital library.