REVIEW: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

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Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall
Title Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Developer WayForward, Inti Creates
Publisher Nintendo of America
Release Date October 23, 2014
Genre Platformer, Adventure
Platform 3DS, Wii U
Age Rating E10+
Official Website

I was a bit of a latecomer to the Shantae series. I never managed to pick up the original on the Game Boy Color, and didn’t ever own a DSi to buy the sequel when it first came out. However, after reading so much good press about both games and seeing the beautiful handcrafted art style, I knew I would become a fan. In fact, when I got my 3DS, the very first digital eShop game I downloaded for it was Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. I was blown away by the whole experience, which was only marred by the relatively short length and lack of replay value. Regardless, when I got a chance to play Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse a couple years ago at PAX Prime, I knew I was about to be reeled in again. Not only was this the finale of the original Shantae trilogy, but it eschewed the magical gimmicks of the previous games. Shantae was now bereft of her magical transformation abilities, but, somehow, the game looked more compelling for it. But one question remained – was Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse the best of the series, or merely a prettier upgrade to Risky’s Revenge? Read on to find out, ye scurvy scallawags!

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

After the events of Risky’s Revenge, Pirate’s Curse starts out with a unsettling dream sequence. Dark forces are on the rise, and mystery and adventure beckon! As if that weren’t enough, Sequin Land is being assaulted by the forces of the Ammo Baron! Yes, that Ammo Baron, the cyclops goofball with a fetish for blowing things up. As it turns out, the Mayor signed away the town to him, and it’s up to Shantae to set things straight. The opening level is a wonderful example of what this game does so well. It takes the challenge and flavor of the previous Shantae games, and manages to streamline it beautifully. Risky soon derails the Ammo Baron plot, after revealing a more pressing evil, and Shantae sets off with her nemesis to defeat it. I remember in previous entries going crazy getting lost or fighting overpowered foes too soon. Pirate’s Curse fixes this, managing to be more balanced and at the same time not too easy. For example, now every stage lists how many Heart Squids and Cacklebats have yet to be found, which greatly aided me in managing my time. Another example is how the game makes use of a Metroidvania mini-map so you won’t get lost as you explore. Best of all is how each area is a separate island composed of various sections, which culminate in a Den of Evil that hosts a gigantic boss. In the course of my adventure, I found myself staring at the Game Over screen a few times, and it never felt frustrating. I earned my mistakes, but never felt they were cheap or gimmicky. That’s just the first of many things Pirate’s Curse gets right.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

Protect your Zombie bestie, Shantae!

Another thing I really enjoyed about the game was that it made me feel more invested in the supporting characters. Shantae’s world has always been vibrant and comical, but I never really cared about Rottytops, Sky or Bolo before. Such is not the case now. As the story unfolds, and through a couple of unique events, I found myself feeling both affection and sympathy for Rottytops and her brothers. I also now feel Sky and Bolo are much more than just convenient joke or story outlets. I’m still not, and perhaps never will be, a fan of Uncle Mimic, but that’s neither here nor there. Overall, the story made me feel much more attached to many of the characters, and that goes for Risky herself, as well. Yes, the slinky Pirate Queen is still naughty and violent, but is now a much more well-rounded foe (pun intended). This is easily the first Shantae game I’ve played where the story felt just as relevant to my experience as the gameplay.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

Speaking of which, I absolutely love how tight and capable the gameplay in Pirate’s Curse is. Though previous games have played well, they were often a little finicky and required far too many leaps of faith. Now, each weapon in Shantae’s pirate arsenal feels both necessary and well crafted. There are definitely some nods to games such as Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night in Pirate’s Curse, such as dashing through walls and crashing through floors. However, each and every one has that trademark WayForward spark, and none feel like the game is merely stealing ideas. One of my favorite new tools by far is the Flintlock Pistol Shantae acquires early on. I always found the range of Shantae’s hair whip attack to be a little on the short side, and I appreciated how the pistol greatly increased her attack capabilities. There are others that are also delightful, such as using an apparently voluminous Pirate Hat to float over obstacles. Even better is the game requires precise use of each pirate tool to defeat each and every diverse boss. One of my favorite bosses is a memorable recurring one from Risky’s Revenge, but they are all great, and true highlights of the experience.

Though the gameplay is fantastic, it would be nothing without incredible music and art, and Shantae certainly delivers in this installment. Each time I think Jake “Virt” Kauffman can’t do any better, he outdoes himself yet again. The tunes in Pirate’s Curse range from boisterous to comical to downright menacing, always evoking the right mood to keep you playing. I also have to give a shout out to Cristina Vee for her great voicework in the game, which really brings the cast to life, most especially Shantae and Risky! The art, likewise, always manages to fit the mood, and is the most beautiful you have seen in the series yet. Though I didn’t use it much, the 3D really makes everything pop. Each character, whether they be enemy, NPC or boss, bursts with life. Even Shantae just sitting still looks great, as she bounces with enthusiasm and is a joy to watch in action. The character portraits shown during dialogue are also great, and help to sell the humor and adventure the series is known for.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

Many of you are probably wondering how large of a game Pirate’s Curse is. Rest assured, it is the largest Shantae game I have played. While it is still possible to speed run it, I’d venture to say it would take a bit longer than Risky’s Revenge. When I finished the game, it took about eight hours, and I managed 93% completion. That last 7% will likely be huge, as I found many secret goodies stored away, and still need to find those last pesky Heart Squids. Luckily, the game is so fun that it’s hardly a chore to search out every last secret. Plus, upon beating the game once you’ll unlock Pirate Mode, which allows you to play with every piece of pirate equipment unlocked from the get-go, no doubt to aid those eager to rush through the game for that record time.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

Aw, he’s a big softie!

But it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t touch upon a few last nitpicks. Though Pirate’s Curse does many, many things well, it’s not absolutely perfect. Even though it’s very well streamlined, that didn’t prevent me from getting stuck a few times through the course of my journey. Finally, though I like the implementation of the touch controls to use items, I felt that it was a little difficult to double tap an item in the heat of battle. Beyond that, the game truly did everything right.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse | oprainfall

So, in summary, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was a fantastic game. It was a streamlined, beautiful and entertaining experience held back only slightly by some minor quibbles. It made me care about the world of Shantae much more than I thought possible, and managed to close the series on a decidedly high note. That’s a long way of me saying this — Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the best game of the series. For $19.99, it’s a steal, and a game that belongs in any 3DS or Wii U owner’s library. So stop reading and go buy it! It will help pass the time until Half-Genie Hero finally releases, and gets me hooked on genie magic once more.

Review Score

Review Copy provided by publisher

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.