Ready for part three? This one was DA BAEST. While the other Shantae games were like…pretty good, this one was fantastic. It had more dungeons, more variety, more humor, more interesting power-ups, a more complex story, deeper characters, everything was awesome. I do not have enough high praise for this game, it was an absolute blast for the 6-8 hours I got to play. You get to chill with Risky Boots, and Shantae is adorable in pirate gear. I just can’t stop spouting random wonderfulness. Onto constructive criticism, Argh!!!
A Willingness to Experiment
Wayforward already has a working formula, why would they try to mess with that by adding something unnecessary or potentially damaging to their franchise? Because they don’t want to just make money, they want to make good, fun games. Every island in Shantae (there are five of them) has an experiment portion, and a dungeon. The experiment portions could be something basic like dialogue and a series of fetch quests, or something more complex like a mini-dunegon built entirely around stealth. Regardless of what they were, each section felt unique, different, and a departure from the usual platforming and backtracking the series is known for. Not only did I admire the very fact that they were willing to experiment with their game, but they did it well and made it fun. I hope that similar sections show up in future Shantae games because the mechanics just worked so well. My two favorites were the zombie section where you carry Rotty-Tops, and the stealth section where you have to escape from the temple dressed in a Princess Leia style, gold bikini (it’s as goofy as it sounds). Speaking of which...
I laughed out loud regularly while I was playing this game. All of the jokes just nail it, hammer on the head. Better yet, the game doesn’t just turn into a parody of itself; it continues to create character development and make meaningful, if not rather obvious, story beats. Shantae’s relationship with the other characters are further expanded upon after some major status quo changes in the last game. She deals with a lot of self-contemplation due to (SPOLIERS) the loss of her genie powers, and wonders how she can keep on going. Shantae’s interactions with Risky have some weight as these two former enemies come together to fight a common enemy, and Risky doesn’t fall to the classic trope of “bad guy turns good after helping the good guy”. She stays self-serving til the very end, despite helping our hero. Well, mostly at least. Regardless, between the pop culture references, fourth wall breaking, and good, old-fashioned laughs, the game managed to keep me smiling all the way through. The writing in this game is the best so far, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store in the next installment. I love the Heart Squid Smith, “I take those cute, adorable squids, and I MELT THEM DOWN...for you! :D”. So creepy.
Moving from the DSi to the 3DS and Wii U, Pirate’s Curse has a lot more processing and screen real estate to use. I played on the Wii U, though I wouldn’t be opposed to playing the 3DS version, and everything looked great. The animations and sprites looked great. The interface was just the right size for the screen and gave you the information you need. The environments were creative, the map was readable and useful. The character art for cutscenes by Inti Creates was expressive and cool-looking. I really like Shantae’s little jacket that she has in this game, which helped spruce up a rather simple character model. The one concession I make is that the artists at Wayforward are a bunch of perverts. All of the animations of their female characters feature huge, heaving breasts with goofy animations. Sky, Rotty-Tops, Shantae, Risky Boots, even the random villagers all look ridiculous. It’s as bad as anything from an anime or JRPG. Aside from that though, I thought the whole game looked wonderful, in a retro SNES/GBA kind of way, but still with that modern sensibility.
Instead of transformations, Shantae uses the lost gear of her buddy Risky Boots. These are all a lot easier to use, and more fun than her traditional transformation magic. I’m going to miss using them in the next game (Half-Genie Hero), although supposedly Risky will be a playable character, so maybe I’ll get the best of both worlds. I was going to keep this section short so that getting all the new gear was a surprise, but the trailer pretty much reveals it all anyways. You get Risky’s pistol for shooting switches and enemies, Risky’s hat for gliding (Wind Waker), Risky’s cannon for triple jumping, Risky’s scimitar for ground-pounding(Ducktales/Shovel Knight), and Risky’s Boots (eh, EH :D) for dashing/shine-sparking (Super Metroid). The best part of all is when you have to manage all of these different abilities altogether at once for the later, more complex, platforming puzzles. Each one is extremely useful, both in and out of puzzles and platforming. My favorite was Risky’s Boots :D, they were just so fast and exhilarating.
The balance in this game was perfect. As you progressed, you got progressively stronger, faster, and had more options for attack and movement. It was then perfectly scaled with the enemy balance, the amount of damage that they did, how much money they dropped for you to buy new upgrades, the complexity of the boss attack patterns, everything in the game was perfectly balanced. You would always get just around the right amount of money to buy the next upgrade to upgrade her hair and pistol. The game didn’t just get harder gradually, it got exponentially harder, the closer you got to the end. As you got better at playing the game, the difficulty scaled with the damage you do, the skill of the player, and the amount of health you needed. It was the best difficulty curve I’d ever seen in any game, period. Totally impressed.
Of course, since it’s a Metroid-vania game, there’s going to be a lot of backtracking. I did a pretty good job of finding all the dark magic before the end of the game, but I needed the internet to find the rest. There was other backtracking for quest-lines and such, but the most brutal was just that final search for Dark Magic. Thankfully, the game does a good job of telling you where to go next regardless of what you’re doing. It doesn’t hold your hand, but you can usually get a good idea by talking to people around town and listening to what they say. The same applies to the collectibles. It tells you how many of each power up you missed on each island. That way you aren’t scouring the entire map looking for that last heart squid, you’re just scouring one particular island. I think it’s a pretty good balance overall, but it could be argued either way.
Pirate’s Curse, best game in the series. Not exactly standalone since it builds on so many other games, but a wonderful, awesome fun game all the same. Cannot recommend it highly enough. Butt loads of hilarity, awesomeness, and great action filled gameplay. I love dis game. It’s a little short, but if like 2D platformers or Metroidvania games, you should all go play it. Just beware the perverts. If anyone bought an extra kickstarter version of Half-Genie Hero, I would love to get in on it. I found out about this series after they had closed the Kickstarter, so I missed out. I will probably buy my Wii U version day one.
Now what did I think of the series overall? I thought it was pretty great. Wayforward are a very talented set of developers, and these games have raised my opinion of them significantly. Shantae is an easily overlooked game series that deserves more recognition than it gets. Hopefully, Half-Genie Hero’s multi-platform status makes it more recognizable. One day I hope they remake the original Shantae since it is easily, the most dated, hamstrung game of the bunch. If you want to jump into the series, don’t feel like you have to play all three games. Shantae GBC is fun but skippable, Risky’s Revenge is great and has a story that standsalone while it also sets up any narrative threads that you might need to know from the past or looking into the future. But if you don’t care about narrative that much, Pirate’s Curse is the far superior experience. I had a blast playing it, and I suspect that you will too. So go to the E-shop or Steam and get yourself a copy, it’s a wild ride.