Guess who’s back, back, back, back again, again, again, Shantae’s back! That’s right, our energetic purple-haired heroine is back so get ready to fall in love with her bubbly self for the third time! Shantae made her debut on the Game Boy Color in 2002 and was not heard from until eight years later in Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Now, after numerous delays, WayForward, best known for quality titles such as the Mighty Switch Force series and Ducktales Remastered, have released Pirate’s Curse, a game that, frankly, has exceeded my expectations in every way.
Without giving away too many details, our heroine is awakened by a loud ruckus. Fearing that her beloved Scuttle Town is under yet another pirate attack, she immediately heads out to save the day. Instead, she bumps into the mayor, who informs her that he has sold Scuttle Town in a moment of weakness to Ammo Baron. As if things could not get any worse, her arch nemesis, Risky Boots, returns and warns her of the Pirate Master, who has cursed Risky’s crew and transformed them into evil cacklebats. Risky also informs Shantae that the Pirate Master has taken her gear and has them locked up in various Dens of Evil. In an unexpected twist, Shantae, now a human with no genie powers, and Risky, now a captain with no crew, hesitantly join forces to stop the Pirate Master at all costs.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a 2D platformer in a Metroidvania mold. While there is a heavy emphasis on platforming, there are other gameplay elements in play as well. In one section of the game, you will utilize stealth to escape a desert dungeon. In another area, you will be automatically running while pressing the jump button to avoid enemies and obstacles. I was constantly surprised and impressed by each area and what it has to offer.
Shantae’s weapon of choice is her hair, which she whips at enemies to cause massive damage. As you progress, you will find more of Risky’s gear, which she will let you borrow. For example, you will gain access to Risky’s pistol, which helps you shoot hard-to-reach switches as well as cause minor damage to enemies. Later on, you will find Risky’s pirate hat which acts as a parachute and allows you to cross large gaps and reach distant platforms. There are other items but I will leave it to you to find out what they are. You will be able to upgrade Shantae’s hair-whip attack, the amount of damage dealt, as well as a couple of her pirate gear. WayForward have always exceptionally implemented controls and this game is no exception. Controls are extremely responsive, tight, and accurate.
Unlike the previous Shantae titles where you travel across a single world, Shantae now sails on Risky’s boat from island to island. Each island has a unique environment, a dungeon, and distinctive challenges. As you progress, the dungeons and their accompanying puzzles will become more challenging and thus require deeper thought and some backtracking to get things done. There are a wide variety of enemies to fight on each island. Each enemy type you encounter has a different attack pattern and deal varying amounts of damage. Enemies also drop gems that could be used to buy items such as auto-potions that will automatically refill your heart meter if you fall in battle, as well as items that could briefly increase your power, heal you, to name a few. Bosses are GIGANTIC! Unfortunately though, their size does not match their difficulty as you will likely beat most, if not all of them, on your first try.
There is a fair bit of backtracking in the game. As you progress and find more of Risky’s gear and learn new abilities, you will need to revisit previous islands to defeat the cacklebats and find heart squids, with every four heart squids giving you an extra heart. You will occasionally need to revisit other islands to talk to NPCs or complete tasks for them in order to progress the story.
The game is oozing with charm and personality. Characters returning from previous installments such as Sky, Squid Baron, and Rottytops are still as delightful and funny as ever. In fact, Shantae herself has many funny and memorable moments. I don’t laugh easily but I found myself laughing out loud very often. Even the NPCs are wacky and memorable. Trust me when I say that this game will keep you smiling throughout the 7-10 hours that you will spend with it.
I don’t usually mention the 3D in my reviews because 3D always gives me a headache and it makes me feel cross-eyed. With Pirate’s Curse, I was able to play with the 3D turned all the way up and not suffer from any of these issues. WayForward have done a superb job with the 3D, and it is obvious that a lot of thought and consideration went into which items would appear in the fore and background. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, with colorful and vibrant detailed environments and fluent character animations. The visuals are complimented by the soundtrack, which is composed by Jake Kaufman, the musical genius behind the Shovel Knight soundtrack. The upbeat soundtrack is a mix of new tunes as well as remixes of tunes from previous Shantae games and is a natural fit in Shantae’s Arabian world.
If you own a 3DS, then Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a MUST purchase. It does not matter whether you have played the previous Shantae games or not because once you beat this game, you will want to play the previous two. This game is perfect in every sense – charming and memorable characters, quality platforming, beautiful graphics, out-of-this world soundtrack and much more. Trust me when I say that this is the best $19.99 you will spend on a game in a long, long time. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is currently available on the North American 3DS eShop for $19.99.