I like to think that I righted a wrong this month, by deciding to tackle the review for the Xbox One port of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. After all, I’d heard a lot about the franchise but had never taken the time to experience it for myself. It was always something that I’d planned to get to in the future, but hadn’t. At least, not until now.
Released back in the latter part of 2014, for both Wii U and 3DS, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has since made its way to Steam and Amazon’s Fire TV service. Now, it’s about to enter into unfamiliar territory, on Microsoft’s Xbox One and (later) Sony’s PlayStation 4, with the hopes of gaining new audiences. Here’s hoping that will end up being the case, because this is one heck of a good game, which is well worth both your hard earned money and limited free time.
A sequel to 2002’s Shantae – which introduced us to the scantily clad female genie via Nintendo’s Game Boy Colour – Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse begins in Scuttle Town, where our power-stripped protagonist is awakened from a comfortable slumber. As the town’s protector, the sounds of alarm rouse her into action, and it isn’t long before it’s discovered that all of the commotion is due to a deal between the town’s mayor and the devious Ammo Baron. Simply put, the former decided to sell his town for next to nothing, and the person he sold it to plans to turn the beautiful seaside village into an armed fortress, complete with weapons that will be used to take over the region.
Needless to say, our heroine isn’t willing to stand for such bullshit, and does everything in her power to put an end to the craziness. The result? A court summons, potential jail time and the threat of a short haircut. Lucky for her, however, things end up working in her favour and her long hair (which she uses as a weapon) stays attached to her head.
What’s described above actually ends up being the game’s secondary plot, although it’s interwoven with its main threat; that being the potential reawakening of the deceased Pirate Master. This threat forces Shantae to work with her arch-nemesis, Risky Boots, whose ship is used to move to and from each of the game world’s several different islands.
Generally speaking, the mechanics at work in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse are of the platform/action and Metroidvania variety. As Shantae, gamers must use everything at their disposal to get through harrowing environments, while dealing with various forms of enemies, including pumpkin bomb throwing scarecrows, demons and zombies. At first, this arsenal is just limited to the character’s agility and her ponytail, although each completed island offers up a new weapon or tool, be it a pistol that can hit faraway switches, a sword that can be used to break platforms below you, and a hat that allows you to flutter through the air. It’s these tools that really help to turn this game into a Metroidvania-style experience, because they turn previously blocked paths into new areas to explore.
Instead of being connected physically, as is the case with most games of this ilk, the world found in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse benefits from its island-based design. Not only is each location able to have its own environmental style and affliction (ice, graveyards, sand, etc.), but it’s also easy to get from one point to another. Things are made more user friendly by the inclusion of pirate beacons, which are items that emit flares. Once lit, these flares signal Risky and teleport Shantae back to the duo’s ship. That is, if she’s outside. The thing doesn’t work inside of dungeons, which is understandable.
Scuttle Town is always an important destination, too, because it’s the world’s hub and its only fully inhabited location. Shantae must return home quite often to complete side quests (either by returning found items to their respective owners, or by locating and talking to specific people), and can also heal or buy items while she’s there. She can also explore the local area using her newly found tools, in order to find heart squids, which are similar to heart pieces from The Legend of Zelda and can be found throughout the world.
The dungeons, themselves, are unique to each island, and there’s one on just about every landmass you’ll visit. They’re referred to as dens of evil, in-game, and are similar to what you’d find in a Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania combo. Platforming is key, and solving puzzles to find hidden items (and door unlocking keys) is the path to success. Of course, you’ll always encounter a boss at the end of each den, and despite being creative, they’re almost always super easy. Hell, the final boss was an absolute joke in terms of difficulty, especially once I equipped some damage boosts and a bubble shield.
Before playing the game, I had heard that it was quite difficult, and being that I’m not the best at platforming games, I worried that I’d maybe hit a brick wall. That didn’t end up being the case, though, because only a few platforming sections were ever what I’d call difficult, and I was able to get through them with patience. Still, this is a retro-styled experience that takes inspiration from the days of the Super Nintendo and Genesis, so it’s best to have knowledge and skills from that era of gaming.
Tying into this retro theme is the game’s presentation style, which mixes beautiful, sprite-based visuals, with catchy chiptunes and dialogue bubbles. It all comes together very well, and is a treat for both the eyes and ears. Some may certain aspects of the game to be offensive, though, because there are a lot of sexual innuendos and scantily clad women to be found here. In fact, Shantae and Risky both leave little to the imagination with their outfits, and that’s something which is actually referenced (through dialogue) during a couple of scenes.
Offensive content aside, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a very smart, polished and memorable game, which deserves attention. It might not have the flashy visuals of The Division, but it offers a lot of great platforming and Metroidvania gameplay through its retro-styled confines.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
If you're looking for a great, retro-styled platformer/Metroidvania game, then you can't go wrong with Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. It stands out above the crowd, thanks to smart and polished gameplay, and is a welcomed addition to the Xbox One's library.