You don’t need to be magical to be capable of working a little magic
WayForward’s belly dancing half-genie Shantae has been around since 2002, first starring in Shantae for the Game Boy Color. Although she has only been in three games thus far (four if you are counting the one currently in development), this magical starlet has shown that you don’t need to star in an abundance of games to let your audience know that your series is solid. Though originally a DSi exclusive Shantae’s second game, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge had met with enough success to eventually allow her to break out onto other platforms in the form of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut. Though originally an exclusive on the 3DS, and eventually the Wii U, Shantae’s third game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has once again danced its way onto other consoles. Today we take a look at Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse on the PlayStation 4. Are you Ret-2-Go?
Following the events of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Pirate’s Curse begins with the now-magicless Shantae awaking from a strange dream in which an evil entity begins plotting to take over Sequin Land; a dream that Shantae has had every night since losing her powers. Though mysterious and foreboding, Shantae is given little time to ponder what it may mean thanks to a series of explosions that can be heard coming from outside; the infamous (and very outspoken) Ammo Baron has launched an attack on Scuttle Town; the very town which Shantae is sworn to protect! Not letting her lack of magical powers stop her, Shantae quickly rushes into the scene in order to protect the town and those residing within it, not knowing that this will soon become the least of her worries. Shantae’s reoccurring dreams were not merely dreams, but visions. The evil Pirate Master is beginning to awaken from a long slumber, and it’s up to Shantae (along with some help from her arch-nemesis, Risky Boots) to stop him once and for all!
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a “Metroidvania” platformer, with a large infusion of both action and puzzle-solving, with controls that are friendly to beginners and seasoned gamers alike. Though both the mechanics within and very nature of Pirate’s Curse are very similar to its two predecessors, there are two major differences that serve to set the game apart from the titles that came before it. First is the way the areas are set up. Rather than having every area connected to one another with the option of using warp points as fast travel, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse divides each area into its own island. While definitely different, this new style of area separation certainly isn’t a bad thing. Though players may still freely roam each island once they have unlocked it, and exploration is still highly encouraged, the islands make this game feel as though it is divided into separate levels. To further drive in this point, each island also tends to emphasize the use of a recently-acquired ability (through the acquisition of “Pirate Gear”, which I will explain in a moment) in order to progress further into the territory. Each island also contains a dungeon that Shantae must get through. Much like in games such as The Legend of Zelda, each dungeon contains a unique item. Known as “Pirate Gear”, these items each play a crucial role in both getting through the dungeon-at-hand and beating the boss at the end of each one. The islands are quite enjoyable in both design and execution and, while they can feel a little short in terms of how quickly you may complete them, are still very enjoyable overall and each provide a nice amount of content if you make sure to explore every nook and cranny.
The second noticeable difference is the aforementioned Pirate Gear. Seeing as how Shantae lost her magic, players will find that they will have to do without magical spells and belly dancing transformations. In place of magic is Pirate Gear; various pieces of pirate-themed weaponry and attire that allow Shantae to make use of a variety of new abilities. While the Pirate Gear certainly has a different, and perhaps more traditional, feel to it, it certainly is just as enjoyable and rewarding as using magic was. It was perhaps a bit of a risky move on WayForward’s part to take out a core mechanic of the series and replace it with something else, but I would definitely venture to say that they were quite successful with this endeavor.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse wouldn’t be a proper Shantae title without a quirky and memorable cast, and fortunately it delivers quite well on that. Bolo, Rottytops, Sky, and the rest of the crew are back once again, and add quite a bit of flavor to the game with their unique personalities and charms. Even returning minor characters, such as Squid Baron and Ammo Baron, each successfully carve out their own niche in terms of uniqueness (although some characters may be a bit too aware of their diminished roles). Though new, or at least important new characters, are a bit few and far between, an attempt to shoehorn in new characters of great importance could have ended up more of a hinderance than an asset, as the cast within the Shantae universe is already quite solid.
Fans of 16-bit sprite work are definitely in for a treat when it comes to the graphical aspects of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, as this is definitely a case of sprite art at its finest. Both characters and scenery are quite vivid, giving the entire game a feel that is both somewhat retro and very upbeat and energetic overall. The attention to detail within each character’s movements is especially impressive, as every character, from Shantae herself to the most basic of NPCs and enemies, boast an impressive number of frames that give quite a bit of life to each and every one of them. The only artwork that isn’t sprite-based within the game is that of the character portraits that appear within conversations. In contrast to the retro feel of the rest of the game, these character portraits are rendered in clean and vivid HD graphics, and are very well-made.
The soundtracks within WayForward’s games have always been exceptional, and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse continues that tradition. Composer Jake Kaufman once again returns to lay out the entire Pirate’s Curse soundtrack, and does so phenomenally. The entire soundtrack within the game carries with it an overtone that is both energetic and electronic, and always fits the moment-at-hand incredibly well. Even if platformers aren’t your thing, the soundtrack is certainly encouraging enough to make you want to try.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the best in the Shantae series yet, without question, and is definitely a game that I would recommend to just about anyone, regardless of their personal taste in video games. An enticing blend of platforming, combat, and puzzle-solving combined with tantalizing audio and visuals make, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is perhaps the one curse that you should definitely not avoid.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: 3DS, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: WayForward Technologies ; Developer: WayForward Technologies ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 23, 2014 (3DS); December 25, 2014 (Wii U); April 23, 2015 (PC); March 16, 2016 (Xbox One); April 19, 2016 (Playstation 4); MSRP: $19.99