Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, the title to conclude the original Shantae trilogy of games, was unveiled in one of Nintendo Power’s final issues in late 2012. The development process unfortunately suffered from a handful of delays, and fan expectations were high after two well-received games in the series. The wait seems to have been worth it, though, as the Pirate’s Curse is my favorite Shantae to date.
Shortly after booting up the game, I was thrown right into the action. Scuttle Town, Shantae’s home, has been invaded by the Ammo Baron and the people are in panic. This intense, enjoyable sequence immediately familiarizes the player with the game’s platforming and combat without the need for using irritating tutorials. However, Shantae is missing some abilities this time around – she was drained of her genie powers at the end of Risky’s Revenge. Shantae and her rival Risky need to put their differences behind them in order to team up and stop the powerful force that is the Pirate Master. The story takes a backseat to the gameplay after this introduction, so playing previous games in the series is not a necessity but I recommend it to better appreciate the improvements.
The Pirate’s Curse’s gameplay combines platforming, exploration, and combat. As much as I dislike using the term “Metroidvania”, I guess you could call it that. Unlike its predecessors, the game consists of several self-contained islands instead of one interconnected world. A helpful map on the bottom screen to track progress is much appreciated especially after experiencing the convoluted map system in Risky’s Revenge. The broken-up game world may bother some players, but I found that it made backtracking feel like a little bit less of a chore. Each island has a large area to explore with its own unique enemies to fight and characters to encounter, in addition to a Zelda-like labyrinth where a piece of Risky’s pirate gear is obtained to make overworld exploration more easy and enjoyable. Tinkerbats and Heart Squids, which increase your life power, can be found using thorough exploration. I felt motivated to collect them all and managed to do so while completing the story in about twelve hours.
The platforming, which increases in difficulty through the adventure, is spot on. The game’s combat system is implemented very well – for the most part. Shantae’s enjoyable hair-whipping ability as well as her pirate gear can be upgraded throughout the story using the in-game currency. I did have a couple minor issues with the game’s controls, though. Shantae’s midair down-stab attack is activated using the L button. Not only does this feel very unnatural (pressing down on the D-Pad does nothing midair), but it can be downright physically uncomfortable. Since I use the D-Pad instead of the Circle Pad for 2D platformers, I had to constantly slide my hand up to the top of the system to perform this move. Luckily, it isn’t used all that much outside of the labyrinth it’s obtained in.
The world of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse features highly impressive pixel art, which is even more detailed than the visuals found on the DSi and GBC iterations due to the more powerful hardware. I was especially pleased with the sprites for the massive boss characters. The occasional mixing of hand-drawn backgrounds with sprite work in the foreground was slightly bothersome, though.
It is worth noting that the hand-drawn art used in dialogue for many of the game’s female characters (and a couple of males) is sexually exaggerated to a heavy degree. This was not a personal issue but it’s something for potential customers to keep in mind.
It seems as though Jake “virt” Kaufman has done it again in creating a soundtrack consisting of songs that not only fit each area perfectly, but are incredibly energetic and catchy. Pirate’s Curse features some of his best work to date. You can listen to the soundtrack below or download it. My personal favorite track is “Rave in the Grave”.