Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved playing 2D platformers – the first video game I ever owned was Sonic The Hedgehog on the SEGA Master System and I haven’t looked back since. Whilst they’ve evolved over the years, there’s still a special place in my heart for the more traditional, old-school platformers that were so popular during the early 90s. Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse falls into that category, offering a platform adventure that wouldn’t look out of place on the consoles of the 16-bit era. It’s a pleasure to play too, though it does have a few issues that stop it propelling to platforming greatness.
Whilst the Shantae series originated on handheld consoles, the newer releases in the series have slowly started hitting bigger screens with releases spanning across both PC and consoles. Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse actually released two years ago on the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii U, though it has gradually been released across a wider range of devices. It’s taken me around a year and half after the initial release to actually play the game, but I’ve finally given it a shot to coincide with the game’s recent release on the Playstation 4.
I suppose I should make a (shameful) confession – whilst I’d played previous entries in the Shantae series, I’ve never actually played one through to completion. It’s always been a series I’ve enjoyed, I’ve just never played an entry from start to finish. Thankfully I’ve actually completed Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse, though I do regret not having played through the previous titles seeing as the latest entry is a direct sequel.
The previous entry in the series, Risky’s Revenge, saw Shantae losing her genie powers. Now residing as a normal human in Scuttle Town, the peace is abruptly ended when the Ammo Baron and his minions start blowing everything up. There’s a twist though, with the Ammo Baron now actually owning the town thanks to a deal with the previous Mayor. Using his new Mayoral powers, the Ammo Baron places Shantae under lockdown until she receives her official punishment.
Of course, there’s a more sinister underlying plot with Shantae’s arch nemeis, Risky, re-appearing and accusing Shantae of taking some of her crew and possessions. They quickly find out though that it’s actually the work of the evil, ultra powerful Pirate Master who is looking to take over Sequin Land. Thus begins an unlikely partnership between Shantae and Risky as they look to defeat the Pirate Master and hopefully restore peace to Scuttle Town along the way.
It’s a charming tale that’s both genuinely funny and well written. There’s plenty of character interaction, with each NPC in the game interacting with Shantae in some shape or form. Characters that’ve appeared in previous entries in the franchise show up too, though they’ve certainly changed this time around. Take the nefarious Squid Baron for example – rather than trying to take down Shantae, this time he’s just looking to find a nice location to take a holiday. That’s not to say he still doesn’t have a bit of bad in him though…
You meet a good variety of both old and new characters during your adventure in Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse and they’re all unique in their own special way. I just wish that I’d played through the previous titles a bit more – whilst it’s not a necessity, I didn’t know enough of the history between characters to fully appreciate all of their interactions.
Outside of the story you’ll get to play through some well crafted levels, each featuring their own theme. There’s the likes of Spiderweb Island that’s full of horrors with zombies and spiders out to get you, whilst Tan Line Island has a more Egyptian feel to it. Levels look great though with some vibrant pixel art on offer.
Levels feature a good variety of puzzles and tricky platforming, testing both your wit and your ability to make the finest of jumps. Some areas of levels are inaccessible, offering a Metroidvania style twist in that you may find an item later on the game that will allow you to progress. There’s Risky’s Gun for example that can hit unreachable switches, or perhaps Risky’s Hat that will allow you to glide across long distances.
It’s just a shame there’s so much backtracking involved in Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse. When you get these items you’ll have to work your way through each level again in order to reach these previously inaccessible areas, only to find that you’ll then have to backtrack through another level in order to progress again. I started to lose track of the areas which were previously inaccessible too – there were a few occasions when I was just wandering around hoping to find something I’d missed earlier.
The game’s combat doesn’t have a lot of depth either, though it’s competent enough to keep throughout the game’s five to six hour story mode. Whilst you can upgrade your moves and combat skills, most enemies require little strategy and are easily taken down by repeatedly spamming them with the attack button. Boss battles on the other hand are great – they’re well designed and often take up nearly entire screens, whilst their attack patterns offer a great challenge you’ll need to overcome.
Visually the game is superb with fantastic landscapes and stunning sprite art. I love the 16-bit style of the game whilst the animation in-game is slick and fluid. The HD illustrations of the character that feature during dialogue look great too, albeit slightly provocative – Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse isn’t shy when it comes to sexualising its female characters!
Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse offers a thoroughly enjoyable adventure that’ll keep you entertained from start to finish with its challenging platforming and vibrant world. Sure, the backtracking can get frustrating and the combat featured in the game lacks any sort of depth, but it won’t take too much away from what is otherwise a charming experience. Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse reminded me of the classic 16-bit bit platformers I used to enjoy when I was younger, and that was enough to keep a smile on my face up until the game’s end credits.
– Enjoyable old-school platforming
– A vibrant game world that looks fantastic with great pixel art
– A humorous and charming story with a well written script
– Great boss encounters
– Backtracking can get frustrating
– There’s not a lot of depth to the combat
Developer: WayForward (www.wayforward.com)
Publisher: WayForward (www.wayforward.com)
Release Date: 20/04/2016 (Playstation 4)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U, PC, Nintendo 3DS