UPDATE 2: We have updated the review again to provide impressions of the belated Amazon Fire TV, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases for, “Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.”

UPDATE: While our review of, “Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse” mainly focuses on the original 3DS and Wii U releases, we have updated the review to include additional impressions of the belated PC version, along with impressions of the recent New 3DS functionality that was added to the game.

 

Despite having two superb games under her belt, Shantae is a more under-the-radar gaming heroine. One of the champion properties of retro-chic game developer, WayForward, the Shantae series delivers open-ended, ‘Metroidvania’ style landscapes, complete with Legend of Zelda-esque dungeons, and a colourful, inviting world of eccentric whimsy. They’re games that deserve more attention than they’ve gotten, and never has that been more true than with the excellent Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.

The long-awaited third chapter in WayForward’s Nintendo-exclusive initial trilogy of Shantae games (if we don’t count middle chapter, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge getting ported to PC and mobile), Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse spent quite a while in development, but finally made it to the 3DS eShop for $19.99. A couple of months later, a Wii U version also launched for the same price on the Wii U eShop, eliminating portability, but swapping it for off-TV play and a bump in resolution.

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With some slight tweaks in design, and a greater emphasis placed on a witty sense of humour, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse easily stands as the best offering in the series yet, regardless of whether you enjoy it on 3DS or Wii U. The game is a lot of fun, and creates an adventure that draws on classic Metroid-style exploration, wrapped around a glossy, colourful final product that feels bursting with modern charm and production value. It’s a game made for jovial, dedicated gamers that just want to enjoy themselves with just the right degree of challenge, and aren’t afraid to smile along the way.

Bottom line, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse stands as one of the most enjoyable offerings for either Nintendo eShop, and demands to be played by any gamer that owns a current Nintendo platform!

VISUALS

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse isn’t too ambitious with its in-game graphics, with the game engine still appearing to be mostly the same as the one from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Since Shantae: Risky’s Revenge spawned from the aborted assets of the cancelled Shantae Advance that was planned for Game Boy Advance, the visuals still don’t really graduate beyond GBA-level caliber. They look colourful and animate well, and the immense amount of loving detail that WayForward has put into the character sprites and kooky environments can’t be ignored, but the modest technical power won’t turn heads on either platform, especially not Wii U, even if everything is still vibrant and appealing to look at.

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Still, there are some visual upgrades from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, namely in detailed character portraits that now appear alongside bright text boxes during dialogue scenes. The still images are well-detailed and look quite sharp on Wii U especially, providing more personality to the GBA-esque sprites, and it will give players an especially great view of the series’ penchant for cheeky, revealing girly outfits, if that’s your thing. Damage counters will also appear when you successfully damage enemies now, or get hit yourself. It’s a bit pointless, but it does harken to some of the inspiration taken from the GBA/DS-era Castlevania games that unfold in a similar, albeit grimmer style.

Naturally, depending on your platform of choice, you’ll also get either a 3D or HD overlay to soup up the visual experience of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse beyond its DSiWare predecessor. The 3D effect on 3DS models is decent, adding a stretch of added atmosphere to most of the game’s locations (especially those that have dynamic effects like rain and snow), and the way that it’s used for things like having some enemies leap in from the foreground is pretty neat. It’s nothing all that essential for those playing on a 2DS, or simply opting to flick off the 3D Slider, but it adds some appealing flourishes to what’s already a visually pleasing game.

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Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels made more for 3DS than Wii U, which is unsurprising when one considers that the 3DS version released months before the Wii U version did. The HD makeover given to the Wii U version helps to make the colours pop a little more (even if that’s balanced out by the loss of 3D), as does the upgrade in resolution for both the television and the Wii U Gamepad Screen. Still, the graphics are blatantly designed with 3DS in mind, with the Wii U version looking like a pretty beat-for-beat port of its 3DS sibling. It’s certainly not bad-looking, but it’s pretty evident that Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was mainly designed for a handheld.

The retro-chic visuals remain very true to WayForward’s style overall however, and even if the fundamental graphics call back to the GBA era, and are only a modest hop over Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, the visual polish behind Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is quite noticeable.

AUDIO

Once again, the remarkably talented Jake Kaufman composes the soundtrack of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. This could very well be his best work to date as well, as the game’s upbeat and extremely catchy tunes are both very well-composed, and incredibly memorable. It’s very easy to hum along as you play in just about every area, with the great music packing everything with all the more character!

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In true WayForward fashion, the soundtrack of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels very rooted in classic gaming convention. The music is extra boppy and punchy, perfectly suited to such a whimsical action-adventure/platformer hybrid, and the sound effects are simplistic, but fitting. The cartoony effects that come with defeating enemies, using items, and doing any other such basic thing are more understated than the rather aggressive music, but that’s fine, since it helps to capture the whole GBA-era inspiration pretty well. The satisfying ‘thwack!’ of Shantae’s hair upon enemies that you’re damaging however is the exception, triumphantly sounding as you proceed through each treacherous new island of fearsome baddies to proceed ever onward to more spoils!

The series still mostly tells its story in text boxes, but there are some all-new voice clips that are featured in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, namely from Shantae herself. Shantae will occasionally exclaim someone’s name during the text for example, or may say a word of interest. It’s a bit of a half-solution, but it gives us the best idea of Shantae’s personality yet in contrast to prior games. Likewise, Shantae crying out when she’s hit, or exclaiming, “Ret-2-Go!” when reaching a new island (an in-joke from the original Shantae’s text restrictions on Game Boy Color), helps to make her feel more alive and active as you play, rather than just being a static, technologically-inhibited set of animations.

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The audio is pretty simplistic in terms of the sound effects and voices, but everything still feels fun and pleasant on the ears. Jake Kaufman’s stellar music is the real highlight here, which puts the already great soundtracks of the prior Shantae games to shame, and is enjoyable and catchy enough to merit being put on any gamer’s playlist, which you can do by purchasing the soundtrack at whatever price you fancy from Bandcamp. I highly recommend you do so. It’s a how-to guide of how to compose an excellent video game soundtrack that brings retro sensibilities to a modern production, while still feeling unique tailored to the action-packed enjoyment of a video game.

GAMEPLAY

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse unfolds similarly to its predecessors, but makes some small design changes that help it stand on its own a little bit more.

As with the prior games, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse unfolds in an open-ended, ‘Metroidvania’ environment, where players can explore around, and access new areas as they proceed the game and find new gear. Also akin to the previous Shantae games, you’ll periodically go through Legend of Zelda-esque dungeons for major plot macguffins, which end in a boss fight, and reward you with one of the said crucial items that are needed to explore other parts of the game world.

Even if the foundation is the same however, there are several key differences in Shantae’s latest quest. For starters, now that Shantae’s genie powers are gone, and she’s fully human (you would know this if you played through Shantae: Risky’s Revenge already), the animal transformations from the previous games have been entirely removed, which is a pretty big switch in terms of progression. Likewise, the game also eliminates the magic system from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, and instead has you purchasing spells like Pike Ball and Bubble Shield as consumable items. Fortunately though, Shantae’s trademark hair-whipping is still your main means of attack, which can be unleashed on foes with taps of the Y Button.

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Perhaps the biggest switch however is, while the game is still done in the open-ended ‘Metroidvania’ style, the major areas are now divided into themed islands, which contain a ‘Den of Evil’ (read: dungeon) that Shantae must cleanse, along with finding a new pirate artifact to use from her nemesis, Risky Boots. Each of Risky’s gear will give Shantae a new capability that opens up new areas in parts of the game world new and old, such as Risky’s Hat allowing Shantae to glide for a short distance while the R Button is held, or Risky’s Pistol allowing Shantae to fire projectiles with the A Button.

Speaking of Risky, she may have been the main villain in the previous two games, but this time, she actually teams up with Shantae, and is the one that ferries you between islands! Reason being is that the new villain, the Pirate Master, is Risky’s former captain, and is about to destroy the land she’s trying to conquer, after the genies of Shantae’s heritage sealed him away long ago.

When you’re not on one of the game’s five major islands, you can visit the familiar main island hub of Scuttle Town to spend Gems that you earn from defeating enemies and destroying furniture. Gems can net you consumable items for offense, defense and healing, upgrade the speed and power of Shantae’s hair-whipping, and even allow you to purchase some new moves like a backstep, or a fighting kick. You can also heal and save your game in town, as well as bring four Heart Squids (which are hidden throughout the game world) to increase the size of Shantae’s maximum health, a la the Heart Pieces in the Legend of Zelda series. There is also a neighbouring area that contains its own set of hidden collectibles like Heart Squids and Dark Tinkerbats, which, as with the themed islands, you can gauge when choosing a destination from Risky’s ship.

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What are Dark Tinkerbats? They’re an all-new collectible unique to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, being the former Tinkerbat minions of Risky’s crew, only possessed and mutated by dark magic. Shantae must seek out and destroy all of the Dark Tinkerbats, then absorb their essence with a genie lamp that’s activated by holding the X Button (this also sucks up Gems and other consumables when enemies drop them from far away), which is stored as Dark Magic. Only by destroying every Dark Tinkerbat can you face the true final boss and view the true ending. This makes for good incentive to poke around, especially since you can mostly see areas that you haven’t been to with the map that you can handily activate on the 3DS Touch Screen/Wii U Gamepad Screen. Be vigilant though! Some of the game’s collectibles are pretty well-hidden!

The fact that each area is so effectively rife with exciting battles and cool secrets makes every area of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse great fun to explore and battle through. The islands do a great job of featuring diverse challenges and puzzles, particularly within the Dens of Evil, which aren’t too tough to navigate, but still feature plenty of satisfying combat. Likewise, the boss battles are very engaging and entertaining, and every boss in the game feels cleverly designed and fun to defeat.

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All in all, the game is just incredibly well-designed in terms of providing fun and entertainment. It’s challenging without being unfair, and rewarding without being complicated. It’s perhaps a tad easier on challenge than its two predecessors overall, but will still provide an action-packed, engaging experience for skilled gamers who are seeking a thrill.

There are a handful of gameplay differences between the 3DS version and Wii U version, but they’re pretty minor. Again, the game seems most designed with the 3DS in mind, though it’s still perfectly viable to enjoy on Wii U, if that’s your preferred (or only) option. The main gameplay difference between the two is that the Wii U version gives you the choice between playing with the Wii U Gamepad, a Wii U Pro Controller, or a Wii Classic Controller. Obviously, the Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Classic Controller feel like the most intuitive options, though in that case, you still have to use the Wii U Gamepad Screen as your inventory and map, without suspending gameplay. It’s a little bit more of a juggling act on Wii U, in contrast to the more convenient placing of the gameplay screen and inventory between the two displays when playing on a 3DS/2DS, but, that’s certainly not a deal-breaker. It just requires a bit more attention, especially during off-TV play, where you’re limited to playing singularly on the Wii U Gamepad Screen.

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On both platforms however, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse nonetheless plays wonderfully. It’s a game that just feels right, with its lively and unpredictable world providing a highly entertaining escape across its 5-6-hour playtime!

STORYLINE

On paper, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse presents a pretty simple story. After losing her genie powers at the conclusion of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Shantae still maintains her job as the guardian of Scuttle Town, waking up one morning to find the Ammo Baron laying siege to the town, in an effort to bulldoze it, and rebuild it in his image. Shantae manages to delay the Ammo Baron, claiming that the town has a limited amount of time to pay back a transaction on the town sale (FYI, the town is sold to the Ammo Baron seemingly without consequence during Shantae: Risky’s Revenge), and is approached by her nemesis, Risky Boots about the imminent return of the great and evil Pirate Master, who was sealed away by the genies many years ago.

Since the Pirate Master has enough treasure to buy back the town, and Risky would rather keep her former boss sealed away in the underworld, Shantae and Risky form an uneasy alliance that sees them traveling all around the many islands of Sequin Land, in order to cleanse the Dens of Evil contributing to the Pirate Master’s return, and hopefully save Scuttle Town along the way.

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While the previous two Shantae games weren’t devoid of personality by any means, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels like the point where the series truly comes into its own from a narrative standpoint. The game is written in a far more lively fashion that gives the characters a ton of loveable personality, with plenty of kooky dialogue that helps make even the smaller personalities feel memorable and charming in their own right.

Another huge plus is the incredible sense of humour that the series has developed with its most recent installment. Whether it’s former Shantae: Risky’s Revenge boss, Squid Baron breaking the fourth wall to lament about his role in the plot, or Shantae’s best friend, Sky struggling to find a man, this game is surprisingly loaded with genuine laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity. There’s a bit of cheeky sex appeal naturally thrown in here and there as well, though thankfully, the game avoids feeling tacky with it. There’s an innocent goofiness to the girly hijinx throughout the game, which will be equally amusing for both men and women alike.

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Even with its simple story, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels very well-written. It’s as fun to see unfold as it is to play, with the wit, charm and humour helping to compensate for the simplicity behind the premise. The game sports just the right amount of spunk and self-awareness with its more ridiculous elements, making for a video game that knows it’s a video game, and is simply happy to entertain, letting its heaps of personality do the talking at every turn, without forcing an excessively bloated narrative that this light-hearted adventure doesn’t need.

THE PC VERSION

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is quite functional on PC, though this definitely isn’t the ideal build of the game. Its Nintendo origins are pretty prevalent, as the PC visuals of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse are left pretty well untouched from the Wii U version, which already left them untouched from the original 3DS graphics, beyond blowing up the resolution. The PC version also loses the dynamic inventory cycling and use from the 3DS and Wii U builds, since it’s now limited to one screen.

On the plus side however, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is still an excellent game on PC, so this makes for a port well worth considering if you don’t own a Nintendo platform, particularly given its lax system requirements. The PC version supports full gamepad controls, which are pretty well essential for a game of this nature, and it also includes a satisfying, challenging list of Steam Achievements if you buy it from Steam, adding to the play value in a way that the achievement-less Nintendo builds don’t succeed at so much.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse still feels most at home on 3DS however, and even the Wii U build feels more intuitive and natural to play than the PC version. Still, the existence of this port allows people who aren’t Nintendo gamers to enjoy the experience, so it comes recommended on that basis, though anyone who does own a Nintendo platform would be best off sticking with the 3DS or Wii U build, unless they’re super interested in collecting the Steam Achievements on offer in the PC version. Beyond that, the PC build doesn’t merit the double-dip.

THE AMAZON FIRE TV VERSION

If you happen to own an Amazon Fire TV, and do some gaming on it, then Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is very recommendable on the platform. The game is still excellent on Amazon’s microconsole, though it’s best enjoyed with the Amazon Game Controller, of course.

Beyond that, there isn’t much to say about this port, which feels like another chain on the link of ports that originated from the founding 3DS version of the game. It’s quite functional, and recommendable if this is your platform of choice, though as with the prior PC release, the Amazon Fire TV port still doesn’t ultimately compare to the more intuitive and optimized designs of the original Nintendo releases of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.

THE XBOX ONE & PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION

Once again, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions feel like a pretty beat-for-beat port of a game that’s clearly meant for the 3DS most of all. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 ports feels like a console-ized version of the PC port, and as with the previous PC and Amazon Fire TV ports that spawned from the original Nintendo builds of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, they’re perfectly functional, and remain great game options on Microsoft’s and Sony’s consoles. If you’re a strict Xbox or PlayStation gamer that only games on Xbox or PlayStation platforms, then Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse remains an indie game that demands to be experienced, especially for longtime gamers.

Yet again though, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 ports of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse don’t fully compare to the original 3DS and Wii U versions of the game, and aren’t worth the double dip if you’ve already experienced those originals, despite the welcome addition of achievements/trophies to enhance the replay value.  There’s nothing wrong with these console ports, but they’re once again missing the more elegant and intuitive design from the original 3DS and Wii U builds of the game, not to mention that the retro-style graphics are awkwardly blown-up beyond some proper HD menus and dialogue sprites, which doesn’t look nearly as appealing on Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Die-hard Xbox/PlayStation gamers should nonetheless seek out these console ports to experience the game, but for everyone else, the Nintendo versions of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse remain the most recommendable.

HOW ARE THE BELATED NEW 3DS FEATURES?

A recent update to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse’s 3DS version has added in new ways to take advantage of Nintendo’s New 3DS (XL) handhelds, namely the C-Stick and additional ZL and ZR Buttons. These new additions don’t substantially make or break the game, if you’re still stuck playing it on an original 3DS or 2DS model, though they do streamline the inventory even further, which can be a neat bonus if you’ve already sprung for a New 3DS or New 3DS XL.

How the New 3DS features work is, you can now use the C-Stick to navigate through your inventory without having to use the stylus on your Touch Screen. It’s not too noteworthy, and makes even less sense with the peculiar option to also support the launch model 3DS’s Circle Pad Pro accessory, where this feels extra cumbersome. Still, the ability to use a highlighted item on the fly by simultaneously pressing ZL and ZR when playing on a New 3DS (XL) is far more useful, and eliminates having to divide your attention between the main gameplay on the 3D Screen, and managing your inventory on the fly with the Touch Screen.

Again, not essential, but it does improve the pacing of gameplay for New 3DS or New 3DS XL users, which is a small, but valid plus.

THE VERDICT

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse just feels right. It just feels like a game that tickles the fundamental sense of gaming fun that too many modern video games seem to bury under overdone tech specs and melodrama. WayForward has done incredible work all around here, between the vibrant visual design, insanely fun and catchy soundtrack, pitch-perfect gameplay, and surprisingly entertaining narrative. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse pleases on all counts.

Naturally, any gamer with a current Nintendo platform would be remiss to pass this game up! The $19.99 asking price might seem a bit steep at first, but trust me, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is worth every penny! It’s one of the best indie games that both the 3DS eShop and Wii U eShop have offered yet, and it presents all sorts of promise for the series really coming into its own in a great way, presenting the pinnacle of its three current offerings in an already superb under-the-radar game series.

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This also makes for an especially exciting time to anticipate the series’ next entry, the successfully Kickstarter-funded Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, which will finally expand the series to PlayStation and Xbox platforms, on top of Wii U and PC. With the series capping off its dedicated Nintendo entries on a high point, WayForward has an incredibly exciting foundation to build what is hopefully Shantae’s first real shot at more widespread exposure. If that game is even half the game that Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is, we can be very excited about this series’ future indeed!

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is easily the best Shantae offering yet, pleasing all around with its infectious charm, fantastic gameplay, and outstanding sense of humour. It's a must-play game for any 3DS and/or Wii U player!
VISUALS85%
AUDIO95%
GAMEPLAY95%
STORYLINE85%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Excellent, highly catchy soundtrack
  • Fun, engaging gameplay in a lively, detailed world
  • Superb charm and sense of humour
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Inventory management is a tad trickier on Wii U
92%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
92%

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