Oh, it’s a pirate’s life for me.
Besides the first two syllables in our names, the half-genie Shantae and I don’t share much in common. I don’t wear baggy clothes, whip others with my hair or go anywhere near spiders. I also don’t have a Metroidvania-style game based around my life, one that is full of outlandish humor, clever puzzles and tricky platforming. While Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse at times lacks originality, it remains a wholly wonderful game.
I had no idea what to expect coming into Pirate’s Curse, this being my first Shantae game. It started off in the middle of an intense battle, but I was surprised at how boring the controls were. Shantae could only jump, run, and swing her hair forward for an attack. Platformer aside, her arsenal seemed far too basic for an entire game to be based on. Therefore, I was relieved when I finally acquired the pistol to add a projectile attack to my abilities. Unlocking more weapons, items and power-ups turned the half-genie into a truly formidable foe.
Unlocking new abilities helped to keep the game from feeling stale. There is only one game mode — a single-player story adventure — so when the game became dull I just had to plow on. The exploration-style gameplay in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse had me backtrack through every location many times to discover new secrets that weren’t available during the first visit. The back-and-forth was at times tedious, but gaining powers and strength made each trip progressively easier. When I finally reached a new area or unlocked a new item, the gameplay possibilities were always fresh again.
That said, even when new elements were fresh to the game, they weren’t always fresh to me. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse lacked originality at times and borrowed gameplay from other titles. Nothing in the game, from shooting to gliding to bouncing, was unique or innovative to the platforming genre. Samus has been firing at enemies in her 2D Metroid games for decades and Link perfected the downward thrust attack in Zelda II on the NES back in the ’80s. Puzzle elements such as chests, switches, hidden rooms and falling platforms all originated elsewhere. Even the save point structure was standard. Don’t get me wrong, Shantae did all of these things exceedingly well. But it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.
Instead, the story, characters and humor make Shantae stand out. Often breaking the forth wall to speak directly to the player, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse isn’t shy at being over-the-top. From Mayor Scuttlebutt who sold his town for a box of chocolates to the peppy sunbathers whose gleaming pale skin illuminated the hidden spell scrawled on a temple wall, the game is outlandish at every turn. Each character shines and is masterfully written, the interactions between different characters always yields unexpected results, and the story is unforgettable.
The game wasn’t particularly difficult; I only died a couple of times, and I quickly had way more health than I needed. The hidden collectibles were quite easy to stumble upon and obtain, so they never felt like much of a secret. But there were several puzzles that required a fair bit of intellectual prowess to surmount. The dungeons often had rooms teeming with monsters, and if it wasn’t for the bountiful foodstuffs enemies were dropping, I’d have had trouble replenishing my health and surviving. As it was, however, monsters never really posed much of a threat to me.
There was never a shortage of color; the game was bright and beautiful and featured detailed sprites and backgrounds. The locations in the game — including fields stuffed with scarecrows and deserts hiding mummies beneath their sands — were diverse, fun, and gorgeous. Each of the game’s seven islands had their own feel to them which made progressing in the game exciting. The numerous types of monsters never stopped amazing me with their unique attacks (although there were several types of enemies that did nothing but move around). None of the music was overly catchy, but it added a perfect touch to each of the game’s environments.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse suffers from a lack of originality and at times can feel stale. Yet despite that, it is fun all the way through. It’s well-made from start to finish and is one of the funniest games I’ve played. It’s not a perfect game, but it is one of the better titles in the Nintendo eShop.