Set sail with the unlikely duo of Shantae and nemesis Risky Boots, with the final chapter of the Shantae trilogy, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (3DS)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 10/23/2014 (USA)
Developed by WayForward Technologies, Inti Creates
Published by WayForward Technologies
Created by Erin and Matt Bozon, and later brought to life by developer WayForward, the Shantae saga follows the tale of a young playful half-genie tasked with protecting Scuttle Town. Using her hair as a weapon, along with the ability to transform into various animals, Shantae protects the townsfolk from various monsters, the cannon-loving Ammo Baron, and her arch-nemesis, the nefarious pirate Risky Boots.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse picks up shortly after the events of the DSiWare title Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. In the climactic battle with Risky Boots, Shantae’s powers are stolen and converted into Dark Magic, which manifests into her evil doppelganger. Shantae’s Dark Magic clone is defeated, however the half-genie is forced to live as a normal human, lacking any of her magical abilities. Months later, the former half-genie is finally adjusting to her new life, only to have the bombastic Ammo Baron purchase Scuttle Town for himself; Shantae is powerless to stop him as he overthrows Mayor Scuttlebutt and begins converting the town into a fortress. Among the chaos, Risky Boots shows up, revealing that Shantae may not have completely destroyed her Dark Magic clone; the Dark Magic was actually shattered, with the pieces getting scattered across all of Sequin Land. The entirety of Risky’s crew have turned on her, going after the Dark Magic in an attempt to resurrect the Pirate Master- Risky’s former captain and mentor. With Risky’s crew on the line, and the possibility of Shantae having her powers restored, the two reluctantly pair up to track down and collect the remaining Dark Magic pieces before the Pirate Master’s resurrection. Along with their main quest, Shantae and Risky will aide friends and Sequin Land residents with their own smaller missions- most of which require fetching an item or enchantment from a previously visited “Den of Evil”. These include filling up a pool with “water” (it’s actually dragon-spit) for vacationers, tracking down a travel brochure for Squid Baron, and finding the brother of the coffee-addicted zombie Rottytops.
Several gameplay changes are in place for the Nintendo 3DS installment of the Shantae series. Players no longer traverse across the interconnected world of Sequin Land; instead, Shantae and Risky travel between islands with the support of the Tinker Tub Mark 2. The ship can be steered between islands with either the touch screen or the control-pad. Risky’s Revenge also featured the ability to jump between the foreground and background in certain areas; while this feature isn’t in Pirate’s Curse, the entire game is presented in stereoscopic 3D, adding real-time depth to each environment. As the half-genie no longer has her magic, Shantae can’t transform into her animal counterparts to solve puzzles: Originally, players could turn into a monkey, elephant and mermaid in order to aerial-dash across long distances, break through large barriers and rocks, or move freely underwater. When exploring each Den of Evil, Shantae will come across one of Risky’s items- her hat, pistol, scimitar and boots to name a few. Each one grants a new ability, including a glide, downward attack, dash, and a long-range attack. Even though Shantae can still attack enemies with her hair, she can be upgraded to include a close range side-kick. The lack of magic prevents Shantae from using offensive spells found in Risky’s Revenge, however most of the same magical attacks- such as the [Super] Pike Ball- can be purchased as usable items.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse takes a page from the Metroid series, as it’s an exploration-heavy platformer, complete with various dungeons and hidden areas to uncover. Each island features it’s own dungeon- the previously mentioned Den of Evil- which often features some kind of gimmick, from an endless runner segment, to riding on gusts of air, and even to a stealth segment. Due to the nature of some puzzles, players will find themselves doing a ton of backtracking through previous Islands; after finding a new ability, the game will often require Shantae go back and unlock a previously inaccessible part of the last Island. A particular example can be found upon reaching Mud Bog Island; once the player reaches the initial “dead end” in Mud Bog, he/she must backtrack to Spiderweb Island, and use the most-recently acquired ability to uncover the artifact required to progress. However, players who enjoy exploring areas a second time will find several hidden collectibles that can only be obtained after Shantae has gathered most of Risky’s gear. Several “Heart Squids” and “Tinkerbats” are placed in each Island; Heart Squids can be taken back to the Squidsmith in Scuttle Town, who will convert them into extra Heart containers, while Tinkerbats will release obtainable Dark Magic upon defeat.
During WayForward’s Kickstarter campaign for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, the developer revealed that Mega Man Zero creator Inti Creates would be contributing to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. An underlying trait of the series, the character artwork changes with each game; all of the character visuals shown in cutscenes are courtesy of the artists at Inti Creates. Along with the updated character renditions, each one has slight 3D effects, adding depth to the 2D models. While it may not seem like much at a glance, Pirate’s Curse itself is a huge visual upgrade for the Shantae series. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is not only the first game to feature stereoscopic depth, but it’s also presented in widescreen.
(Note: The Nintendo 3DS screen is technically 15:9 with a combined stereoscopic resolution of 800×240- 400×240 for each eye. The retail copy of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse used for this review was played on a 3DS XL.)
Character sprites have been slightly updated, as each one features many more frames of animation. The real upgrades can be found in each environment; even though players can jump between the foreground and background, the 3D layering makes each area feel like an expansive, immerse region within an established world. Each Island is a unique experience; Mud Bog Island feels claustrophobic and gross, while Tan Line Island is vast, desolate and ancient. The Shantae series draws influence from Middle Eastern culture- possibly even Turkish– and it continues to show with the newest title. While it’s apparent with the architecture of Scuttle Town and Shantae’s attire, the most obvious example is found within the music.
WayForward “Audio Guy” Jake Kaufman returns again to provide the music for Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Many of the tracks include simulated instruments native to the Middle Eastern culture, including the likes of the pungi, a wooden flute often associated with snake charming. Many tracks are remixes and expansions of the music found in Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Even though Pirate’s Curse is a digital title, no compromises can be found in the soundtrack, as it features everything from string instruments to synthesizers, and even a few electronic dance-music beats. Even in the slowest of tracks, the music adds an extra dimension of energy to the game, reflecting Shantae’s own playful and energetic personality.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is an exceptional adventure game, and a fitting end to the current Shantae trilogy. The large amount of backtracking may not appeal to some gamers, but those who can look past this fact- or embrace it- will find a polished action-adventure game that rivals that of the Game Boy Advance classic, Metroid Fusion. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a must-buy for fans of the current series, and is worth considering for anyone who is interested in WayForward’s upcoming console release, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.