If you are someone who has never owned a Nintendo console or handheld there is a large chance you have never heard of Shantae.
If you have, you probably know they are a fairly popular and acclaimed series of platformers. Out of the three currently released titles in the series, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the second to make its way to non-Nintendo systems. But what makes it so popular?
If you are a fan of platformers or Metroidvania-style games you will instantly take to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse; its incredibly responsive combat and platforming mechanics will immediately feel familiar. As you jump, hop and skip your way around the various islands of Sequin Land (yes really) you will always be greeted by incredibly varied, detailed and beautiful pixelated visuals. From the deserts of Tan Line Island to the swamps of Spiderweb Island you can always be sure that each island will have its own individual personality as well as unique enemies to slay and colourful friends to meet.
In terms of what is actually going on in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, the characters are the real stars here; not the story itself. While the plot of an old pirate lord returning to wreck dark, magical havok on the world is entertaining enough it never stretches much further than just being your generic fantasy story – but with pirates! The real emphasis is on the great cast of characters you will meet along the way, although admittedly, as Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a platformer, few of them get much screentime with developers WayForward wanting you to get back to the adventuring as quickly as possible. The real achievement here is that, even with the little time you will spend with each character, their humorous dialogue mean many become memorable.
However, there is one thing that may put many people off the characters – and possibly the game itself. Even though the colourful graphics, upbeat soundtrack and it previously being a 3DS game means it appeals heavily to children, the objectification of every single female characters does not. Every female you meet is incredibly thin and wears very little clothing. Thankfully, some of it seems to be tongue-in-cheek – the poking fun at the classic Princess Leia “outfit” is a highlight – but, even though the female characters are strong and by far the best in the game, it doesn’t help that, at times, the skimpy outfits and blatant sexualisation just comes off as incredibly hypocritical.
The actual game mechanics themselves have problems too. While generally the basic design of each area is enjoyable – fight your way through areas using the fluid combat to reach a fun and unique boss while finding well-hidden secrets accross the map – there are too many small problems that plague your time with the game, stopping it from being as enjoyable as it should be. While the platforming and combat are fun on their own, when combined some areas can become a mess of spammy, small and out-of-reach enemies. Most areas also feature a “double” miniboss of sorts where you fight one slightly tougher enemy to learn it and later on, face two at once for the miniboss. The problem here is that, while the enemy is often designed well, they aren’t designed to have multiple at the same time and can often lead to stunlocking and general annoyance.
Perhaps the most major problem belongs to the metroidvania part of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Like in all metroidvania games, as you progress through the story you will gain new abilities and powers which allow you access once blocked-off paths in previous areas. Usually, these areas are completely optional and just open a shortcut or a cool secret rewarding you for remembering it and using your newly acquired ability. The first time I acquired a new ability in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse I was excited as I had remembered the previous area had something I could now access. I stopped with the story missions and proceeded to backtrack through ten minutes of a previously completed area to find my secret. Maybe it was a powerup, or a new attack, or something really cool. I quickly discovered however that the item I had acquired in this “secret” area was actually needed to progress the story… and so too are all of the items found in these areas.
What this leads to is the need to backtrack through every single island at least once (usually twice) just to gain access to a new area and continue progressing the story. There are no secrets and nothing cool to find, just a frustrating design mechanic of incessantly backtracking through areas you have already completed (with enemies that respawn way too quickly) just to stretch out the game’s length. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse also has a problem of sometimes not telling you exactly what to do in an area or how to progress – and you are never really sure if you have missed something obvious or you need to begin backtracking again.
It is perhaps this design flaw that stopped me liking Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse as much as I wanted to. I was pulled in by the colourful world and characters and enjoyed the fluid]and responsive gameplay, but the continous backtracking for little reward, some unfairly difficult enemies and areas and a lack of direction pulled me out of the experience. For hardcore platforming or metroidvania fans, you will undoubtedly find lots to love here but others may find that too many smaller problems creates a much larger problematic package.