A fitting finale to the Shantae trilogy.
WayForward has created some of my favorite games of the last decade. They developed the excellent A Boy & His Blob, the Mighty Switch Force games, and DuckTales: Remastered. These are talented people with real passion for their craft. I liked Shantae on the GBC and I really liked its DSiWare sequel, Risky’s Revenge. Both of those games, however, have their share of problems. The original features an inverted difficulty curve and an overzealous map. The sequel has a pared-back map, but a confusing cave system, impractical warp system, and a short length. I had high hopes for Pirate’s Curse, the wrap-up to the Shantae trilogy, but its many delays and persistent lack of a release date worried me. Well, after finishing it up on 3DS, it’s clear that the lengthy development time did wonders for Pirate’s Curse. This isn’t just the best Shantae game; it may be WayForward’s greatest achievement to date.
Without getting into the plot details, Shantae must deal with the consequences of the last game: the mayor sold Scuttle Town to the Ammo Baron and Risky Boots stole Shantae’s magical powers away. There will be no belly-dancing or animal transforming in this game. When Risky Boots comes around asking for Shantae’s help to defeat an ancient evil, Shantae must do so as a pirate. The story is charming, the writing is wonderful, and the character portraits—by IntiCreates—fit the game extremely well.
Pirate's Curse features numerous improvements to the usual Shantae formula. Rather than traveling across one enormous horizontal world, Shantae travels from island to island, each of which features a Metroid-esque level design. You’ll want to visit most islands more than once after your moveset improves to collect Heart Squid (aka Pieces of Heart) and defeat specific plot-related enemies. Most stages have specific challenges, like carrying zombie friend Rottytops through an undead obstacle course, or escaping a desert palace while hiding from guards. I was constantly surprised by the unique qualities of each island. You’ll also run a number of quests for NPCs on all of the islands in order to move along in the game.
Shantae’s attacks have also broadened. She can upgrade both the speed at which she can whip her hair and the amount of damage she deals. She can also upgrade the damage-dealing potential of two of her pirate weapons as well as learn a variety of new abilities. Additionally, subweapons are a finite resource this time around, but can be purchased or dropped by enemies.
Each island also hides a dungeon, which itself contains a new item. It’s all pirate gear; the first thing you find is a flintlock pistol that can be used to attack enemies but also to hit far-away switches. Most items have a dual role in both combat and level traversal. The dungeons are shorter than they were in Risky’s Revenge, but they’re also tighter and more focused. You’ll rarely get lost because the map system in Pirate’s Curse is actually useful—it’s straight out of Super Metroid. I was disappointed by the bosses, who are all ridiculously easy, especially if you make use of the easy-to-collect power-boosting items.
Pirate’s Curse looks great, basically a better-looking version of Risky’s Revenge with more detailed environments and some cool-looking bosses. You’ll want to play with the 3D turned all the way up, too. Layering is done to great effect, and even the character art during cut scenes is somehow in 3D. It’s an interesting effect that I certainly got a kick out of.
The music, composed by WayForward’s usual composer Jake Kaufman (aka virt) is astounding. My wife, who can’t be bothered to listen to video game music, was actually dancing in the kitchen when I had the zombie island music turned up. There are brand-new tracks and excellent remixes of old themes from both Risky’s Revenge and the original Shantae. I was delighted to hear a modernized version of the dungeon theme from the GBC game in here. But let me give special kudos to the music in the “robot” dungeon. I’m not gonna lie—I got a little misty-eyed. I can only compare it to the music during the final fight with Ganon at the end of Ocarina of Time: it is perfect for the situation and conveys a certain weight that’s extremely hard to pull off.
Once you beat the game, you unlock a sort of New Game Plus mode that should give speed runners something to do. Plus, beating the game under certain conditions unlocks new title screen wallpapers. It’s fun to try and collect them all.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a must-play game. If you’ve enjoyed the previous Shantae games at all, or you just like well-designed platforming action games, this is something special.