by Daniel Lein
Storytelling is an immensely important part of video games. Not every game needs to have a story, but because most video game experiences last in excess of five hours it is good to have a compelling story to give the player a goal to strive for. In recent memory most well received stories in video games have been ones that focus on death, morale ambiguity, and violence. Even a more light hearted game like South Park: Stick of Truth retains mature material that is not exactly right for everyone. Gamers rarely get the chance to experience a story that is both well written and enjoyable for all ages, especially outside of Nintendo consoles. Enter Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, a gem developed by Wayforward and released on the 3DS back in 2014. It’s finally coming to current-gen consoles via the Xbox One, but is it worth the two year wait?
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is without a doubt one of the best written video games you can play on Xbox One. The plot isn’t anything special, but the way that story is told and the characters that deliver it are refreshingly creative and irresistibly charming. I found myself developing friendships with Shantae’s companions and getting truly invested in their personal journeys. The plot that does unfold follows Shantae, a former half genie, who exists to defend her home island, but when Risky Boots, her former enemy, calls for her aid, Shantae springs into action. From that point on you control Shantae through a half dozen dungeons on a quest to prevent the evil Pirate Master from returning to the world of the living. Like I said the plot is not particularly unique, but when you sprinkle in the lovable characters, including Shantae, you have a wonderful ride that I cannot wait to experience again in my New Game Plus playthrough. There is one character story in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse that goes beyond adorable and moves into the truly emotionally moving category. I will not spoil it though, it is well worth discovering on your own. All of these wonderful characters and moments are achieved through the excellent writing. A writing style that binds humor and adventure together in an exciting and endearing fashion. Did I mention the game is hilarious? I busted out laughing several times throughout my play-through. It manages to consistently introduce scenarios that are laugh out loud funny, even in the latter stages. Shantae manages to deliver a story void of all the seriousness of modern games that is equally brilliant in both its quality and enjoy-ability.
When I took a look at Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse the first thing that came into my mind was how charming and adorable it looked. The visual design can be broken down into two parts: hand drawn art and 2D pixel sprites. Both areas wonderfully crafted with the use of clever design and color. Every single character pops off the screen in both their drawn and sprite forms, combine that with each characters’ hilarious visual personality and the encounters become an absolute joy to partake in. The islands that you visit throughout your adventure are also well designed, each with their own color combination and visual style. Even when islands should have similar themes, such as a death themed island and an island of evil, they manage to significantly differentiate themselves so that each area feels special in its own right. It’s also important to point out the great detail and personality put into every enemy type and boss. Due to the color schemes of the enemies they feel really well connected to the island on which they reside. With that said, Wayforward managed to keep things interesting by never really recycling an enemy type. They never swapped a baddie’s palette and put them on a new island. It’s always a new enemy with some new ability or at the very a least a significantly altered ability. Though this falls a bit into the gameplay category, it was a breath of fresh air to see brand new enemies in every area, rather than just differently colored versions of previous enemies. The music of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is also very charming and just straight up fun to listen to. Every island has its own track as does every dungeon, and each of these tracks helped energize me through the challenging gameplay. With excellent chiptune compositions, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse delivers an upbeat and exhilarating soundtrack. Perhaps the best part of the game’s music, is just when you think you’re getting tired of a particular loop, something about it catches your ear and you get right back into the swing of it. It never ceased to impress me with its audio and visual presentation.
Shantae’s gameplay is simple but effective. It rarely steps into the difficult zone, but always manages to be fun and challenging. It does this with an excellent mix of platforming, combat, and puzzle solving. Aside from the platforming, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is very reminiscent of a Legend of Zelda game. If you are familiar with that franchise then you know that you must control the hero through a perilous dungeon collecting keys, fighting mini-bosses, acquiring special tools, solving puzzles, and finally beating the big bad boss. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is no different as it expertly blends all the elements of an action adventure game with pitch perfect platforming. It is also nice to see an indie platformer that follows a template other than that of the ever popular Metroidvania genre. It’s also important to point out that every dungeon is laid out in a unique way. Some levels are vertical, others are more horizontal. Some levels are split into multiple parts while others a essentially a straight line. You can really feel the variety in the level design as you play. Speaking of variety, the tools you acquire do a great job of spicing up the gameplay. Some items give you combat options while others help with platforming, but what’s awesome is that as you progress all of the items remain useful. This allows the later dungeons to be really challenging and enjoyably complex. I want to touch on combat real quick as it is very well integrated. Shantae uses her hair as a whip attack. Upgrades for the hair attack can be bought with gems acquired throughout the game. It’s a pretty simple system that allows for enemy placement and extra tools, such as the pistol, to spice up the gameplay. Bosses also have really fun patterns that are a true challenge to overcome, giving you a sense of accomplishment when you succeed. All in all Shantae’s gameplay is crazy fun and well worth getting into, there is one blemish though. In the final dungeon the game resorts to unpredictable platforming sections that force you to play through them quickly, and when you fail you have to start all over.This means lots of trial and error which is never fun. Thankfully this doesn’t take up too much of the game.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a wonderful game that is an utter joy to play. Everything from the exciting music to the fun art style exudes charm and a palpable sense of adventure. The gameplay is a mix of challenging combat, creative puzzle design, and precise platforming that never gets old, aside from the slight hiccup towards the end. Above all else the story is well written and adorable with endearing characters and hilarious scenarios. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is an excellent addition to the Xbox One library as it brings a delightfully entertaining experience.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse earns a 8.8/10