Published on February 27th, 2015 | by Lee Davies
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (Wii U eShop)
Format reviewed: Wii U eShop
Other formats available: 3DS eShop
Website: Shantae and the Pirate‘s Curse
Shantae returns to Nintendo’s consoles after her last outing in Risky’s Revenge, and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse picks up with all the favourite characters returning for another platforming adventure that borrows heavily from classic games of similar style, Castlevania and Metroid both instantly spring to mind. Can this modern iteration live up to the hefty weight of its behemoth predecessors? Well, here’s my first confession. I’ve never played a Shantae game before.
The game plays as you imagine a 2D platformer would, and the control of the titular character is tight, responsive and always accurate. It’s a little bit of a shame that the level architecture doesn’t do the same. The design of each level is delightful, and it feels nice to run around and uncover some of the secrets on offer, but all levels at some point require you to remember, sometimes through trial and error, what you can jump onto and what you can‘t. Take your Island of origin, namely Scuttle Town, the whole town resembles a Medieval Arabian town with mud coloured buildings and beautiful curved archways. The buildings are 3 stories in places, but to get to the very top requires jumping on one of the overhanging awnings, but you can stand on this one to jump up, but not all, why not all? Another example lies in the 2nd Island of your quest where the trees have a gap between the branches and the trunk. Once learnt you’ll not forget, but how was I supposed to know without visual clues. It’s a little jarring at first as there’s so much detail in the environments, and no indication without trial of what can be interacted with and what cannot.
Shantae runs around the levels whipping everything in sight with that long Genie hair of hers. That purple hair can be shampooed and creamed to provide extra strength and speed, due to a lack of tangles. Upgrades and collectibles, in this manner, pervade the adventure throughout and the game let’s you choose which upgrade you can afford, or want to save up for, at your leisure. Long range pistol attacks, floating hat moves, speed with the art of the boot, health management in the form of potions and edible delights, protective items of varying degrees that encircle you and issue damage to all and sundry, offensive power boosts, pogo stick like shenanigans to break weaker blocks beneath you, quick travel in the form of a Pirate Flare, a Genie Lamp to collect Dark Magic hidden throughout the game, and Heart Squids, four of which, when melted down, provide a very handy extra heart for Shantae. There’s a ton of items to get for the most persistent explorer and then some. But, all that item collection will ask a lot of you and your Genie soles in the form of re-treading your already well-trodden steps.
There are numerous Islands to visit and one of them is your starting location that acts as a hub, a central location to return to after completing one of the others. It’s only after beating the boss of an Island that another one opens up to explore. Each Island is based around a well-worn theme, such as Ice, Fire/Lava, Death, Resort, Desert, Arabian Peninsula, etc. Puzzles throughout each Island are simple and are based in the vast majority of cases in fetch-me bring-me quests. Find the collectible behind a destructible, or hard-to-reach, area then bring that to so-and-so, who will then give you the whats-a-me-call-it, and take that to …, and so on.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse plays its form of Metroidvania perfectly. Item upgrade progression never feels linear, and further collectible weapons will allow access to otherwise sealed off areas, and henceforth further collectibles. And that’s where this game is at its strongest and its weakest. The game must be commended for its hands free approach to gaming. At times there is absolutely no indication of where you must go to progress the story. Playing through this game will place you in countless positions where you simply won’t be able to instinctively go where you want to, and that results in you endlessly wandering around all the Islands that you have unlocked so far, in pursuit of the one character conversation that clicks the story back into life. I saw this mostly as a huge rope around the game’s neck, and at times had to revert to a guide because I just couldn’t be bothered wasting a whole gaming session just to find out what and where I was supposed to do/be next. An infuriating lack of direction which others may see as a positive hands-off experience. There is one particular section relating to buried treasure, which could be buried anywhere and you are not even told what to get or where, and then when you get the treasure what the hell do you do with it, after 30 minutes of wandering and another chance encounter, getting an item that what the hell do I do with this, stumbling into another encounter after another, is not fun if you don’t have the time to do it. If you have more time to explore every Island every time you play this, then its hands-free approach might be for you.
Playing this on the Wii U might strike some as strange as this is a game built for the 3DS first and foremost and then ported to the Wii U. And choosing the former console does come with caveats that a purchaser will have to seriously consider before delving into the eShop. I can’t speak first-hand for the 3DS version, but from second-hand sources the pixel-art perfectly matches the screen resolution and therefore the game looks and runs spectacularly well. The Wii U version I can talk of, and the port has problems in the graphical department. Don’t get me wrong it all runs flawlessly, with beautifully scrolling levels, it’s just when playing this on my 47 inch LED TV the 3DS-based graphics/pixel art were so blown up that it rendered the game a blurry heavily pixilated mess. If you’ve downloaded a GameBoy Advance game, for the Wii U, from the eShop, you know what I’m talking about. No matter how good the game is GBA games do not look good on a large TV, so they were provided with a filtering effect to round the pixilated edges making them tolerable. I wish Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse had some similar filtering technique to make the TV experience a little better. Which is where I want to cry because the level of detail in the sprite artwork, and its animation, is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful. The whole level in fact, is alive and moving, detail is everywhere. It’s such a shame that it looks so bad on a large TV.
You see, playing on the TV does add one advantage that I feel hard to live without these days (the Wii U has spoiled you Monsieur), namely a Map, Inventory, and other delights at the touch of a finger, in congruence with the game running at the same time. No requirement for pausing it, taking you out of the in-game experience, just to have a quick glance at a map or select a health upgrade. By the way, GamePad off-TV play does exist, and the game looks really nice due to the smaller screen size, and it’s what I mostly used throughout my 8-plus hours of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, but the cost, what of the cost to my sanity and my spoilt Wii U GamePad Mapping ways. I couldn’t help but wish that I was playing the 3DS version where there would have been no such conflict of gaming interests.
Conversely, the character art, that can be seen during conversations, looks absolutely beautiful on a large TV. WayForward have spent time to provide HD upgrades to all this art within the game. I just hoped that they could have done the same to the in-game graphics because this could have been a stunner throughout.
With Miiverse integration being implemented it’s nice to share a post when Shantae, et.al. ‘reveal’ something interesting. I mean reveal in the literal sense. Clothing is limited and the sense of humour throughout sticks its tongue in its cheek to help matters along. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a cheeky, and more than a few times, bawdy romp, which will leave a smile upon your scallywag of a face.
The music is delightful, and every Island’s tune is in keeping with the theme that invokes the feeling of the place, and may even change as an Island mutates during the storyline progression. My partner in crime, namely my son who overlooks some of my longer gaming sessions, when not joining in, was constantly humming along to most of the tunes, even after the game was put down. Catchy, cheerful, and always part of the scenery.
I remember The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword being heavily criticized for its use of small enclosed areas of heavily populated puzzling to open yet another small temple, itself being populated heavily with puzzles. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has a similar feeling. There is little to differentiate the over world and a temple except for a doorway leading into and outward from it. And, when I say little I mean you’ll be doing the same thing in a temple as you do outside of one. Finding collectibles, fighting enemies, and generally progressing the main story. The only difference is that a temple comes to an end when the boss fight is successfully finalized. Of which, the bosses are of exceptional quality, and varied in their attack patterns, and the approach you must take to defeat them. My only criticism of the bosses is that they can be a little too easy with all the Items at your disposal. Power Shantae up with Offensive and Defensive Items, then Max your Health out and it’s all too easy to take down even the hardest boss just by button mashing. No need for that old-school style of remembering enemy attack patterns.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a well made and solid Metroidvania action platformer. It is a homage to the old classics in the best sense of the word, but it does come with huge caveats. Namely, the sense of confusion at your lack of explanation for the next objective. If you love to explore, have a lot of time on hands to just wander and discover, then I’d highly recommend Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, which will have you covered on every base. However, if you go into this thinking you’ll have a story driven experience with a little indication of what to do next, think again. I would also ask you to think about what platform to buy this on, 3DS with pixel perfect size, and simultaneous touch screen, or the Wii U, which really needs to be played on the GamePad, but then lacks simultaneity of touch screen extras.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
Summary: A beautifully hilarious adventure through Shantae's World marred by some moments of unclear level progression that can lead to head scratching frustration on occasions.