Happy New Year, dear readers! While blaming 2016 for any and all minor inconveniences has become something of a meme, I personally hope everyone does their part to make 2017 a fantastic year. With any luck, my state’s baseball team won’t get cucked out of the world series again, the new Legend of Zelda game will release before the heat death of the universe and maybe my neighbors will stop hosting orgies every Saturday morning. Regardless of whatever comes to pass, we’ll do our part to bring you the same content you’ve come to associate us with over the almost two years we’ve been active.
Which is exactly why we’re kicking off 2017 with a review of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.
Before you say anything, let’s not split hairs over this one. I know it’s a bit of a weird choice that our first review of the Shantae series would be of the final game in the original trilogy. Sadly, I don’t make the rules, I just adhere to them. If I made the rules around here, every week would be MILF and pizza week. While it’s going to be hard to try discussing Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse on its own merits without drawing comparisons and contrasts to the first two games, Shantae and Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, I’ll try my best.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was developed by Wayforward Technologies, as with the other games in the Shantae series. Wayforward’s specialty used to be licensed shovelware, but Shantae was the one exception to this rule, proving that the company was capable of something greater. Since the troubled release of the original game and its sequel, the series (and Wayforward itself, for that matter) has gotten much better footing in the gaming world. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was announced in the November 2012 issue of Nintendo Power, better known as “the very last issue of Nintendo Power ever made.” While the game was delayed several times, presumably due to recruiting an artist from Inti Creates and shifting teams to work on the upcoming Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, it was eventually released on October 23rd, 2014 on the Nintendo 3DS. It would later be ported to the Nintendo Wii U, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and, shockingly enough, the Amazon Fire TV.
Pictured: My exact reaction to this game existing on the Amazon Fire TV
The story of the Shantae series revolves around the half-genie protagonist, Shantae, and her adventures through Sequin Land as she uses her magic and her hair to protect Scuttle Town from the wretched claws of Risky Boots, the pirate captain. This game, however, changes up quite a lot about the standard Shantae formula, including the basic premise followed by the first two games. Following the events of Risky’s Revenge, Shantae is adapting to a new life in a new Scuttle Town, now solely owned by the sole-eyed soul known as the Ammo Baron. Things quickly escalate, however, as Shantae is captured by Risky Boots and accused of stealing her men and pirate equipment. After a brief scuffle, it’s made clear that an ancient, dormant entity known as the Pirate King is responsible for the theft, sending Risky into alert. Shantae, being the do-gooder she is, refuses to let Risky shove off on her own to tackle this mysterious new threat, and coerces Risky into letting her tag along. So begins the journey of enemies-turned-allies, as they sail across the seven seas to prevent the deceased Pirate King from being revived.
While that’s the condensed version of how Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse starts off, it does the writing of this game no justice. Wayforward is home to three exceptional things: humorous, cheeky writing; sublime 2D artwork; and loads of cute girls. While the game can get fairly dark towards the end, the tone is overall very lighthearted and goofy, such as when Shantae tries on Risky’s pirate clothes and notes how some of them are too big for her, or when Rottytops attempts to make a pun, only to be cut off by a frustrated Shantae. Each character feels unique and quirky, from the incompetent Bolo to the self-aware Squid Baron. Even the situations you’ll find yourself playing through can be ridiculous, like when you present the smell of ham to a giant creature so that it salivates a waterfall, filling up a pool for two girls to strip down and play in, which causes the sun’s rays to reflect off their skin and onto a nearby tablet, giving you a spell you need for progression.
If that description did not sell you on this game’s writing, I truly don’t know what will.
In all these years, I’m shocked nobody’s put a lewder spin on this scene yet.
Moving onto gameplay, the Shantae series has traditionally been exploration-based, similar to what you’d expect from the later Castlevania games and Super Metroid, as those are the only examples I can ever seem to come up with. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse takes things in a slightly different direction, in that the progression is still based on exploring areas and backtracking at certain junctures, but areas are now segmented into islands, rather than interconnected parts of the same island. While this means the world feels more linear and level-based, it also means each island is more a gauntlet of unique obstacles to overcome as you make your way to the dungeons. This can range from a short-lived stealth section in Tan Line Island, to the punishing enemies of Mud Bog Island.
Each island also hosts a dungeon, where the pacing is slower and obstacles are abundant. These dungeons are tightly tailored to Shantae’s current capabilities, and tend to follow the formula of “unlock doors, get item, beat boss, leave.” Unlike its predecessors, the dungeons in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse are more action-oriented, rather than puzzle-oriented. There will still be times you have to stop and think about just what you need to do for progression, but the pacing generally never stops because you’re struggling to whip an eye into a statue correctly. In fact, save for one or two instances, the pacing in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels just right; very rarely do some island-specific segments overstay their welcome. If anything, early islands go by a tad too quickly, like Saliva Island and Spiderweb Island.
Amazing how this one brisk rave in the grave sparked as much fan content as it did.
Since Shantae can’t use her magical abilities in this game, she’s forced to rely on her extreme head-banging abilities and whatever she can get her hands on. While this includes single-use items like the pike ball and bubble, it also includes Risky Boot’s lost equipment, from hat to her shoes. Risky’s gear is the replacement for animal transformations in this game, though unlike animal transformations, using Risky’s gear is as easy as pushing the corresponding button. With the exception of the pistol, all of her gear gives Shantae another new movement option, from the ability to gently parachute over chasms, to dashing past every enemy in sight. By the end of the game, you have so many ways to maneuver around the world that it’s almost a shame there’s not a whole lot left to do.
Unless, of course, you replay the game on Pirate Mode, giving you all of Risky’s gear at the beginning of the game.
I’ve got a handful of sword and a headful of mad!
If you’re into replaying these types of exploration-based games, Pirate Mode is an absolute blast to run through. It’s in this mode where you can appreciate the level design and tell Wayforward consciously designed parts of the game with this mode in mind. Getting those optional 100% speedrun and normal speedrun CGs won’t be easy unless you know the routes and the shortcuts. Even if you’re not into routing out a speedrun for these types of games, replaying the game with Risky’s equipment is a delight in its own right. Something about stampeding through screens you’re not supposed to and triple-jumping to skip half a dungeon fills me with an exuberance that other games in the series don’t quite catch. The only shame is that the game’s structure prevents you from sequence breaking to tackle areas out of the intended order. In that regard, it’s nowhere near the level of something like, say, Rabi-Ribi.
Unfortunately, Geoffrey here is incapable of defending himself as he has no upwards range of motion.
This being the first review of a Wayforward review we’ve done, it’s absolutely worth overstating how fantastic Wayforward’s pixel art is. While Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse reuses several assets from Risky’s Revenge, those assets had silky smooth animation for a mere Nintendo DSi game. The new assets created are just as much a treat to look at, whether they’re monstrous enemies, imposing bosses, humorous NPCs, or the plethora of cute girls present in the game, bouncing and bobbing all around. The illustrations are of particular note, as well, having been handled by Makoto Yabe of Inti Creates. Makoto’s art is easy on the eyes and works well within the world of Shantae. It’s expressive and characterful without sacrificing artistic quality, something previous games had a harder time balancing.
Jake “virt” Kaufman returns to the helm as the composer in this game, and his work is absolutely fantastic here. While not my favorite soundtrack of his, it’s easily one of the best out of any Wayforward game. The soundtrack in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a lot like the ideal lady: usually extremely energetic and upbeat, but appropriately serious when needed. The story in this time around can get darker than any other game in the series to date, and the soundtrack can drag you there without sacrificing any of its quality. Whether it’s mysterious, adventurous, relaxing, comical, downright bumpin’ or even a remix of an older song, Jake Kaufman nails it every time.
HIKARI NI NAREEEEEE
You’re probably wondering just how Shantae could possibly meet our signature standard for lewdness, but it definitely edges past that line. In fact, for a series that’s usually so upbeat and lighthearted in tone, it’s a bit jarring how exposed the main character is. This time around, the titillating experiences are gonna come from Makoto Yabe’s artwork, as well as the character animations. While not on the same risque level of other ecchi games we’ve covered in the past, there’s certainly not a whole lot left to your imagination with some of these character designs. Hell, the game even throws Shantae and her friends into even skimpier outfits at one point, if you can even imagine that.
And yet this scene still has no doujin based on it.
There are some minor hang-ups I have with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, namely baffling enemy placement and questionable implementation of special items. Completing Pirate’s Curse 100% requires not only finding all the collectibles, it also requires buying every upgrade in the store, which will require farming for money at some point. While item drops aren’t all that rare, enemies are fairly stingy with money when compared to Risky’s Revenge. As a result, most of the upgrades you can buy in the store become worthless, since you’re certainly not gonna buy the upgrades for your pistol over the two hair upgrades, which you’ll ultimately get way more mileage out of. The only other items in the store of practical worth are super monster milk and super pike balls, which can be obtained as rare item drops from certain enemies anyway. Even if you do grind out for some of those other items, like the backdash or side kick, they’re practically worthless on their own merits.
While it’s certainly a hair different and faster-paced than its siblings, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse continues the series’ trend of mixing up the formula and does so with style. With fantastic music, eye-catching visuals, charming characters, entertaining writing and addictive gameplay, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels like a very tight package across every category. For as much praise as I lavish it with, the $19.99 price tag is a bit hefty when the game is only eight hours on the first playthrough, and only a quarter on subsequent runs. If you know where to look, you can find lengthier games with more depth around the same price point, lewd or otherwise. Regardless, if you enjoy games like Demon’s Crest, Rabi-Ribi, or Kurovadis, consider picking this one up.