Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[REVIEW] Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
Played on: Wii U (e-Shop)
Also available on: 3DS
Genre: Metroidvania platformer
Developer: WayForward / IntiCreates
Publisher: WayForward

WayForward’s Shantae is one of those series I’ve heard a lot of good things about over the years, but never actually got to play until now. Luckily for me, it seems Pirate’s Curse is the most ambitious game in the franchise so far, with a vast archipelago of quasi-seamless, differently-themed islands to explore. It’s one of those games that manage to strike the elusive balance between tight platforming, exciting exploration, and a very fair difficulty curve.

The title chatracter is a half-genie (the offspring of a genie and a human) who lost her magical powers at some point in the franchise’s storyline. To combat the rise of the undead Pirate King, she has to team up with Risky Boots, a pirate who lost her crew and weapons, and who happens to be Shantae’s original arch-nemesis.

Just how big is Risky Boot's head, anyway?

As you start the game, Shantae only has her hair whip attack to defend herself against the hordes of monsters you’ll encounter, but, true to the game’s metroidvania aspirations, each island you explore holds one of Risky Boots’ lost weapons inside a dungeon, which Shantae can use to help her in the quest. Each weapon is assigned to a different button, meaning you don’t  ever need to switch between them. All the while, the gamepad functions as a sort of backpack, holding expendable items (available to use by touching), a quest and collectibles log, and a map of each section of the world.
I feel like I've heard something like that before...

The storyline is nothing to write home about, but manages to entertain with its self-aware, silly humor. The characterization of each island is top-notch, and the platforming is very rewarding, mixing action and puzzles in a way that feels just right. Everything is in its right place, with the level design providing many of the “a-ha” moments that tend to be so enjoyable in exploration-heavy titles.

Another point of note is the soundtrack, which was written by indie darling Jake Kaufmann. From the arab touches on Shantae’s home island of Scuttle Town to moodier compositions in darker parts of the world, your ears are in for a treat. It doesn’t soar quite as high as his impeccable work on Shovel Knight, but then again not much does.

If you'll pardon the pun, things do get a bit hairy by the end.
It’s hard to find any significant problems with Shantae’s third adventure, making it a very easy recommendation for platforming fans. It’s not the most innovative game around, but it distills its metroidvania sensibilities is such a flawless way that it’s going to keep you entertained for a significant amount of time (I spent over 11 hours to get 100% without outside assistance). Add the goofy characters and clever writing and you have a title that’s quite easy to fall in love with.

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