Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse PS4 Review
2D Platformers are kind of like the Schrodinger’s Cat of videogames: neither alive nor dead, but continuing to exist in a universe where both concepts are valid. As far as Triple-A publishers go, 2D Platformers are a thing of the past, with only the occasional Mario or Sonic title paying tribute while many classic cornerstones of the genre (including Metroid and Mega Man) go tragically ignored. Yet many Indie developers keep the spirit of 2D alive, going so far as to utilize retro-styled sprites to perfectly recreate the nostalgic love, even if the pixels in question tend to be misrepresented (slapping a bunch of pixels together does not automatically make a game “8-bit”, a fact many Indie devs fail to recognize).
Much like the titular half-genie herself, the Shantae series falls somewhere in the middle, not quite a Triple-A creation but with enough publisher connections to place it a bit higher above most independently-developed games. The origins of the Shantae franchise are even more bizarre, with the first game launching on the tail-end of the Gameboy Color’s lifecycle; amazingly, the game received enough of a cult following that it moved toward greener and more modern pastures instead of fading away like so many 2D mascots. Originally released in 2014 on the Wii U and 3DS, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse marks the third game in the series starring the cutie genie in 2D, and has made its way to the Playstation 4 nearly two years after.
Shantae and the Pirate’s curse follows the events of the previous game, Risky’s Revenge, which culminated with the titular half-genie having to sacrifice her genie powers. While adjusting to life as a human, Shante’s town erupts in cannon fire courtesy of the Ammo Baron, who it turns out actually owns the town legally and is proceeding with the renovation (by blowing everything up). While Shantae is forced to await her day in court for interfering, she is approached by her old nemesis Risky Boots, the buxom pirate whole stole her lamp in the previous games. According to Risky, an even deadlier enemy known as the Pirate Master is planning his resurrection, which puts everyone in jeopardy, Risky included. Forming an uneasy alliance, Shantae must travel to several islands in order to collect intel (and of course, power-ups) in order to find the location of the Pirate Master’s grave and prevent his dark resurrection.
Designed with a clearly Anime-influenced aesthetic, Shantae’s cast of characters range from all sorts of colorful and cute characters, not to mention a rather copious amount of sex appeal. Mercifully, Shantae’s cheesecake is also played in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and for the most part manages that balance pretty well thanks to some smart writing and characterization. Many wacky situations occur throughout the journey, from having to escort a young zombie girl through a series of obstacles or escaping an Egyptian-like cult that mistakes Shantae as their long-lost princess. The playfulness and optimism also carries over to the visuals, which feature happy, bouncy (both in the literal and fanservice sense) animations for both characters and enemies. It’s a visually endearing look, even if the pixelated graphics often clash with the high-res artwork and text.
The game itself borrows many platforming elements from classic games, including the now commonly-named Metroidvania series of open-ended platformers. While not quite as expansive as other games that share that classification, Shante and the Pirate’s Curse still features the usual secrets and areas requiring a certain power-up in order to access. Speaking of which, the character’s trademark attack is whipping out her long hair, which gets the job done with most encounters but eventually requires an expansion of arsenal courtesy of Risky’s treasures scattered throughout each area. Such weapons include her long range pistol, her enormous hat (which is used for gliding in the air), a sword serving as a Ducktales-inspired pogo stick, and so on. There are also additional upgrades such as increasing the speed and strength of Shantae’s hair to collecting Squid Hearts in order to increase her maximum life.
Anyone with even a modicum of platformer experience will feel right at home with Shantae’s controls, though a couple of persistent issues keep it from being a perfect love letter to 2D classics; one of the most frequent issues lie in the game’s use of background perspective, where some enemies and platforms look capable of interaction only for players to discover that they are part of the background. This can be especially annoying with enemy types who cannot be harmed but can certainly harm Shantae if players make contact. There is also the occasional roadblock, where players require a certain item from one of the NPCs, but in order to retrieve that item they must have also retrieved a previous item to trade with them. Anyone who has played The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening will find this item trading concept the most familiar, though in that game the extended item trading was entirely optional. While Shantae’s world is compact enough that back-tracking takes little time, there are occasions where the clues on who to talk to next aren’t always laid out.
Quibbles aside, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is still a breath of fresh air for the buried concept of sprite-based 2D platformers. The aesthetic is cute, the characters are fun, and the gameplay matches up, even if the controls don’t always feel quite as precise (particularly when jumping and attacking at the same time). In an era deprived of 2D mascots and platformers, it’s refreshing to see something like Shantae continue to persist and impress, and strengthens the anticipation for the kickstarter-funded sequel.