Review: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse for Wii U

Have our wishes finally been granted?

Shantae has always been something of an outlier when it comes to my attention span in video games. Part of this is due to the original being published by Capcom for the Game Boy Color, a system that was more or less off my radar by the time its 2002 release came along. Of course, despite the acclaim the title would receive, it is also said to have a staggeringly small print run anyway, making it something of a cult classic.

Thanks to digitally-downloadable titles making self-publishing more of a thing, a sequel was released for Nintendo DSiWare in 2010, but it again fell off my radar due to only having an original Nintendo DS (not even a Lite, but the original original). By the time the Nintendo 3DS came around, both became accessible, but my focus was on other things. The praise the games had received had my interest, but the whole genie/belly dancing thing never quite hooked me, either; I wasn’t avoiding the games, but nor was I seeking them out.

However, this all changed for me upon receiving Volume 284 of Nintendo Power magazine, the next to last issue. Subscribers got a special cover each month (since subscribers had already bought it anyway, and they didn’t need to attract them the same way as newsstand buyers), and this one featured a grand image of Shantae standing atop a tower, decked out in pirate gear as she looked out towards the horizon.

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I’m not exactly a pirate fanatic, but this nonetheless appealed to me– more so with the premise explained. Shantae is a half-genie, or at least she was up until the events of the last game, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Deprived of her genie powers and against a new threat, she teams with her pirate foe Risky Boots to basically track down sources of dark magic across numerous islands. In place of her powers, she acquires pirate gear which serves various functions to help her explore, such as a pistol, sword, and a hat which allows her to glide.

I love it when enemies have to team up against a common foe, and seeing Shantae having to adapt to a new way of fighting as well seemed altogether interesting.

The result is a Metroidvania-style game, but setting it apart from its namesakes is how areas are broken up across numerous islands you must venture to. The islands themselves are quite varied, and you’ll definitely find yourself needing to backtrack and find new areas on each as you gain new powers and abilities. You’ll also encounter numerous friendly characters, many of which are in need of some sort of assistance and provide some nice and often times interesting humor in the process.

The game is challenging and responsive, but on rare occasions you’ll run into instances where some hits you take feel kind of cheap. They aren’t usually enough to ruin things alone, but they can add up– particularly when you have enemies attacking you from off-screen that you can’t hit back. Such situations can be further aggravated if you’re playing on the television while using the GamePad, as this particular configuration doesn’t allow you to pause the game while scrolling through your various menus. As a result, you’ll be trying to refill your energy while under attack, which can be a bit annoying.

Still, these instances are few and far between. The only other issue I had was that enemy difficulty seems to ramp up pretty early on, leading to a bit of a grindfest as I tried to power everything up before continuing. Fortunately, these upgrades don’t cost too much, and the game has some pretty good places to farm for currency.

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The game was originally designed for the Nintendo 3DS, but as development went on, the decision was made to bring it to the Wii U as well, which is what I’ve reviewed here. Unlike Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition, another WayForward title which made a similar jump to the HD console, the graphics here are by and large the same pixel art as seen on the handheld, minus any 3D effects that may have been implemented there. The exception to this is the character portraits, such as the one seen above, which do have a higher definition level of polish to them. The rest of the game still looks great in a more retro-styled way, but it seems that the full high definition treatment is being saved for the next game, the successfully Kickstarted Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.

That said, there is a slight nitpick I have about the visuals, and it’s more a design choice than any real flaw. As I noted, it was the visual of Shantae sporting pirate gear that really caught my attention and I was disappointed to see that she doesn’t really sport it at all throughout the game. She’ll have the equipment on her person, but it only comes out when she’s actively firing her gun, gliding with her hat, etc. The visual of her all geared up only comes up once as a quick joke in one of the HD profile close-ups, but it would have been nice to see her appearance change in a way similar to how Mega Man X’s is altered by acquiring new upgrades. Again, it’s a nitpick, but while I was disappointed by that, it was far from enough to ruin the game for me all the same.

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Incidentally– and I’ve no real opinion on the matter, but figured it’s worth addressing for those to which it might– but the game does get a bit “fan-servicey” at points. Nothing too extreme, I don’t think, but if you’re familiar with how WayForward does fanservice (see the aforementioned Mighty Switch Force, for example), then you should have an idea of what you’re getting into here. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, then great! You’re all set! If it gives you pause, on the other hand, you might want to research the matter further.

That aside, the character designs are fantastic throughout. Each is memorable in one way or another, and there is a healthy mix of the cute and the funny, along with some pretty awesome monster designs, too.

Moving past the visuals, I have to say that I have been rather charmed by the characters presented here– enough that I’m curious to learn more about them by playing the two previous games, both of which are currently available in the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s an interesting and quirky cast from top to bottom, and while many are no doubt familiar faces to fans of the earlier titles, I didn’t feel lost by much, if anything. In other words, if you’re like me and this is your first time in Sequin Land, you should do just fine.

Story-wise, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse hits just the sort of sweet spot I like: Humorous and sometimes even self-aware, but with moments of darkness and gravity that don’t venture into angst. There is danger and there are problems, some situations are even a bit dark in nature if you think about them, but it’s not bringing everyone down.

The soundtrack, composed by the ever-awesome Jake Kaufman, is a pure delight to listen to. The tunes fit the different areas you play through, and several are even likely to get stuck in your head. It’s actually been a little while between the last time I picked up the game and putting together this review, but even as I write this, I’ve got one of the tunes perpetually playing in my head. I’d be a bit more aggravated by it if I didn’t like it so much.

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After playing Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, it’s easy to see why people are so fond of WayForward’s mascot. With but a handful of quibbles, her third outing hits all the right spots, and has left me eager to play more. Classic gameplay, lovely visuals, charming characters, and a soundtrack that just won’t let go all come together to form a must-play title, especially if you enjoy the Metroidvania format or even just miss the bygone era of mascot platformers.

shantaepiratescurse_box2Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was released for the Wii U on December 25th, 2014 at a price of $19.99.

A review code was provided by WayForward.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.