Remember when video games were fun? I feel like, in recent years, that fun has been lost in endless streams of online competition, AAA graphics, and social media. Although I have enjoyed many games in recent years, I’d have to say that games that are just “fun to play” have been few and far between.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has been one of those games for me. It brings me back to my childhood with its bright colours, stunning graphics, incredible music, and addictive gameplay.
Let me stop gushing for a minute, and look at Shantae with a more critical eye.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the third in the little-known Shantae series. The original game, Shantae, was released on the Game Boy Colour in 2002, after the release of the Game Boy Advance. So while it was very well received by critics, most people have never heard of it, as they had moved on to the new kid on the block. The sequel, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, was released in 2010 for DSiWare. So, again, it didn’t make much of a splash. Following the huge success of the Shovel Knight Kickstarter, Way Forward began another – for a new sequel in the Shantae series. This also met with great success, and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was released October 23, 2014 in North America. Last month, the game was released in PAL territories.
To me, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse perfectly captures what a side-scrolling action game should be. By today’s standard, it would be classified as a “Metroidvania” game. Honestly, though, it reminds me more of games like Tombi! on the PlayStation. As you meet and speak to people, you’re given miniature quests to complete. Most are simple fetch quests, but it never felt too forced. The excellent writing staff at Way Forward have truly brought their A game, here.
Every character, even the NPCs, all FEEL like a unique character in the universe. They have their own personalities. The dialogue is witty, engaging, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. Take, for example, one of the early quests. An NPC drops a brochure in the sewer and asks you to fetch it for him, as it’s important. So, naturally, you head down to the sewers and fight your way through hordes of enemies to recover it. Once you’ve brought it back to him, he merely laughs at you, saying that it was the perfect way to hand out brochures.
Speaking of bringing their A game, Way Forward has once again enlisted the efforts of one Jake Kaufman (who has written soundtracks for Mighty Switch Force, Double Dragon Neon, and most recently, Shovel Knight), a man who is quickly becoming my favourite composer. It’s not often that I immediately seek out the soundtrack once I hear a few songs from a game. Every single track in the game perfectly fits the area that it’s composed for. It reminds me of early Megaman games, where the soundtrack felt almost symbiotic. The best part is, Jake Kaufman offers all the soundtracks he’s written on his site, and you can name your own price. This means that, yes, you can even refuse to donate and still download his soundtracks. However, they are simply incredible. I highly recommend supporting his work.
The combat also reminds me of the early Megaman titles from the NES. You move left and right, you jump, you whip your hair back and forth (no, seriously, your main method of attack is whipping your hair) and that’s about it. It’s addicting in its simplicity. There’s no cheap enemy AI that can kill you instantly. You know exactly what you’re bringing into the battle and if you get hurt, it’s your own fault. Combat isn’t exactly difficult – most enemies only taking up to three quick hits to be defeated. Some may say this makes the game easy. I say this helps the game move along at a very fluid pace. You retrieve a pistol a short way into the game, although it’s true purpose (for the most part) lies in some light puzzle solving. Nothing truly cryptic, but enough to make you stop and think, at least for a few seconds.
I absolutely adore the art style in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Bright, vivid colours practically burst out of the screen. The animation of sprites is incredibly fluid. Watching Shantae get knocked back, and actually fall onto her back and pull herself back up is amazingly well done. It’s a far cry from the old “get knocked back, blink, and take no damage for a second” style of a lot of side scrollers.
It’s probably obvious by now, but I absolutely ADORE Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Apart from the main plot, you can track down all the Heart Squids (essentially Pieces of Heart a la Zelda), Dark Magic (acquired from Cacklebat enemies, of which there are 20 in the game), or power up Shantae’s hair with Shampoo (…yes. I know). There’s a fair amount of content here. For the $20 AUD asking price, I think it’s more than a fair trade.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has reminded me that games don’t need to have a super serious story, deeply involved combat, or even non-stop action to be incredible. The main thing to take away is that games are made to be FUN. And, at least for me, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse reminds me of a time when all games were fun.