Do you know what more video games need? That’s exactly right: friendly zombies. (How did you know?) Video games need more friendly zombies, disillusioned squid monsters, and other such zany nonsense. At a time when games are full of guns and gritty violence, the video game industry sure could use more silliness.
I may have found just the thing.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the latest chapter in the tale of Shantae, a chipper young genie—well, half-genie—sworn to protect the fishing village of Scuttle Town. The previous two Shantae games offered Metroidvania-style adventure and tons of charm, but both suffered from significant flaws.
Has Shantae finally hit her stride? Does this game’s quality match its endearing goofiness?
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (Nintendo 3DS eShop, 2014)
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse may not be a big game, but like its pint-sized heroine it never lacks for humor, charm, and fun.
A Pirate’s Life for She
Shantae may have lost her genie magic in a previous chapter, but she’s no less determined to protect her village. She’s astonished when her nemesis, the dread pirate
Roberts Risky Boots, sneaks into Scuttle Town and suggests a temporary truce. Shantae and Risky must work together to prevent the return of the Pirate Master, Risky’s old mentor, saving the land and perhaps even recovering Shantae’s scattered genie magic.
Shantae becomes probably the most friendly and kindhearted pirate ever to set sail. She travels from island to island, gathering Risky’s old pirate weapons, meeting bizarre people, and being totally freaking adorable.
Mechanically, Pirate’s Curse is a fine video game; more on that in a bit. Its true value, however, is in its outlandish humor and vibrant charm. The never takes itself seriously for a second, yet manages to deliver quite a touching conclusion. Getting there takes the player through all kinds of ridiculous (read: hilarious) situations.
At one point, Shantae searches for an ancient spell. She begins by sealing the smell of roasted ham in a magical lamp and releasing it near a dragon. The monster salivates hungrily and creates a pool of drool. When a pair of oblivious tourists stumble upon this convenient “swimming hole,” they strip to their swimsuits. The sunlight reflecting off their pallid skin illuminates hidden runes on a nearby wall, revealing the spell Shantae needs.
Pirate’s Curse is full of such outrageous scenes as these, and some of its humor is delightfully self-aware. One character, the monstrous Squid Baron, is a boss (extra-tough enemy) from a previous Shantae game. He spends much of Pirate’s Curse wrestling with the disillusionment and existential angst of being a low-level video-game bad guy. Shantae doesn’t seem to understand his problem, but is just as quick to comfort him as she is to fight him.
On the whole, Pirate’s Curse is as goofy and good-natured a game as any I’ve played.
Boldly Going Where Many, Many Games Have Gone Before
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse may stand out for its style and humor, but its design and mechanics are awfully familiar.
The game’s blend of exploration, platforming, combat, and puzzle-solving is nothing new. I recognized literally every mechanic in Pirate’s Curse from some other game; even Shantae’s iconic ability from previous games to transform into different animals is replaced with a more traditional setup of gathering items and equipment to reach new areas. The puzzle-packed dungeons felt like The Legend of Zelda; the sidescrolling overworld felt like Metroid; the tricky final challenges felt like Mega Man.
Although it hardly innovates, Pirate’s Curse never feels stale. It may do nothing wildly original, but what it does it does well.
I was pleased to note Pirate’s Curse corrects the flaws of its predecessors. The first Shantae game had a sprawling overworld that was frustrating to navigate; Pirate’s Curse divides the overworld into six islands, making it much easier to get around. The second Shantae game was tragically short; Pirate’s Curse, though neither so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, is a big enough game to satisfy.
I wish Pirate’s Curse contained more sidequests and optional challenges. I often revisited an island equipped with an ability for reaching new areas, eager to explore and find treasure, only to realize the unexplored areas I discovered were a necessary part of the game. On the other hand, I applaud the way the game keeps track of how many collectible bonuses are on each island. This keeps frustration to a minimum by showing players where to search, preventing them from looking for treasures that aren’t there.
The music in Pirate’s Curse is catchy; the graphics are crisp and colorful; the character designs are cute. I was, however, surprised at the… um… shapeliness of the female cast. Shantae games have always been a bit flirty. Pirate’s Curse is downright saucy. The cartoony designs are never inappropriate, but the game could definitely have shown a little less skin.
(I absolutely refuse to make a pun about pirates and booty. There are depths to which even I will not sink!)
A Pirate’s Curse Is a Player’s Blessing
It has minor flaws, and it never sails past familiar territory into uncharted waters, but Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is fun, hilarious, and absolutely a blast to play.
If you’re wishing for an upbeat adventure, something sillier than the gloomy games filling store shelves, your wish is one this particular genie—well, half-genie—may be able to grant.