Excellent! Bathed in the flames of battles!
Coming at you!Click and love it!Listen to my terrible English!What could it be?

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

Game by Wayforward
Reviewed by Philip "Pocket Squirrel" Wesley (Deluxe Version Review 10/23/2014)
Size: 2315 BLOCKS on the eShop. (Verified by our Download Guide)
Save: SD Card Backup/3 Slots
Released: 2014
Works with: All 3DS Models.
ESRB Rated: E10+
Rating Descriptions: Suggestive Themes, Comic Mischief
Quick Opinion (Highlight to View): Own
Discloser: A review code was provided by Wayforward, before the launch of this title, to aid in this review.
Review has been updated to reflect Additional Software Update!

Opening Snide Remarks

The first Shantae title started life as a Super Nintendo concept back in 1996, but was never developed further on that system. Many changes to the concept, most of them drastic, evolved the game until the very first Shantae title was finally born on the Nintendo Game Boy Color, published by Capcom, in 2002. The title was pretty hard to find and there was a limited amount of the game produced. This forced obscurity did not stop Wayforward's little Half-Genie that could from gaining a following of fans. Wayforward continued to explore the idea of putting out a sequel to Shantae. In 2010, a sequel to the original game was finally released on the Nintendo DSi Ware service, published by Wayforward themselves. When the Nintendo 3DS arrived, the very first Game Boy Color game was released on the Virtual Console service. It has been four years since the second game and twelve years since the first game. During that time from when the first game came out and today, Wayforward has continued to produce quality side scrolling games for portables, consoles, and mobile systems with a wide variety of interesting mechanics. Wayforward has developed extremely acclaimed titles like Contra 4, Ducktales Remastered, and Mighty Switch Force. Every good video game company has a character that embodies and represents their craft. Nintendo has Mario, UBI Soft has Rayman, Sega has Sonic, Capcom has Mega Man, and Wayforward has Shantae. Every single one of her adventures is always filled to the brim with the blood, sweat, and tears of her creators. That may be why it takes so long between her each of her games.

Before we go into the new game, it might be a good idea to take a look back at the previous two games in the series and the game mechanics they used. We will also be diving straight into story spoilers for the previous two titles and I am warning you of this now. Turn back if you have not beaten the previous two games! Turn your eyes away and go purchase those two games, finish them, and get back over here once you are done.
Such changes! Much hair! So Tan!
Shantae (2002)
This game introduced us to the world of Sequin Land and revolves around the discovery of Steam Technology. We are introduced to Shantae, the Guardian Genie of Scuttle Town. We meet Risky Boots, the Lovely Lady Looter of the High Seas.  We meet Rottytops, a Zesty Zombie who just wants to have her friends over for lunch. We also meet Mimic, Skye, and Bolo, any one of those three people could be important for some reason. The trouble begins when Shantae's caretaker, a Relic Hunter whom she calls "Uncle Mimic," discovers an ancient (Hmm..) buried blueprint for a Steam Engine. The rapacious rascal Risky right robs him of the "new "technology. Risky then goes in search of magic stones to make it more powerful in a bid for power. We are also introduced to the idea of the "Genie Realm," a place where only full genies can live, which will probably not be important for any of the other games until Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. Of course, Shantae wins the day, but that does not stop the proliferation of Steam Engine Technology.

This game features three mini-games, animal transformations based on button inputs while dancing, a day and night cycle, and enemies that take a zillion hits to kill. The game also has a "life system" and you lose a life when you fall into a bottomless pit or get hit too much and lose all of your hearts. The constant death by bottomless pits got to be a bit irritating in my opinion. When you were in towns, the game had a behind the hero look where you navigated a panorama view of the town. There were also a distinct lack of proper maps in the game.

Shantae: Risky's Revenge (2010)
The second Shantae game briefly acknowledges a few jokes from the first game and then sets up much more of a story focus.  Since Shantae defeated Risky Boots in the explosive finale of the previous game, all of the monsters in Sequin Land have been out to get her! Despite the constant harassment of our leading lady, Shantae is pretty happy. But all of that changes when Shantae's "Uncle" Mimic finds a lamp on one of his gut-clenching adventures. Never reformed rapscallion Risky steals the lamp and begins looking for Magic Seals that may unlock some power that the lamp has inside. Mimic tells Shantae that the Magic Seals are in the hands of other Relic Hunters, who refer to themselves as "Barons" and there are three Barons in Sequin Land. Shantae sets out to recover those Magic Seals and prevent Risky from using the lamp. This adventure does not end well for Shantae. If you have not played this title, I suggest that you do so before reading onwards as I have to spoil part of the ending of that game in order to explain the mechanics of this game. It is available on the Nintendo eShop, on the PC on STEAM, and the Apple iOS store as an extremely well done application that controls quite well, despite the lack of buttons.

This game ditches the day and night cycle, has an easier to traverse world, lowers the amount of hits that enemies take, removes the life system, removes the instant death by bottomless pits, and presents a map for the overworld. Although dungeons still lack a map. This game includes the ability to jump back and forth between layers of the screen at certain areas giving the game a feel similar to Wario Land on the Virtual Boy. There are even more dialog moments and there are a lot of "fetch quests" to open up areas in the game. All of it takes place on the island that Scuttle Town is on. Shantae now has the ability to swim and there is a visual cue to let you know when a pit will hurt you if you fall in it. There is more of a "speed run"
feel to the game, there is a hidden shooting section, and the panorama town navigation is gone.

Risky's Revenge also ends on a cliff hanger. Shantae ends up as a normal human girl with no magical ability, other than her ability to hit things with her hair. That lamp holds a dark secret ability of being able to absorb magic and you can kind of
guess what happened when our magical girl ends up facing off against a villain with such an item at their disposal.

It took four years of delays and development to get to this game and it will be the "final" game in the portable "trilogy" of Shantae, Shantae: Risky's Revenge, and Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. We have been waiting to see what happens next after the tragic blow dealt to Shantae at the end of Risky's Revenge.

Was the four year wait worth it?

Gameplay Description

Shantae is being tormented by dark dreams of a lonely grave calling out to her. She has been having these dreams ever since Risky Boots used a magic stealing lamp to turn Shantae into a human. These dreams are becoming more and frequent and this worries Shantae greatly. Her friends are doing their best to help her when the Ammo Baron attacks Scuttle Town. Shantae fights him off and ends up in an awful situation that threatens to ruin her life. Suddenly, Risky Boots shows up, captures Shantae, and demands the return of her troops and weapons. Of course, Shantae has no idea what she is talking about, but a quick trip to Mimic's lab reveals that Risky's Tinkerbats are becoming "Cacklebats" due to a terrible amount of dispersed dark magic swelling around the grave of the Pirate Master. That grave is the same one that has been haunting Shantae's every repose. Teaming up with Risky, against her better judgment, Shantae is tasked with finding and destroying the pits of dark energy that the Pirate Master is gathering power from before it is too late. She must also find maps for the islands around Scuttle Town, collect treasure, rescue (sort of) adorable Heart Squids, and cleanse 20 hidden Cacklebats by using the lamp to capture the Dark Magic inside of those Cacklebats. Along the way, Shantae will find pirate equipment that allows her to access new areas and traverse the various obstacles in her way.

The majority of the game is a side scrolling, exploration based platformer with an emphasis on collection. The gameplay is occasionally broken up with a few sections like an impromptu stealth section, and an area where you run
through a gauntlet of obstacles that you can not fight against. The world is broken up into different themed islands that you can freely visit once you have found a map to them. Each island has a set amount of hidden Heart Squids (which you can collect to increase your health), Cacklebats, and a few mini dungeons, bosses, and so forth. There are instances where you need take objects to other characters on other islands to advance the plot as well.

The basic flow of the game follows this formula: You arrive on a new island, discover an event on the island, then find the main dungeon of the island. Each main dungeon contains a map of the dungeon, keys, and various obstacles to overcome before taking on a screen filling boss character in order to get another map to find the next island. In between these sections, you will collect money to upgrade your weapons, discover hidden dungeons, and partake in mostly funny, often slightly dark, story sequences. The inclusion of a map inside of each dungeon is a huge deal for this game, although I did find a fairly large hidden dungeon modeled after the Game Boy Color levels that did not contain a map. I will not tell you where that one is, you have to discover it yourself.

There are quite a few sections of the game that are tough because of spikes, pits, and other obstacles. Once you get the hang of it, you may be able to just soar through a lot of the game very quickly. I played through the game multiple times before doing this review and some areas are pretty frustrating the first time through, but once you learn their rhythm, you can blaze through them and look impressive doing it. This is a sign of excellent level design and a fair sense of balance. You are only as good as the skills you have developed through playing the game.

There are a few complaints that will have to get addressed in the Gameplay and Play Control section of this review. I would like to state that I did enjoy the story of the game a lot. It feels great to revisit these characters and see how they have progressed since the very first game. Although the story of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse requires you to have some knowledge of the events from the second game to fully appreciate the story, you could use the paragraphs at the beginning of this review to catch up to speed. You will mostly understand the story, but it really helps to at least play through the second game. Story elements aside, the game stands on its own as a challenging, entertaining, and worthwhile experience.

Liked: I love the little references to the previous titles, the new powers and areas were superb. The platforming sections were great, each of the power ups are useful, and the bosses have interesting patterns designed to make it possible to take them down with out getting hit. The story is charming and full of the same, slightly off, undertone of franchises like Bone or Adventure Time. Seriously, the world that Shantae inhabits is built on the remains of technology, which would make the setting of Shantae a POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD. I love those kinds of stories a lot, so that just casts a smile on my face, and a little tear in my eye. Please consider the fact that Shantae seems to be the only Half-Genie as well. This would make her the adorable Vampire Hunter D of Sequin Land. There are hints through out the series that something catastrophic happened to prevent full Genies from living in the same dimension as the "people" of Sequin Land. If you read more in to the game, you are going to get some interesting hints and insight into the pasts of Risky Boots, Shantae, Rottytops (Poor Rottytops), and many of the other characters in this game. (Rottytops is my favorite character in the whole series.)

Hated: There is a stealth section and a "running" section in the game that I feel were, by far, the weakest parts in the game. There are some issues with the play control/game design of the game as well. From a socially concerned perspective, this game has a little bit of fan service in the character design that some people may feel uncomfortable with. If you are a person who was shocked and appalled by the costume Princess Leia had in Return of the Jedi, than you will probably feel the same way about the character designs in this game. (You also have my pity.)

Graphics Description

There is not enough nope for what is happening here.

The expanded resolution of the Nintendo 3DS is used to give more space for Shantae and this factors into the game play by allowing screen filling enemies and lush locales. Each island has a distinct theme to it: A lush tropical paradise, a graveyard, a frozen wasteland, a Hellish underworld of Lost Souls, and more! The character animation is smooth and everything moves at an excellent frame rate even in 3D. I have to comment on the 3D in this game because it is some of the best subtle 3D I have seen in a while. Areas are layered and detailed with surprising use of 3D elements to liven up the landscapes. When in a conversation with other main characters, there are superb character portraits with varied emotions and some visually creative character designs. There is also some, slightly questionable application of 3D to these character portraits. The game has a very realized art style and world that works incredibly well for it. The enemies are all very animated and there is very little reuse of enemy assets. That said, some enemies have only evolved just slightly from their appearances in Risky's Revenge and that seems a little unfortunate.

Evil frogs in paradise.
Another day in paradise ruined by these things.
My greatest hope is that he is not a dungeon as well.
I wonder if he dislikes smoke?
I wonder if he owns a submarine...
Shantae beats up a Blue Meanie with the power of head banging.

Liked: Excellent use of 3D in the environments and the little animations. For example, in the first area you play through, Shantae kicks up bits of dust when she jumps on stairs in the area. The dust clouds are on what appears to be two different layers giving them a three dimensional feel when the 3D is on. The particle effects in this game are superb. Another example would be the subtle moving in and out of layers that the floating, transparent skulls over bottomless pits do in the game. I loved the island navigation graphics with Risky, which is a call back to the town navigation in the first game. Everything seems so vibrant and alive...

So mooody.
This looks like a job for IKEA.

Hated: Except that the close up character sprite portraits do not move. I still want them to move, blink, or otherwise animate. Some of the enemies that are reused from previous games appear to be barely upgraded from their Risky's Revenge incarnations.
Risky Boots/Rottytops 2016!
Seems legit.

Sound/Music Description

The newest addition to the game are small sound clips with Cristina Vee, the voice actor for Shantae. While that is pretty great, it would be even better if there were full voice acting or some sort of Banjo-Kazooie esque chatter with some of the characters. The voice acting is limited to a few phrases here and there from Shantae, but it would also help to have that limited voice acting on other characters as well. Even if it means that Matt Bozon would have to voice Mayor Scuttlebutt or they make Tomm Hulett voice Bolo. Just a little more voice acting would be some pretty great icing on an otherwise superb audio cake. The folly and sound effects are appropriate and have a good weight to them. When you hit something like a wall, it sounds like hit a wall, and not something else. I have to say that the sound made when speeding through enemies with your sword is satisfying since it has that same feel, sound wise, as breaking through walls in the original Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis.

Now let us talk about the music in this game.
There are some subtle dub step drops mixed into some of the music, but it works a lot better than that sentence sounds. The slow and moody compositions are superb, the action music and boss music is suitably intense, and there is not a bad track in the entire game. Some of it is not very memorable though, but it is incredibly good. Let us face the awful truth here, Jake "Virt" Kaufman makes excellent music that fits the games he composes the music for and this is no exception.

Liked: When companies hire Virt for their game, the music is always a high point in that game, and there are some awesome tracks in Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. Jake Kaufman is the Shoji Meguro of the West. His compositions are always appropriate, feel epic, and are always top tier. Get a good pair of headphones and crank it up. I also loved Cristina Vee's vocals for Shantae, even though her voice acting was limited in use.

Hated: That limited voice acting that feels more like a tease than anything else. Only have vocalizations and statements from Shantae makes the other characters seem a bit flat. I want to hear the sultry sounds of Risky Boots (who should totally be voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn), the playfully hungry voice of Rottytops, the "Paris from Gilmore Girls"-Esque complaints of Skye, and the general awkwardness of Bolo. I hate that I am denied the audio pleasure of hearing these characters vocally come to life.

Play Control/Game Design

This game feels like a natural evolution from Risky's Revenge in terms of size, scope, and content. The introduction and inclusion of the Pirate Weapons is an inspired choice. The level design allows for a lot of creative exploration and the ability to choose how you upgrade allows people to make the game tougher or easier depending on how much time they put into it. When you beat the game the first time, there is a mode that is ready made for sequence breaking and speed running. The levels are designed in a way that starting in that special mode means you can access the bosses in each main dungeon fairly quickly. You can choose to upgrade your weapons and health in a way that feels natural, but the game is more challenging if you choose to forgo those upgrades. It almost feels like there is not enough save points for all of the different ways to play through this game. Do you want to try and beat it with just two hearts? Try beating it in less than three hours? Go for it! The game is designed to be flexible and encourage multiple play through sessions. The ability to skip through dialogue with the START button and do some fairly clever sequence breaking means that this game will make speed runners extremely happy.

The navigation between islands is easy
and it keeps track of the Heart Squids and Cacklebats that you have found on each island. The back and forth nature of finding items is entirely up to you in certain instances, although you will need to deliver some items to certain characters to progress the plot. This takes up a lot less time than it did in Risky's Revenge. The inclusion of items that warp you back to your boat are also appreciated.

However, the navigation between items in the bottom screen menu is dreadful.
You have to tap left or right on the
touch screen to move between the Inventory, Key Items, and Map. In order to use an item in your inventory, you need to tap it once and then tap it again to activate it. This is actually quite difficult to do in the heat of combat, especially when trying to do a two heart run on the game. On the original 3DS and 3DS XL, the movement to tap that item can also break the 3D effect. The lack being able to conveniently select, cue up, and use an item is troubling.

UPDATE: As of the 02.02 Update: Circle Pad Pro support has been added to the game that allows Bottom Screen Menu navigation with the second stick and activation by taping ZR+ZL at the same time. This is much easier to use.

Liked: Flexible game design means that there is plenty of replayability to this game. The play control is responsive and fairly precise, which allows you to make some truly stunning moves to get past some of the trickier areas. Hit detection is also forgiving and there is an item to prevent "fall back" deaths. There is an item that allows you to float and an item that allows a kind of special jump. If you have the fall back item, hitting the button at the right time in a hard damage animation will pop you back up right and you can tap into any of those jump moves to escape. There is also a dodge move that you can purchase that can be used, along with creative damage taking, to force Shantae into areas of the screen she should not be able to reach yet. You can sequence break with the special mode, or inside of the main game by taking advantage of some of the animation hit boxes. You can think of these exploits as kind of like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls. Also, the Bubble Shield, Monster Milk, Auto-Potion, and Pike Balls are so good. There are bosses that fill the screen with bullets that the Bubble Shield can temporarily block. Keep that in mind if you are trying to do a two heart run through the game.

Hated: Selecting inventory via the touch screen is awkward in a bad way.

Improve (Free Ideas For Game Designers!)

The addition of blinking or slight moving animation in the close up character portraits and the inclusion of more voice acting would improve the story presentation in this game greatly and my headphones would be so grateful.

But the biggest improvement would be to use the Circle Pad Pro attachment
or the additions that the newest revision to the Nintendo 3DS adds. Mainly the ZL, ZR, and second slide pad/camera stick. It would be pretty simple to add too. Just let ZL and ZR allow you to switch between the Map, Inventory, and Key Items screen. You select items with the second slide pad/camera stick and then you push ZR and ZL together to activate the selected item in your Inventory. An even better use would be to move the Map screen to the SELECT button. Just tap the select button to display the map on the bottom screen and then tap SELECT again to hide the map. Tap ZL to switch between Inventory and Key Items. Select an Inventory item with the second slide pad/camera stick and tap ZR to use the item.

UPDATE: As of the 02.02 update, the game adds the features mentioned in this review! I have bolded what was added. Both Select and Start still just bring up the continue/quit option. Maybe for 03.03? Also, blinking needs to happen!

I would like to talk a bit about the tone of the narrative in this game.
Some of the dialogue hints and teases at darker things under the surface of this bright colorful world. I play through these games waiting for that gut punch moment where some of the darker elements just click into place. The characters are there, the music is there, the graphics (especially later in the game) are there, and the narrative just continues to poke at the edges of what could be some pretty heart breaking revelations. This game came so close in spots and just seems to "dance" around obviously dark material. Shantae is a bundle of insecurities behind an otherwise young, hopeful, and trusting personality. When she hits the low point at the end of the second game, I was expecting her to grow more as a character in this game. Does she do that? Yes, but I feel that the story has earned a chance to make very bold character choices. If anything, it makes me all the more excited to see what Shantae's next adventure will hold for her and her friends. (Especially Rottytops.)

Another missed opportunity would be that there were not enough dungeon specific obstacles or hazards.
In some levels, there are weird plant monsters that shoot your character around at high speed ala certain levels of Mighty Switch Force. I would have really loved to see a level with the circle gravity from Mighty Milky Way, the gravity shifting of Wendy's Every Witch Way, or an area with the plane jumping from Risky's Revenge. I feel that the "stealth" level would have been improved by having the level revolve around a set of dual switches that opens the doors. In that level, there could have been one more character to control and you could have been able to switch between the characters to find and hit the switches without getting caught. That would have been an interesting mechanic. Of course, I am saying all of this after it has taken the team at Wayforward about four years to produce this game. If people listened to me, they would never be able to release a game, ever!

RIYL (Recommended If You Like...)

The easy answer would be Castlevania or Metroid. This game certainly has a narrative feel similar to Metroid Fusion or Metroid Zero Mission. But I would never call it a MetroidVania. If anything, I would call the Shantae series of titles a BouncyVania because the mood of the game is light, fun, and adorably bouncy with levity. If you enjoyed the previous Shantae games, you will love this game. The honest answer is that you will love this game if you enjoyed the Mega Man Zero or Mega Man ZX series of games. The feel of the Mega Man Zero series, in particular, stands out to me as a series that was not afraid to take bold steps with the characters in that series.

Final Words

I hope that some day, Wayforward takes the risk and breaks our hearts with a narrative choice. They have earned it in their story telling and place setting to be able to do that kind of thing. Besides, we have so much we still want to know about our characters. What were they like as kids? Why are they the way they are now? You have this brilliant world and these charming characters inside of it who are one of the main reasons that I love this series. The other reason I keep looking forward to new installments in this franchise is that the game always has fantastic platforming action with a lot of challenge and heart to it.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse does justice to the games that came before it, while expanding the characters in its world in terms of depth. The only issues I have with the game are that it still has a bit of room to grow in presentation and the inventory management is just awkward in this game due to the increased speed and fluidity of the game play. The navigation between levels on the boat was a wonderful call back to the first game town navigation and pleased me greatly. I thoroughly enjoyed this game and I feel that it is worth your time and hard earned gold to dive back into Sequin Land for this jaunty romp of a game.

UPDATE: The bottom menu navigation has been improved as of update 02.02, but I still feel that my original score for the game is fair. I love that companies go back and improve their released work and I look forward to adding those updates to these reviews in the future.

Gameplay: *****
Graphics: ****
Sound/Music: *****
Play Control/Game Design: ****
Value: *****

Star Total: 69
Personal Opinion Merit: 21
Final Score Tally: 91%
3DS Ware
DSi Ware
Game Boy
Game Boy Color
Game Boy Advance
Other Virtual Boy
Game.Com Game Gear
Lynx Neo Geo Pocket/Color
PSP Minis