Wayforward once again shows why they are the masters of 2 dimensions with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. If you are a fan of 2D side-scrolling platformers you are going to want to download this game ASAP. Shantae takes the very best of what the series is known for and brings us one of the cutest, most gorgeous pixel based games to ever hit Steam. While Shantae may be relatively new to PC gamers, this series started way back on the Game Boy color. That first game in the series pushed the GBC to its limits and has gone down as a bonafide classic and this one looks to do the same.
Every single part of this game simply oozes quality and style. The game itself is a gorgeous pixel lovers paradise full of amazingly detailed animations and bright vibrant colors. Likewise the controls are silky smooth and Shantae moves extremely well and is extremly responsive. The years of Wayforward working on these kind of games have paid off because Shantae really feels like the culmination of the years of work that Wayforwad has been putting in.
The story itself isn’t anything special, but it’s in the way that it’s told that really makes this game work. You are Shantae, a former genie that is now mortal. The world is once again in peril with the return of Dark Energy and the game follows a pretty cut and dry path. The interstitial panels that pop up giving more information into said story are what are really special. The art is simply beautiful with an anime style that looks stunning in HD. While having the art in this super HD anime style can be a bit jarring with the retro-inspired pixel graphics, you’ll quickly find that it blends well after quickly getting used to it.
Gameplay is what the series is known for and while nothing out of the ordinary for this outing, it’s as solid as ever. You will travel across a number of islands (worlds) and collect heart creatures that can be used to up your HP, pick up gems to buy new equipment and upgrade abilities, and earn new weapons locked away in pirate chests. The progression is very smooth and while the game is fairly linear, when you collect new abilities and weapons, new paths will be available to you on previous islands. While Shantae isn’t the hardest game around the enemy progression will be upped with every new island to keep players on their toes.
Each island in the game can be pictured like a world in Mario Bros. Each has a distinct look and feel that give Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse incredible variation. Finishing each island isn’t going to take all that long, but the games pacing feels near perfect. You won’t find yourself getting bored at any point in your adventure as just when things get a bit stale, the game moves you along onto something brand new. Each island is simply a blast to play, but you’ll have to remember to collect gems to upgrade your abilities as the later levels will require you to be in top form.
What I also love is that Shantae does not hold your hand from the moment the game starts. No NPC coming about to tell you how to play the game or how to get things done. It’s pretty great as it wouldn’t make much sense since this is the third game in the series, but it means that you’ll be learning as you go. The initial islands are pretty easy because of this and are there to let you get your bearings and practice how to play. Design wise it could have done a little more to show you when you use abilities, but for the most part it works very well.
It is rare that a game comes around that nails it on all accounts, and it’s even more rare when said game is a 2D side-scroller. Every character is absolutely charming and memorable. Even the games random NPC’s are distinctive and make you want to talk to everyone just to see what they have to say. The writing is light and upbeat, but has this humorous style that has characters often breaking the 4th wall to hit with clever jokes. Sure, Shantae may look like what many consider a kids games, and while it can be enjoyed by a younger audience, its writing elevates it by having a lot of adult situations that are fun, but aren’t so overt to be a problem for parents.
The sound and music also get top marks with the games soundtrack easily getting stuck in your head. The games sound are fantastic and blend in well with each level. If anything I would have loved to have seen the games dialogue get some voice-over work for this PC port. Still, it’s all just done so darn well that you’ll be demanding that Wayforward bring Shantae’s past exploits to Steam.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the kind of game that needs to be in everyone’s collection. It lets you learn by doing which builds the game to be a much more rewarding experience than most games of today that guide you from start to finish. Sure, the grinding you’ll have to do to net all the upgrades that you’ll need can be a bit of a pain, but the games islands are so gorgeous that I never found the grind that big of a problem. The term Metroidvania will often come up when talking about Shantae and I can agree with that assessment as the game takes its cues from said genre, but when you are pulling from the best, you often get the best, especially with a team like Wayforward.