Shantae And The Pirate's Curse

Year: 2014
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 1/21/17
Rating: ***

"I'm not a good role model on account of my bad temper and outlandish outfit."

"Shantae And The Pirate's Curse" picks up where "Risky's Revenge" left off. Having lost all of her genie magic (except for her long winsome hair), Shantae is busy trying to adjust to living life as a normal human girl. But things are rarely quiet in Sequin Land as Ammo Baron decides to once again take over Scuttle Town, and Risky Boots' former captain, the Pirate Master, is stirring from beyond the grave. Shantae and Risky have to work together to prevent the Pirate Master's return, which has them travelling to various forbidden islands and destroying any concentrations of dark magic that they find.

Originally developed for the Nintendo 3DS, the PlayStation port suffers from the same issues as "Risky's Revenge", but to a lesser degree. The menu is slightly easier to use, and there's actually an instructions page this time. Since it was originally a 3D game, it utilizes deep parallax scrolling to good effect and the motion is silky smooth. The game uses the same character sprites as "Risky's Revenge", so the characters are instantly familiar and recognizable. Shantae also has an adorable idle animation of her fixing her hair, which is extremely enchanting. Unfortunately, the high-res character portraits aren't nearly as endearing as the previous game and are awkwardly sexualized.

The writing is very good and quite clever, although it tends to be a bit long-winded. Squid Baron returns with some hilarious dialog regarding his role as a boss in the previous game, and he longs for a tropical vacation to get away from his cramped dungeon quarters and the repetitive high stress music. However, much like the cheesecake character portraits, the writing often devolves into adolescent humor and gratuitous sexual innuendo. While it's mostly playful and harmless, I found a lot of it to be forced and unnecessary. The most tasteless example involves a puzzle where you have to get a couple of young ladies to change into their bathing suits so that the sun can reflect off of their porcelain white bodies and illuminate some magic writing on a dark wall. There's also some unwarranted fat-shaming of Sky, and an overly effeminate parody of He-Man (which admittedly made me laugh).

While the graphics are quite good, they seem a bit fuzzy and the art direction isn't as inspired as the previous game. I wonder if the 3D aspect had something to do with the choice of shapes and colors? The game also boasts an excellent soundtrack, although the dynamic range seems a bit flat. There is some very limited voice acting in the game that consists of maybe two dozen words and short phrases, and although the performance is good, it comes across as a pointless novelty. Instead of using magic, the gameplay revolves around Shantae finding and using various pieces of pirate gear, which extend her combat and exploration abilities. There's also a running mission and a stealth mission that deviate from Shantae's standard abilities, and there's a charming hidden level that recreates the look and feel of the original Game Boy Color "Shantae" game.

The game is significantly longer and more difficult than "Risky's Revenge" and the boss battles can be frustrating. Thankfully, it's easy to stock up on supplies in Scuttle Town and there's also a health rejuvenating spa, so you rarely die due to a lack of health items. Unfortunately, the final gauntlet to reach the Pirate Master is relentlessly brutal, and I gave up after about twenty minutes because it wasn't worth the aggravation. This was unfortunate, because I really wanted to see how the story got resolved. Fortunately, there's YouTube, so at least that gave me some small amount of narrative closure. Overall, "Shantae And The Pirate's Curse" is a larger, more polished, and more sophisticated game than "Risky's Revenge", but I found it less enjoyable.