Taking on the role of an ex genie to help save a realm known as Sequin Land might not be the usual choice of storyline for Xbox gamers more attuned to fighting off alien hordes but in the case of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse that change of setting will give you a chance to play one of the most charming and accessible platformers you will find.
After defending her home town from the Ammo Baron, the tables are turned and Shantae is facing punishment. Not long after she encounters her old nemesis Risky Boots who believes her to be responsible for losing both her henchmen and precious items. But it turns out that it is actually the Pirate Master who is responsible and the two must team up to destroy dens of evil that are giving him power.
The first boss gave me Metal Slug flashbacks but is a great introduction to the game.
After working through the game’s introduction and your first boss fight, you find that the world is broken up into smaller self contained areas set as themed islands. Each of these islands become accessible as you make progress and are available to return if needed. For someone who often likes to approach games in bite sized chunks it works nicely and means that the game feels more tightly focused on shorter term objectives than would be if it were all part of a larger world.
Visually the game’s handheld roots come through in the pixelated art but it all animates well and runs so smoothly that it’s very easy on the eyes. Each island brings it’s own enemies based on the theme and often with their own unique character quirks. The opening boss fight mentioned earlier made me think I landed in the middle of a Metal Slug in all the right ways. Don’t worry; judging from the other bosses I’ve seen there’s more than enough variety in the types of foes you will face.
During the dialogue cutscenes more detailed character artwork is used that’s full of personality and fills out the screen (see below). It’s something that Dust: An Elysian Tale on 360 had also used to great effect. It work well with the snappy conversations that occur between characters as they change depending on the mood of the character at the time. The soundtrack is positively outstanding too and puts a lot of games to shame with how nicely it does its magic in creating a perfect mood in an almost 16bit SNES kind of way. Definitely one to enjoy with the volume turned up.
Shantae is not a happy ex genie.
If I could have one minor gripe it would be with the UI that appears to draw from its original platform source. It can be a little confronting to see these gigantic buttons and icons adorning menus and your inventory and it just seems a bit of a waste when playing the game on a big screen television to not have these updated to reflect it, though I will admit it’s probably more effort required for such a little issue. Though the art in dialogue cutscenes is great you are often required to do a LOT of button tapping to advance through these conversations. Once again that’s just me nitpicking.
To describe the controls and ultimately the difficulty I’d say that the game has a lot in its favour by keeping everything relatively simple with buttons mapped sensibly and feedback is very responsive. The difficulty is going to lie in the precision in which you apply them as you traverse platforms or when timing your attacks as both can catch you out if you don’t spend time practising. Once you get into the zone though the controls are spot on and the pace of the game runs at a nice level that I think will make it accessible to a wide audience.
Defeating enemies also gives you access to useful items or gems which can be used to purchase what you need from the store. There’s not a massive amount of different items on offer but it is enough to make a difference in a close fight. In addition if you can find enough of the collectible squids hidden across levels, they can be traded in to give your health a boost for every four that you find.
Shantae’s skills improve over time so that she can soon take on anything.
Even with the game broken down into its levels, you will have to retrace your steps from time to time to complete objectives or reach previously inaccessible areas. I felt it didn’t push that aspect too hard but if you aren’t a fan of games that follow that design philosophy you might think it is trying to pad out the game time. The game will probably take between eight to ten hours to complete.
I had heard of the Shantae series previously through word of mouth but had never seen or played one until now and I’m happy to say that this is one great little game that could quite easily suck away hours from your regular gaming schedule. Developer WayForward has been plying their craft for a long time now and really know how to make a fun platformer. It looks and sounds great, plays brilliantly and will definitely keep you and the rest of your family entertained.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch and 3DS. Reviewed on Xbox One via Xbox Game Pass. A sequel, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is also out now.