Review: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (3DS)

Just in time for the game’s physical release, we look back at Shantae’s most recent adventure!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 10/19/2016 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Gorgeous graphics; strong gameplay; great soundtrack
Poison Mushroom for...
Sometimes ambiguous goals; uneven difficulty

Few video game franchises have managed to build a fan base quite the way that Shantae has. Despite a very limited release for the first game in the series, and meager overall sales, the franchise has established a devoted following between fans and critics alike. The third entry, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, continues that trend, with an adventure that lives up to the standards expected from the series.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse features the game’s titular character as she explores a series of islands in an attempt to stop the evil Pirate Master and save Sequin Land. What follows is a very strong platform game featuring plenty of exploration and hidden secrets. The game mainly follows the “Metroidvania” format: by discovering the weapons of enemy-turned-ally Risky Boots, Shantae can open up previously unreachable areas. The title also takes some influence from the games of Capcom, particularly Mega Man and DuckTales. Considering Capcom published the first game in the Shantae franchise, the inspiration isn’t all that surprising. Several of Shantae’s animations, enemies, and power-ups take after those classics.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse wears a lot of its influences on its sleeve, but the title distinguishes itself from so many other throwback titles through some fantastic design work. While many other indie titles have a tendency to come across a bit generic when compared to the games that influenced them, Shantae’s world is so well-crafted and immersive that it feels distinctive. The game never feels like it exists in the shadow of those games.


Perhaps the thing that separates the Shantae franchise from so many other “Metroidvania” titles is the focus on the story and supporting cast. There’s an endearing quality to the group of characters found within the world of Pirate’s Curse. Whether it’s the He-Man analog Bran-Son or the self-aware filler boss Squid Baron, the title’s quirky supporting cast adds a strong sense of humor. Newcomers to the series may find a bit more between-game continuity than necessary, but it’s hard to complain when the characters are so inherently likable. Voice acting in the game is limited (think the Mario franchise), but what is there helps to define and breathe life into each character.

Graphically, Pirate’s Curse might be one of the better looking indie games on the market. The visuals and character designs pop off the screen (sometimes literally, as the game uses the system’s 3D quite well). Additionally, each island has its own unique look and design, with accompanying enemies to match. That quality also extends to the music. Composer Jake Kaufman’s tracks are a highlight, fitting the theme of each world quite well.

If there is an area in which Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse stumbles, it’s in the sometimes vague goals and the backtracking required as a result. Often, players will have to travel from one island back to another to solve a puzzle, and it’s not always immediately clear how to progress. Some old school purists may enjoy the throwback; many other “Metroidvania” titles suffer from similar problems. That said, it will likely frustrate most players at some point throughout the adventure as they try to recall which NPC needs which particular item.

The game also has a fairly strong difficulty level. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse allows players to buy a near-limitless supply of healing items, but some of the game’s later opponents pack a strong punch. Some islands are also heavily infested with enemies. Mud Bog Island, for one, is crawling with enemies, and it takes quite a bit of effort to put them down. As a result, the difficulty can come across a bit uneven. Each island contains an exploration-heavy dungeon. Luckily, those tend to ease up on the number of enemies, but sometimes just getting to those dungeons can be a bit of a grind.


The best retro throwbacks rise above their influences to become something endearing of their own accord. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse does just that, with quality and production values that rival many AAA releases. The franchise clearly has a lot of heart, and the developers at WayForward have established a bright world filled with fun and interesting characters. While the market now enjoys more strong, 2D platforming games than it did when Shantae’s first title debuted so many years ago, it’s a testament to the quality of the series that it continues to maintain such a loyal fanbase. Fans won’t have to wait long for the next title in the series, either. Hopefully Shantae: Half-Genie Hero will deliver an equally strong experience when it releases later this year.

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