Ryan Smythe ‘15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Take Castlevania’s gameplay, throw in a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and Aladdin’s setting, and top it off with a healthy dose of hypersexualized characters and what comes out is Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.
The plot is very straightforward. Shantae, a half-genie who lost her powers at the end of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge teams up with the former antagonist Risky Boots to stop the evil Pirate Master from coming back to life. The pair travels from island to island destroying the Pirate Master’s dark forces to prevent his return, as well as free Risky Boot’s crewmembers from their curses, which has the added effect of providing Shantae with magic power that will eventually, hopefully, return her lost genie powers.
The dialogue between the characters ranges from acceptable to very clever and self aware. At one point, Shantae gets captured on a desert planet and is put into an outfit eerily similar to Princess Leia’s slave outfit in Return of the Jedi. Uncomfortable by the change of clothes, she comments that it makes her look like a “space princess.” These references tend to be subtle enough to fit without sticking out as an obvious reference, yet noticeable enough that someone paying attention will get most, if not all, of the references.
Along with good dialogue, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse boasts some of the most satisfying controls of any 2D sidescroller since the Mega Man series. Shantae’s hair, her primary weapon, acts as a whip. This is the only form of attack for the beginning of the game, and while she adds other weapons to her arsenal, serves as the most efficient way to take out most enemies. It, as well as the other items she picks up, can be upgraded with money she collects from killing enemies and breaking pots. She can also pick up a few new moves through the upgrade shop, though their effectiveness varies. The backwards dodge is especially underwhelming since it can be easily interrupted with a simple touch from an enemy.
The enemy placement, along with the whip, brings the game closest to the Castlevania franchise. Floating blobs populate the skies, especially in later levels, making jumping around much more difficult while also avoiding the grounded foes. Add in various enemies that use projectiles and the screen quickly becomes overwhelmingly crowded in the best way. It requires quick reflexes and perfectly timed attacks to clear out a safe zone, and doing so makes the player feel rewarded for taking out a dozen enemies with a practical amount of health left over.
The health bar acts in a similar way to the Zelda series, where the player starts out with two hearts, but can get more by collecting four little squids and taking them to another shop to be turned into a new container. Collecting all of the squids is challenging and requires some backtracking once new items are acquired, but the reward is worth the extra work. Every extra hit Shantae can take before she dies is potentially lifesaving. While the game is potentially possible with only the two starting healthbars, the bosses are difficult enough that more than hair will be pulled out if more aren’t picked up.
Unfortunately, the game has a tendency to force players into situations where these beautiful controls can’t be used. Stealth and companion missions render her growing arsenal useless, and combined with the inability to save the game away from predetermined save points makes large chunks of the game frustrating to the point of anger. While they make sense in terms of where the plot is at that moment in the game, the reasoning for making the plot go there is shaky at best, annoying at worst.
The lack of saving on the go is one of the most aggravating parts of the entire game. Building tension by making the player unable to save progress after a particularly challenging set of rooms makes sense in some cases. But when the rooms are in the middle of a stealth portion, and being repeatedly forced to go through the same rooms over and over because Shantae was one pixel to the left of where she needs to be to get out of a sight line tests patience to the breaking point.
It’s not just terrible save mechanics or annoying levels that bring down what should be a very good game. The female character designs are so sexualized that Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse feels like a porno with unsettling frequency. Crouching makes Shantae wiggle her butt in the air, using her lamp to absorb dark magic makes her wiggle her pelvis back and forth, and her breasts are in a constant state of bouncing.
It’s not just Shantae that is designed to be incredibly sexual. Almost every female character in the game is designed with the same pornographic proportions, and their clothing barely covers up their bodies. Their male counterparts, however, have very practical clothing and armor to cover themselves up in the midst of battle. The disparity between the gender’s outfits is unnecessary and simply perpetuates sexism in video games. If the men had similarly revealing clothing then an argument could be made, especially with how the game pokes fun at video game tropes, but sadly that is not the case.
Fantastic controls and good writing are overshadowed by aggravating levels and poor clothing choices, leaving Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse lacking as a game. However, it’s priced at $19.99 on the Nintendo eShop, so for anyone interested it won’t burn a hole through your wallets.
Overall Grade: C+/B-