|This might be the first logo I've reviewed with a white background.|
Luckily, Wayforward has realized something with their recent release of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse- the series' traditions are novel, but a fresh new take is just what the series needed.
-Gorgeous presentation values
-Lengthy single player campaign with secrets abound.
-A fresh take on the mechanics and progression of the series
-Metroidvania aspects not quite mastered just yet
-A one-time experience
The first Shantae title I played was Risky's Revenge, an under-budgeted DSiWare game that was convoluted but still quite interesting. I did so because I loved Mighty Switch Force, and I was curious about Wayforward's other efforts. After playing that, I moved on to the original Shantae on GBC, because I wanted to see where the series had its start. Having played all three Shantae titles, I feel I can accurately address the series as a whole, and more aptly, explain why Pirate's Curse is the best of the three.
Shantae is all about lovely art assets, and no entry in the series has succeeded more in that aspect than Pirate's Curse, which is very lovingly crafted. The world is rarely cut-and-paste, and has tons of character, supplemented by an amazing soundtrack. In this iteration of Shantae, the world has been cut up into many different islands, which each have a specific theme. The original Shantae's concepts- progression based on item (or dance) acquisition, a large overworld, and adventure-style gameplay- are all intact here, but a clear definition of what the series should be thanks to Wayforward and the plot makes things much clearer.
In fact, one of the greatest strengths of the game is also one of its flaws- Pirate's Curse maps each new powerup to one of the open buttons on the 3DS, which, in contrast with the previous entries in the series, is a massive improvement from the dance combination mechanic. It means the action is immediate and progressive, and lends itself to the action-exploration nature of the game. But by the end of the game, SPOILERS for those interested, the status quo is restored, which means we'll be seeing more transformations that don't exactly lend themselves to the fast paced nature of the game.
Risky's Revenge had a great multi-tiered design to it, but Pirate's Curse features little more than a starting point leading right to "whatever goal you are looking for" unlike a truly open, Metroid-like experience. It's fine for those who enjoy streamlined objectives, but it's not an immersive world, merely a number of stages. Wayforward has stated that their latest Kickstarter-related project, Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero, will be less exploration focused and more of a series of action stages, which feels evident with how Pirate's Curse was developed. But its design, while straightforward and not exactly the exploration-based adventure we were told about, is still immensely satisfying. Once the halfway point of the game is reached, traversing the often-flat opening of each level becomes far easier. The discovery of several items seems to be locked until the final dungeon is completed, but it's not a bad thing. Shantae has always featured fetch quests, but here they feel much more transparent, and each item you are searching for is obvious because of the varied nature of the art design.
The story of Pirate's Curse is much more fun and interesting than any of the previous games. Taken across a number of varied locales, Shantae is able to cover a more interesting narrative and feature all-new characters that are enjoyable to meet and understand, while also shedding insight on those we have known in the franchise for some time. While sometimes predictable, it is always enjoyable, and features heart in its dialogue and story not often found in many stories. The bosses feel a bit more simplistic this time around- at least at first, but when the game starts to amp up, it presents some very clever ideas that are satisfying to conquer. The final boss is a fitting end to a wonderful experience.
For the hefty price of twenty dollars, some might seem hesitant to pick up Pirate's Curse. I say, go for it. Not only does it close out the storyline of the first three games in a rather fantastic manner, but it is also an extremely well-designed game. There are few other titles on the eShop that rival the quality of Pirate's Curse, and if you were to drop the money for both of the previous installments, you would find yourself paying for three games that drastically improve in quality as they progress for the price you would normally get a single retail release. I'm not saying you SHOULD do that, but it is definitely an option for those who don't want to feel left out in the narrative of Pirate's Curse, though there's few moments that require a heavy amount of backstory.
Final Verdict: Fun dialogue, fan-service, and gameplay are at the forefront in Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, and the only real critique I can offer up is that the item progression in this game will never be reused in future installments. As a standalone title, it is a great game, but as part of a series, it puts the other installments to shame with its satisfying and fast-paced gameplay. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is a must-buy experience, no doubt about it.