WayForward Technologies has often been the redeemer of the licensed game, offering impressive interpretations of film and television tie-ins, as demonstrated by Thor: God of Thunder, Aliens Infestation, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Videogame. But the developer’s most prodigious efforts have materialized from their own intellectual properties. While WayForward’s engaging Mighty franchise is certainly no slouch, a trio of Shantae titles undoubtedly stands as the Valencia, California-based firm’s magnum opus.
Each successive entry in the series is rooted in the fundamentals of the exploration-driven platformer. Beyond using the protagonist’s tresses to thrash at foes, 2002’s Shantae also had the ability to perform a belly dance- with a few pelvic sashays converting the character into a variety of creatures. Each animal had its own distinctive ability, from a diminutive monkey capable of creeping into previous inaccessible areas to a harpy that’s able to soar to remote regions, recalling the special abilities bestowed in beloved games like Castlevania or Metroid. Risky’s Revenge, the sequel to the original Shantae, added elements like environmental layers that the protagonist can move in and out of as well as directional signposting courtesy of communication with NPCs.
For Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, an eShop title that was originally released for the 3DS (and subsequently for the Wii U), a few mechanics have been tweaked. After losing her genie powers in Risky’s Revenge, Shantae no longer has access to her transformative abilities. Instead, the heroine now earns a succession of augmentative items after defeating bosses, conferring capabilities like being able to plink at enemies and activate switches from afar with a pistol. Other reclaimed objects include a pirate hat which allows the protagonist to glide through the air, or a cannon that indulges players with an invigorating triple-jump. While these new capacities might seem like mere variations on Shantae’s previous shape-shifting abilities, they feel more gratifying as they enhance the way the character navigates each locale.
Pirate’s Curse shirks a single, sprawling environment for a hub-based design, in an effort to reduce the boredom of backtracking. Thankfully, the change is adeptly implemented, with the game signaling exactly how many collectables remain in each of the six zones, keeping completionists from becoming irked as their comb an entire landmass for that last relic. Beyond each area having an ample amount of concealed secrets there’s also dungeons and even sub-dungeons spread across the regions- not only prolonging a sense of exploration across the game’s eight to ten hour playtime but extending a pentad of highlights across the journey.
Although the expedition is a largely enjoyable one, there are a few niggling blemishes. While hair-whipping and hopping your way past enemies remains largely rewarding, making your way back to the transporting Tinkertub, even with the inclusion of fragmented environments, can feel a bit inconvenient. Ideally, a fast-travel system would have alleviated this issue. Vexation also emerges is the sporadic area where enemies rapidly respawn, making the usually potent Shantae feel ineffective. Conversely, the availability of life-replenishing and strength-boosting items, makes the heroine feel especially formidable, allowing bosses to be vanquished a bit too easily. But look past a slight lack of challenge and these showdowns are undeniably entertaining, exhibiting the type of attack telegraphing and range of strikes that the best culminating confrontations offer.
Narratively, Pirate’s Curse does a virtuous job of extending the plotline picked up from its predecessor, while adding a few more expositionary elements to the setting of Sequin Land and its citizens. With the threat of the Pirate Master’s resurrection, Shantae is forced to team up with her old nemesis Risky Boots, offering the type of uneasy alliance that adds a bit of absorbing antagonism to the proceedings. While past entries in the series have dabbled with whimsy, here WayForward has truly found their muse. From characters who contemplate about their limited amount of screen-time, delightfully absurd situations, and an ample amount of fourth-wall infringements, the game’s astute writing ensure players will pay attention to every exchange of dialog. While Pirate’s Curse doggedly keeps things jovial and family friendly, savvy adults will find a pleasing amount of double entendres.
Likewise, the title’s sumptuous sprite-work fringes on light lasciviousness, offering an indulging amount of hypnotic jiggle. But beyond this pleasure, Pirate’s Curse is a masterpiece in bitmapped art, shunning the type of Flash-based and perceptibly polygonal animations of many contemporary platformers for a superbly sinuous, subtly pixalated aesthetic. For the PS4 iteration, Inti Creates’ character portraits have been redrawn in high-definition fidelity, exhibiting the absence of aliasing when viewed in 1080p. Expectedly, Jake “Virt” Kaufman’s soundtrack is pure bliss, blending a hodgepodge of influences that range from Zapp’s irresistibly funky basslines, synthesized Middle Eastern riffs, and the wayward chillout number when speaking to an NPC.
While the 3DS version of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was an impressive entry in the platforming genre, the PlayStation 4 iteration proves to be the definitive version. Hair-whipping with full sized DualShock 4 offers an idyllic input method, while the redrawn character portraits add splendor to an already superlative exhibition of spite work.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Release Date: April 19th, 2016
Price: $19.99 via PlayStation Network