Tuesday
Nov112014

QCF: Shantae and The Pirate's Curse

or all of the self-indulgently romanticized tributes to the nostalgic age of platform gaming, the arguably saturation of this new trend sure forgot to bring with it one of the most important components that made this particular era so riveting—the personality.

Sure, the comfortingly familiar sights of the various mascot tropes in motion like vivid colors, or obnoxiously radical attitudes slowly came together like an awesome homecoming , but this wave of passionate tributes are starting to run out on the goodwill of the source material they homage.

Leave it to Way Forward to not only keep that charming blaze of platformer fire alive, but studio’s has labored a great deal of adding a new flare of innovation to the genre with the third entry to their flagship series, Shantae. Pirate’s Curse not only capitalizes on all of the trademark charisma and features that made the franchise what it is today, but it strives on to go a step further to burnish a new layer of polish the likes that would make exceptional present-day contemporaries like Shovel Knight blush.

While the comparison between the humble half-genie and spade-yielding dig champion may sound a bit farfetched at first, there’s one trait in their design that they share in common; they’re both their own respective melting pots of mechanics and distinctive gameplay styles that all come together to create something unique.

Combining elements from the Adventure of Link and various Metroidvania, Pirate’s Curse trims a bit of the filler fat that comes with the conventions of the formula, and it was all done by segmenting the world, and the subsequent travel into various levels and stages. Instead of that large, overwhelming map, Pirate’s Curse goes back to breaking up the various environments into much more accessible stages within a fast-travel styled stage-select hub—and the results of this new change truly does wonders for the all the moments of back-tracking and trekking involved with the adventure.

Taking place of all the implicit magical transformations that the genie came with are pirate items and weaponry, and unlike those previous mystical abilities, isn’t subject to activation that’s exclusive to contextual points of interest or some arbitrary energy bar that can limit these new moves. Sure, these minute changes may sound like a change that’s worth carping on, but this subtle new dynamic lends a great deal of design to the experience of the game when it comes to the direct interaction of it.

While the previous title ostensibly telegraphed the opportunities of potential new trails for the purple pony-tailed hero to blaze with her special moves, Pirate’s Curse is more thoughtful in its level design. The newfound freedom behind the instantaneous use and access of your special moves allow for experimentation that adds a great deal of satisfaction to player exploration in the process.

Little things like well-aimed gunfire, reckless sword dash, or a jettison cannonball powered double jump help flush out a sense of curiosity that also lends a great deal of depth and satisfaction for the secrets that’re hidden within then off-beaten paths of Sequin Land that the series has always struggled with encouraging players to seek out up until now.

Even the traversal of the stages through all the “in-between” routes that bridge those all two important forks in the road for the overall map of Pirate’s Curse has a much more organic direction to its architecture than the arguably more aimless navigation that plagued the previous DSi entry.

If Way Forward has excelled towards one talent in their career of game development, it’s that they sure know how to make a game look and sound real gosh darn damn pretty, and the presentation of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is some of the best work the brand has accomplished yet.

Utilizing the technical prowess that’s afforded by the 3DS, the amount of detail to the graphical design, right down to the smallest nuance and facet of each sprite’s composition and respective animation, create a vibrantly comical world that oozes a sense charm and personality that the Shantae titles have always strived to define themselves with. The familiar styling’s and work of Jake “Virt” Kaufman accentuates the air of whimsy, with a mix of synth lines and chiptunes that mixed into an orchestral rhythm , the resulting soundtrack delivers all the right feelings of the title’s theme of misadventure and danger accordingly.

If there’s one complaint to be made, it’s the awkward sexual undertones of the character design and ill-fitting dialogue that slightly hamper the sequel. While it was always kind of cheeky in prior software, the abundance of cleavage for every single female encountered and the subsequent choice of crop-top clothing or revealing wardrobe in general is now broaching the obnoxious territory that reminiscent of creepy Moé anime. Moments like Risky ensnaring a naked Shantae into “boobie” trap with the intentionally quoted use of the suggestive entendre from the word is a bit unsettling in what’s essentially a stupid feel-good platformer geared towards ALL ages to enjoy.

If the cult-fueled allure of Way Forward’s belly-dancing heroine hasn’t convinced you before, then you owe it to yourself to prick up on Pirate’s Curse—which easily stands as the best entry that franchise has to offer yet, for fans and first-timers alike. The price is a bit steep, but it’s still worth it; and who knows? Wii U owners may get treated to a Cross-Buy promotion if Way Forwards plays its cards right with the upcoming console port of the game.

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