Nostalgia can be an extremely powerful tool for a developer if they can master its nuances, and WayForward has done just that with Shantae and the Pirates Curse. The overall design and mechanics are instantly reminiscent of those SNES golden age titles, that for many of us shaped our childhood.
Although this is my first experience of the Shantae universe, a bit of searching reveals that this is just the latest in quite a long line of titles stretching back to the Gameboy Colour following the adventure of Shantae and friends.
You play as Shantae, a half-genie, who having lost her powers following the machinations of one of her primary foes, the buccaneer Risky Boots, finds Scuttle Town and Sequin Land are at risk again from the Undead Pirate Master. Having been entombed for countless years by genies, Shantae’s loss of her power has weakened the magic holding him in place allowing him to control his denizens in their quest to break the barrier holding him in place and set him free one more.
Shantae must team up with her former adversary Risky Boots, to ensure that the Pirate Master never returns by navigating the islands of Sequin Land to uncover the Den’s of Evil and defeat the minions guarding these sites for their master.
Primarily an action platformer, each of the levels has, in the way Metroid and Castlevania perfected, hidden areas and chambers that can only be accessed once your character develops new skills or unlocks new weapons such as the pirates pistol which allows you to shoot distant switches. With each area containing additional collectables and Risky’s rogue crew of Tinkerbats. These creatures have been mutated by the dark magic of the Pirate Master and once defeated allows you to harvest this foul magic to prevent its use.
SATPC also contains numerous RPG Lite elements to give it a bit more depth. Throughout the world, you can collect Heart Squids, once four have been collected can be taken to the “SquidSmith” who smashes them down and provides you with an additional heart to your original three heart health bar. Each area also contains small side missions and quests that can be undertaken to increase your power to allow you to better fight the denizens of the Pirate Master.
Along the way, you will also collect coins, which can be used at the store to purchase a multitude of items and upgrades, from simple food and health potions, all the way up to new attacks and defensive buffs.
The core of the game is a perfect balance of these gameplay elements, with pixel perfect platforming challenging you with precision jumps, disappearing and moving platforms, bottomless pits and everybody’s favourite spike traps. Thankfully, SATPC is not as punishing as a lot of titles, with each enemy or trap hit taking only a quarter of a heart off you, allowing you initially to take a fair amount of punishment before you have to restart. Even falling into a bottomless pit will only reset you to the last screen with a quarter removed, so this title is extremely forgiving to players of all skill levels.
Graphically, SATPC is a perfect example of old school. The 16-bit style really suits the title, and this is further complemented by the dialogue, with its manga-esque character overlays and near perfect humour giving it a charming aesthetic.
Everything about the game is near perfect, with my singular gripe being as much about me as it is about the game limitation itself. The flaw in SATPC’s armour is the save system. Throughout the world are a series of Save Guy’s, both in Scuttle Town where your adventure begins and also camping within each of the dungeons you must conquer, particularly in the room before a boss fight. With the game pushing you to move directly on to the next island, you can find yourself facing off against powerful enemies that you do not yet know how to defeat, and this can end up with you being sent back to once again topple the boss of the previous dungeon in order to progress.
This aside, Shantae and the Pirates Curse is a superb title offering the current generation of gamers the chance to experience the old school mechanics that made the Super NES such a platform leader.