What if Metroid and The Legend of Zelda had a baby? What if that baby happened to sport the colorful and goofy presentation of the best games of the 16-bit era? What if that title played like a gorgeous and inventive combat-centered platformer of the early 90s? Better yet, what if that game existed and could be played right now by anyone who owns either a Nintendo 3DS or a Wii U and has a few bucks to spend on an eShop effort?
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse – the third installment on WayForward’s beloved franchise – is that product, and as I sit on the early portion of its quest it is easy to tell it safely ranks among the finest products on both current-generation Nintendo platforms.
Its Metroid influences are seen in its structure. Here, one hub island serves as the gateway to other pieces of land that are slowly unlocked as Shantae – the title’s half-genie protagonist – finds sea charts. Much like Norfair, Brinstar, and Maridia – signature areas explored by Samus Aran, those islands are setup like fully-connected mazes that house different neatly sewn together environments and that must be carefully explored, sometimes with backtracking, so that Shantae slowly makes her way to a dungeon.
And that is precisely where the game’s The Legend of Zelda touch comes in. In those dark grounds, The Pirate’s Curse sheds its skin and becomes a whole new creature. While its outdoor segments that make up the islands play like combat-based platformers, where the challenge derives more from enemies than wild jumps and maneuvers; its dungeons are side-scrolling puzzle-focused gauntlets that include bosses, and – of course – items that grant Shantae new skills that, aside from being thoroughly tested, also help her access new locations and items that were previously inaccessible out in the overworld.
The game blends all of those influences to produce something relatively unique: a platformer whose levels are tied up in a continuous world and that must, sometimes, be traversed back and forth as players look for collectibles and try to aid charming characters with their troubles.
Moreover, true to its Super Nintendo look-and-feel, its cartoonish looks, silly character interactions, and humorous dialogues disguise an adventure that packs quite a punch; Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has a considerable level of difficulty that reaches pleasant spikes inside its dungeons. If on the islands themselves the numerous, varied, and well-designed foes are placed with a care and precision that require players to map out their moves; when within a maze that brilliant placement is paired up with dashes of platforming tricks that demand attention, fast reactions, and reasoning.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a precious gem developed with a lot of love and inspiration that is lying on the eShop just waiting to be discovered and conquer the hearts of platforming fans that crave for charm and simplicity, Metroid followers who have been dying to play something that offers exploration and a bit of backtracking, and anyone who loves an adventure with a bright creative spark.