Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review
Sequin Land plays host to developer WayForward's own homegrown, self-published 2D world of genies, magic, piracy, and plentiful curves. The small shoreline town of Sequin has a vivacious personality to match their star Shantae, now without her half-genie powers.
To a certain extent, Shantae's realm of boxy dungeons and generous purple hair isn't special. It's the masterpiece touches from WayForward which makes it splendidly function. Citizens of Sequin have personalities which have grown and swelled since the alluring Game Boy Color original. And, Shantae has become internally traditional – the music's rhythms are now customary and two girls leaning against the pasty walls have never left their post. They even note their stagnant positioning in a bit of fourth wall giggling.
Heroine in a half-genie shell
Most of the appeal is in the sprites, with their expressive, illustrated charisma and lull in artistic restraint. Shantae ducks like any other platform star, but wiggles in anticipation until space clears. She bounces and smiles while standing, with an expected double (quadruple, actually) jump propelled by an inexplicably launched cannon ball. All of this forms a jubilant, somewhat shy character whose thirst for right and chocolates has never diminished.
Shantae is a perfect character, more so than Dracula hunting whip snappers or the space faring bounty hunter which whom she shares a genre. Shantae's adventures carry a feminine (yet inclusive) playfulness, undoubtedly brought over to Pirate's Curse which splashes with literal and figurative color. While a touch disinterested, Pirate's Curse layers safe Western mysticism and jittery pacts for its lean narrative. Series heel Risky Boots is brought into the mold of anti-hero for a bit of scintillating role reversal even if this tosses a central villain away into the final moments of the last act.
Awkwardly executed in conventional context or not, casting a devilish zombie pirate aside until needed allows for a rapport to take shape, providing substance to Boots' usually aimless lashing out between stretches of bouncy, precise platforming.
Up until ferocious closing moments, Pirates Curse is softer than many other retro throwback delicacies. Bosses are quick to drop, leaps only appear tense, and stage design often offers the luxury of escape room. Pair this all with a bounty of found skills and careful retreading on past islands, and much of this second sequel slips into an unremarkable ease of play – were it not for the richness of the surrounding content anyway.
That's not an issue: So much of this design (the world, the postures, the dialog) bears a laid back methodology. An overlaid simplicity to combat and growing health meter creates a sense that Shantae – even without her semi-Genie powers – is still a force. Smartly, that change and thus the message, in tandem with mild difficulty, turns her from super heroine to human heroine, amongst the most valuable this industry offers.
Somewhere therein sits an argument against Shantae's unnecessarily and overly revealing titillating wardrobe, but an entire chapter of Pirate's Curse actively addresses such self-consciousness with a bit of satirical bile toward a specific sci-fi series. In doing so, WayForward decorates bratty character temperaments, creates separation, and establishes further tense for their work. It's smart (maybe too much so) for a genre usually only fixated on locations and finding ways to access other locations.
Thus, Pirate's Curse works by doing more. As much as it borrows a template from womanly fore-bearer Metroid, Shantae's exuberant flair is markedly more digestible and brightly pleasing. Pirate's Curse is doing a ton (and saying a ton) in a diminutive, downloadable packet. It's beautifully luminous.