Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review

Back in 2009, I got the September issue of Nintendo Power, which had a huge feature covering a game called Shantae: Risky's Revenge. The game had eight pages dedicated to the DSiware title had a ton of screenshots, interviews, and level descriptions. When it came out a year later, I loved every last aspect of it. Hell, I love the game to this day, calling it one of the best 2D platformers of all time. When I think of 2D platformers, I think of Shantae: Risky's Revenge. And now, four years later, we have the sequel Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, which also debuted in Nintendo Power, albeit the penultimate issue of Nintendo Power. What's tough is that I lvoe the game and I think it's great, but it has some problems that stop me from loving it with all my heart and soul. 
After the events of Risky's Revenge, Shantae, the genie of Scuttle Town, has lost her powers and is now struggling to protect the town as a mere human. She's having an identity crisis of sorts, but to make matters worse, an evil pirate called the Pirate Master has come back to life to conquer the world. With this new evil, Shantae teams up with her former arch nemesis Risky Boots to fight the Pirate Master and his dark magic. Risky has a personal vendetta against the pirate master because she used to be his first mate. So both Shantae and Risky must work together to defeat the Pirate Master and save the world. 

The best way I can describe the Shantae series is that its a series for gamers with the appearance of a kids game. Jokes are often raunchy and characters have some very suggestive and expressive designs, but they're done in a style that makes it seem fun and jolly. The characters are crisp and are never sexualized, which makes the game look fun and bright. 

It may seem weird why I'm starting my review off with that point, but the designs of the character set the mood for this game. They set a fun, chipper atmosphere that exists for the entire game. Even when the game gets dark, the characters are still fun and the danger the characters go through never becomes to distressing. However, the game can be quite challenging, but never in a difficult or troublesome way. 

Gotta admit, this game looks great
If I may break off from my normal review method, I want to talk about why this game works for me while at the same time being a bit of a disappointment. Consider this a review that goes into a lot of detail about sequels and how most sequels, in my opinion, miss the idea of what a great sequel should be. 

The original Risky's Revenge is just an absolutely phenomenal game. The best thing about the game is that it's designed for speed running and designed for completionists. It's a game where you can beat it easily, but it'll take time to master it and even longer to completely master the game. You can know where all of the items are that you need to collect, but being able to collect all of them and beat the game under a time limit is a true feat. The game was simple and short, but it condensed everything that a good platformer should be. 

The Pirate's Curse though keeps the essence alive, but it makes a few mistakes that plague most sequels. Take a look at a lot of amazing games that you love. Now ask yourself if the game has a sequel and really ask yourself if you love that sequel for than the original game. Take a look at Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario Galaxy, or even games outside of platformers like God of War and Infamous. Those games establish their concepts firmly in the first installment and perfect the core gameplay mechanics to an art form. Yeah the games don't really have much meat to them besides the campaign, but that's perfectly fine if the single player is so good. Their sequels though fall into two common traps that most sequels think they should do, but shouldn't: They make the game longer and add more features. 

Shantae: Risky's Revenge is a simple game. You have three transformations, a hair whip, and an overworld to travel that can be beat in three hours. In Pirate's Curse, you have five seperate abilities that can be used to traverse the environment and will take about 7-8 hours to complete the game. People might be excited about that because it adds a lot more content to a game where the gameplay mechanics work, but those new features complicate a formula that was proven to work. There were several times in Pirate's Curse where I had to use multiple items to move around the world, but it made the game more frustrating when I couldn't get to areas because I didn't have said abilities or features. If I don't have a double jump and a story specific section is shown in an early level that can only be accessed by a double jump, I feel like I'm waiting to explore in a game where I want to explore and have fun. 

Most of the length inside of Pirate's Curse though comes from backtracking. Once you beat a boss, you almost always have to go back to the previous level, use your new item to complete a quest, THEN you can go to the next world. The second to last dungeon can only be accessed when you do three separate things in three separate worlds. What's worse is that the game doesn't tell you where to go and instead hopes you remember where to go. In theory, that's perfectly fine. I don't want to be told everything I have to do in a game and I would feel really rewarded when I figure out where to go next. However, that satisfaction is taken away when I have to go to three places that were several levels ago. The game expects you to remember locations from early in the game that you have to go to several hours after you've completed the area. That's not adding length, that's making the game a hassle to go through. That's backtracking.  

The actual difficulty of the game comes from having to use all of your powerups to solve problems and figure out what to do next. The actual gameplay is actually really easy and not too challenging at all. Bosses are easy to defeat and even common enemies aren't that difficult. You have a huge amount of health, defense, and attack powerups, so you'll hardly die in the game. I died a lot in Risky's Revenge because the enemies I faced had complex patterns and health powerups were not that easy to come across. Now, I have six slots dedicated to different health powerups with half of them capable of restoring all of my health. How can I think a game is difficult if I'm never afraid of dying?

I really feel bad about harping on this game because it does so much right. The gameplay is still great, the graphics look stunning, and the humor is on par. It's just that these new "features" just detract from what I loved about the original game. I could load up Risky's Revenge whenever I want to and have a great time playing it. It's pick up and play goodness. Pirate's Curse is not pick up and play and I feel like I need to prepare myself whenever I play it. 

That's a big tank.
It's just a pet peeve of mine when a game has a great huge sequel that wants to try and expand upon the formula of the original. No! The formula was never broken, so why do you want to expand upon it? What's simpler, 1+1=2, or 3+2x1-4=1? Both of them equals one, but I'm more comfortable with the original formula and the original formula works! Whenever a game company announces a sequel, I always approach it cautiously to see if it's a game that wants to expand of its predecessor by adding new features, or by making the game more interesting to play. Games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is how you create a sequel. It expands upon the formula of the original, but makes it more interesting by making the world larger. The gameplay is still the same and hasn't changed at all, but the visuals are improved, the sound is improved, and it keeps the same great gameplay of the original. 

Pirate's Curse does all of that, but ti changes the gameplay. It puts a much stronger focus on restricting the gamer through powerups than encourage exploration. Story segments and progress is limited by the new gameplay mechanics, which change the way you play the game. Good sequels don't make you change the way you play your game to make it better. Good sequels keep the same gameplay, but give you new situations to test out your old skills. At the end of the day, good sequels keep the game simple and don't add too much. It's a fine art making a great sequel, which is why they're so hard to find nowadays. 

As it stands, Pirate's Curse falls into the same pitfalls as most sequels. It confuses more content with changing the gameplay, which therefore changes the formula. It's like you go to your favorite restaurant for a delicious steak, and when you eat it, it's so great. It's a simple steak, but that's all you really need. The next time you go though, the steak has a bunch of different spices to it that makes the flavor pop, but it doesn't feel the same. It may be the same meat, but it doesn't have the same pleasure it once did. Sometimes, you just want a simple steak for dinner, not a steak with A1 sauce, cajun spices, and rubbed with pepper. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is that complicated steak. It's still good, but it doesn't have the same impact that it once had. 


And now, we'll see if Bayonetta 2 is a good or bad sequel. Stay tuned!

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