Reviews: Shantae

(Shantae and the Pirate\'s Curse review) A good game held back by uneven difficulty and some other flaws

This is the first Shantae game I've ever played, and it's the third in the series. Dialog and story make it clear that this is a sequel using characters that have been shown off before, and I feel out of the loop. But whatever, I push on.

This game isn't one big metroidvania, but a bunch of smaller ones. You choose the world from a menu, and then from there, each world is divided into two or three areas - typically one outdoors area, one castle/dungeon/whatever, and sometimes an area that switches up the gameplay.

These gameplay switching areas add some nice variety. One of them has you carrying someone in your arms as you rush rapidly through a place filled with enemies that pop out of the ground or ceiling, and one touch means instant death - but you get infinite tries and can retry from the start of the last screen. It's harder than it sounds. Another mix-up has you making your way through a palace with guards who will put you in a cell if they spot you, so you hide in the shadows, move when their back is turned, etc.

These gameplay mix-ups raise the difficulty, which is much needed to add challenge, as the main difficulty is quite low. During the main game, most enemies do barely any damage. They do so little damage, that my 8-year-old nephew, watching, honestly asked me, "Are you playing on super easy?"

If the game were easy on purpose so younger kids can enjoy it, then that doesn't explain the difficulty spikes of the gameplay mix-up areas, nor does it explain the enormous spike in difficulty near the end of the game. The final area is very hard from a platforming perspective, only for the final boss, who does large amounts of damage, to be easily beatable thanks to the game's inventory.

See, you can carry a bunch of items in inventory, including life restorative items, and an item that increases your attack strength by a moderate or large amount. I got all of these items simply by playing normally, not by purchasing them. They took an already easy game and made it even easier! However, difficulty also shows up when you have to figure out what you need to get or do in order to enter the next area. You'll need to find an item or meet a specific character, and the clues for that are obtuse enough that I checked online help so I could move on. I found that pretty obnoxious.

The other flaw that I found annoying was that enemies don't flinch or get knocked back by your attacks at all. They just keep moving. Which means if your attacks aren't enough to kill an enemy, that enemy could keep moving forward and hurt you as you whack away at it.

This is not a bad game. It has creative level design and fun ideas, and the upgraded movement abilities are fun to use. Sadly, a difficulty that mixes pathetically easy (with items to make it easier!) with high spikes makes it potentially too hard for many kids, and not much of a challenge for many veterans. It's in a bit of a limbo there.