Copyright Adam Schlosser

Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser

Posted by Pip

F62- I Hope She Left Some Newspaper Down

The Librarian is slowly learning the art of being friendly. She's had a while of being a lonely god, but now that she's certified as Envy's best friend ever, her walls are being torn down. She will buy Envy candies and toys. The power of buddies compels her...

Quick Critique: Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

Despite formerly being a fan of the franchise, I passed on Shantae and the Pirate's Curse when it first came out because Wayforward ran a scummy Kickstarter, I despise the change in the art style, Risky's Revenge has a terrible, half-assed ending, and the promo material showed a really sleazy treatment of the female characters. And you know what, I was totally right on all those parts. By losing Matt Bozon's art and moving towards a more generic anime look, Shantae and the characters in her world just aren't as interesting. The art isn't as bad as the change for Half Genie Hero, but if you compare the art from Pirate's original reveal on the cover of Nintendo Power to the anime look now, the original is vastly more compelling. I love that Nintendo Power cover! I want to play the heck out of the game on that cover. They hand wave away the awful ending of Risky's Revenge multiple times, so they don't even have the decency to cop to the last game's faults. And on the female character front, they took the universe from being a cute and wink-wink-nudge-nudge sex appeal to cramming it down your throat. I love sexy female video game characters, but when you have Shantae stripping for a bath in the opening for no reason to NPCs gratuitously stripping down to bikinis in the first area to later putting the cast in metal slave bikinis, it stops being fun and starts getting weird/gross. You can't appreciate the characters that are sexy and whimsical because all of the women are in fetish gear or have their breasts flopping all over. Creepy sexualization aside, the sprite animation is fantastic. It's fun and enemies are lively and there's so much of it, but the game looks really bad on a TV, as if they just took the 3DS version and stretched it out in some parts. The ending of the game has a giant seam in the scrolling background and you can't take your eyes off of it. The screen doesn't even properly fit the TV. I can only fully see one of my health hearts and two digits of my money because the rest are beyond the border of the screen. I've primarily been using my Wii U to play games made 10-20 years ago that were designed for older systems on CRTs or handhelds, and they all display just fine. But the game that just came out and was explicitly designed for the console I am playing it on requires me to go to system settings and change things around to display properly. Not an in-game setting menu (because this game has zero setting options), actually changing the Wii U settings. That's sad. They added voice work but Shantae's voice is awful. She's sounds like a terrible anime school girl to compound how poorly she's written. She also went from being a likable, capable hero to being a brain-dead jackass. From little things like Shantae being stupid enough to eat a library card to after hearing a villain talk about his plans to destroy the town using a specific item and then when you find said item, Shantae's first reaction is to go deliver it to the villain because somebody asked her too, she just isn't a compelling character here. As they make Shantae herself more annoying, it would have made more sense and probably have been more fun to play as Risky in this one. Shantae lost her powers in the last game and she gains a bunch of pirate equipment here, so if I'm going to play as a pirate, let me be Risky. She's a more interesting and more likable character than Shantae now and the story mostly revolves around her anyway. If this was supposed to be the end of the trilogy, they went out with another half-assed ending. Rather than clearing up the myriad of open questions, the big reveal of the game is what Risky was doing before she became leader of the Tinkerbats. Which probably wasn't a question anybody outside of the people that draw weird fan art were concerned with. Seriously, if you Google Risky Boots, the very first image category Google returns is creepy fetish art... There's a bathroom joke in the first three minutes of the game and there's a real Family Guy-level joke about He-Man that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. If the words "Pop Culture Reference" flashed on the screen over and over, it would have had the same effect.
The faults aren't just with the story and characters though. There are genuinely enjoyable parts but then you hit a stretch that doesn't contain a single minute of fun gameplay. There's a long section where you have to carry Rotty past enemies and there is absolutely nothing fun about it and it goes on for a really long time. If you get hit once, Shantae explodes for unexplained reasons and you have to start that section over again. And again, there is nothing fun about this. It mostly consists of you waiting for timed obstacles to move up or down so you can run past them. Devoid of fun. Probably negative fun. Then to play the final dungeon, you basically just have to repeatedly die until you learn the timing of the one hit kill obstacles and memorize the pattern of the route you have to run through. There really isn't much skill to it, it's mostly “jump at the end of the platform and then don't jump on the next one” and so forth to learn the layout of the map. There is actually an instant-fail stealth section in this game. And the way it's set up, you're practically guaranteed to fail your first time through because the rules are poorly explained and you're introduced to a new mechanic with nothing to prime you for it. The map is actually functional this time, which is a big plus, but you can't mark it when you find items item you can't reach, so the late game clean-up is a slog trying to remember which room had the item you needed the double jump power to reach. They got rid of the stupid changing planes from the 3DS game, which is another improvement. There are many places where enemies will spawn inside you and instantly do damage or you jump down a ledge and there's an enemy at the bottom that hurts you because you couldn't see it or enemies that spawn behind foreground objects so you can't see them and so on.
For as backtracking-heavy as the game is, Wayforward still hasn't figured out how to do powering up your character properly. At the start of your adventure, Shantae can do 5 damage per hit. The scarecrow enemies at the beginning of the game likely have 10 health so they take two hits to kill (5*2=10!). After spending a ton of money to fully upgrade her attack power, Shantae can do 8 damage, so now the scarecrow enemies at the beginning of the game... still take two hits to kill. That's exactly the wrong way to handle leveling up and power growth versus enemy health. The proper way to do that would be to give the scarecrows 7 or 8 health, so at the start of the game, they take two hits to kill but after investing your time in upgrading your character, they now take one hit to kill and you feel rewarded for your effort. There are a lot of magical MacGuffins you have to find and it usually involves backtracking once you have a later game item or smacking your face into every wall you see to uncover an invisible block or make an enemy appear out of thin air, but they actually don't anything until you're done with the game. In a game like Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, the extra items you could find actually made you stronger or were useful. Sure they'd usually just be missile packs but those were at least kind of useful and sometimes you'd find new equipment. Here though, you ferret out a secret spot and find your item, but you're no better or stronger for it and it doesn't change the gameplay in any way. It feels like somebody played a Metroidvania, said "I want to do that thing!", but didn't actually understand why that thing was enjoyable or meaningful.
There's a good game hiding under a lot of bad decisions. But I feel like I use that excuse for every Wayforward game and I'm tired of it. Mighty Switch Force, Duck Tales, Double Dragon Neon, Aliens Infestation, BloodRayne, Mighty Milky Way, A Boy and His Blob, Mighty Flip Champs, Sigma Star Saga, and all the way back to Xtreme Sports are all either great looking, have great worlds, or have neat mechanics but are so bogged down by bad level designs or bad gameplay elements that none of them are actually fun to play. There's a really obvious pattern here and I haven't even mentioned the licensed dreck that Wayforward pumps out. Please, character designers, sprite artists, and world builders of Wayforward, stage an intervention with your management team and engineers and level designers! Or just all quit en masse and form a kick-butt movie/comics studio! We'd like that.