But when pirates attack her home town, and her old nemesis Risky Boots appears to tell her about a mysterious Pirate Master, she has little choice but to try and save the day with nothing but her Kabuki Ninja-esque hair attack and ability to leap around.
This sets Shantae off on an adventure that takes her to a number of different islands looking for dens of evil, which much be purged to stop the evil Pirate Master from returning. Each island and environment is beautifully presented with some of the most colourful and vibrant 2D platform artwork seen in a very long time. They also contain different themed environments and enemies so there is always something new and varied to see.
Unlike previous games, instead of Shantae using her magic powers to transform into different forms, she now has to collect various pirate artefacts, which then grant her the ability to progress. It follows a template similar to Metroid in that you collect an object like a gun, which then allows you to operate a switch to open a door, which then allows you to move to a new section of the level. There is also a fair amount of wandering back and forth between the different islands and levels but as they are so much fun to explore and revisit, this isn’t an issue.
Level design remains strong throughout, with the islands and dungeons providing different challenges and puzzles to solve. The game is always challenging but never unfair or too harsh to stop progression for long. Finding heart squids will also increase your life and Shantae can buy upgrade shampoo and conditioner to level up her hair’s attack power and speed. The learning curve is set just about perfectly and players should feel like they are always prepared for what they come up against without it being a complete walkover.
One of the highlights of the game is the colourful collection of characters and ever-so-slightly twisted humour that runs through the game. Early on for instance, you’ll meet a former giant squid boss who is bemoaning the fact he feels he’ll only be used as a returning reference to the previous game so is planning to retire (naturally you’ll have to find him a travel brochure so he can start travelling the world for the just the right spot).
There are a host of well-known characters from the series to touch base with and it adds just the right amount of fan service for players of the series. The writing is also sharp and entertaining – if a little uncomfortable at times. Weirdly, there is a slight sexual undercurrent throughout. An early puzzle requires light to reflect off two untanned girls who won’t strip to their bikinis, while later Shantae acquires x-ray glasses from a disappointed character who has moved to a beach resort out of season so there are no girls to look at. It’s not overly dodgy, but something that parents of younger gamers will probably want to know about.
Some of the character design is also questionable. There are Mermaid characters that are topless (just without nipples), and what can only be described as a giant rolling ball orgy of naked women as a boss to contend with. While Shantae can be forgiven for her attire as she is both a genie and a dancer, both she and a few other characters seem to have ‘developed’ a little since last the last game as well.
Pixelated cleavage aside, the game is an absolute joy to play and an experience that will keep you smiling throughout. Shantae controls very well and always responds how she should. The different objects you pick up always add something new to mess around with and there are plenty of extra side quests and collectables to hunt around for. It all gives you an excuse to spend a bit more time with the game and when something is as joyful as this then it’s likely you’ll be happy to oblige it.
Overall, this is another top drawer entry in the Shantae series. Shantae games are always more expensive than other digital games but they are also of a much more accomplished quality than almost everything else in the same genre. It’s a colourful, fun and inventive game and feels right at home on the Wii U. It would be great for the series to build up more of a fan base as they offer some of the best Metroidvania action out there. If you love your retro inspired platformers then you really need to own this.