Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. We’ve got some PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware
I’ve mentioned my buddy Matt before. Matt has two sons, one of which is prime video game playing age. As Matt and I are both tremendous nerds, no one disparages the child’s hobby, and while Uncle Goggle Bob may have had to unlock some of the more difficult content in some games (“Thanks for unlocking the weird mushroom, Goggle Bob”), the kid is pretty good for playing games to completion. Not too long ago, Matt’s kid dug up his father’s old Gameboy, and started playing Metroid 2. And, despite the game having the same graphical fidelity as a damp tissue, he enjoyed it. So, knowing that I’m a giant videogame nerd, Matt asked me what would be an ideal, similar game for the 3DS (his child’s general system of choice). Two games came to mind.
- Shovel Knight, because, while it may be difficult, I know the kid also enjoyed Duck Tales, so, ya know, if he enjoys Samus Aran and Scrooge McDuck, this seems like a slam dunk. Might be a little too difficult though, so I also considered…
- Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse which, while it may rely on the Link’s Adventure formula of exploration, was still very close to Metroid 2 metroidvania gameplay. It also featured another fierce heroine (as opposed to hero), which is probably a good thing for boys to see every once in a while.
So, after deliberating on both choices, I decided to only recommend Shovel Knight. Want to know why? Well, in, say, Metroid 2, how do you get deeper into the game? You “land” on the planet, grab some powerups, shoot some blocks, discover the Alpha Metroid, kill it, and then proceed downward past some receding lava. This is some pretty typical video game advancement, so maybe we’ll look The Legend of Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure. In that game, it’s not unusual to have to deal with a villager that is claiming they have some spell or item you need, but you have to perform a fetch quest to obtain whatever this puissant peasant wants. Go to the Deadly Cave, obtain the Trophy, drag it back to Tom, Tom forks over the Jump Spell, and then it’s time to leap over that ledge in Frightening Cave and head onto Second Dungeon. This is much closer to how Shantae works.
Actually, let’s be particular about how Shantae “works”. To access the first dungeon in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse you must first find your way to Saliva Island. Once there, find the campers, and hit the ham until you can acquire the ham scent. Climb up the cliffs, and find the Giga Lummox. Use the ham scent on the wannabe dragon, and it will create a waterfall of saliva that pours down the side of the mountain. Now you can obtain the magic spell that grants access to the first dungeon because the hills are illuminated by the light reflecting off the wet, glistening bodies of a pair of bikini-clad women.
I… I can’t imagine why I would resist recommending this game to a prepubescent child.
Which is a shame, and ultimately why I’m writing this entry, because I really, really want to unabashedly endorse Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. I love playing this game! I love the upgrade progression, Shantae’s movements feel completely natural, and the when the characters are on, they’re really on. There’s nothing I don’t like about Shantae and the Pirate Curse.
Except, ya know, stuff like that.
Now, I’m not one to start clutching my pearls at the first sign of something lewd. To be absolutely clear, I have no objections to Shantae’s normal outfit or general “look”. Yes, she’s basically dressed like a “harem girl”, but she’s not too far off from 1960’s Barbara Eden, and someone thought that was wholesome enough for daytime television reruns. Yes, Shantae and most of her supporting cast are various kinds of beautiful people, but that’s pretty much par for the course with all media. Our media basically has a no fatties policy, and you know it.
Come to think of it, that brings us to my next point.
I don’t need to dwell on Twitch & Vinegar’s shimmering, half-naked bodies, right? That’s plain old fanservice, a little something to titillate the audience and guarantee that you’re not playing the game with any real-life women in the room. That kind of thing happens, and the scene is played for sex appeal and laughs (afterall, the girls are bathing in literal monster spit). If we follow that “laughs” through line, you’ll come to the fact that there are a lot of fat jokes in SatPC…
Parents insulting their children…
Patriarchs insulting random women…
And the ever popular women calling other women fat.
First of all, there’s the obvious, and that’s that none of these women are fat. And there’s everything that goes along with that; the whole “Barbie” mentality that all women should weigh about a hundred pounds, and every ounce over that is only for disgusting pigs. There have been entire libraries written on how this is dangerous thinking for men and women, and it’s disparaging to see that thinking exhumed here.
But even beyond that, there’s the more subtle misogyny going on here. What you’re seeing here, particularly in the final shot, is mere inches from the typical “breast measuring” scene. This happens often in pretty much any anime (usually in conjunction with a bathing/hot springs scene), but you see it occasionally in Western releases as well. Basically, it perpetuates the stereotype that women are just as obsessed with their bodies and “measurements” as men, and, when left to their own devices, they spend all their time comparing cup sizes and dieting tips. This is one of those great understated bits of misogyny, because it tells men, “See? Women treat themselves as objects! You can obsess over their naked bodies all you want, because they do it too!”
Yeah, it’s a joke, we’re all supposed to laugh. But it also reveals a subconscious moral that I don’t want anywhere near a developing brain. And, yes, it’s another excuse for you, player, to think about Shantae and her friends naked.
And speaking of thinking of Shantae naked…
We’ve got this whole section, which finds really flimsy excuses to get the entire female cast (well, I guess Pitch & Vinegar already had their turn, so only Sky’s [unnamed] Mother avoids this fate) into ultra-tiny bikinis. It’s all subjective, but I want to say that this outfit is maaaaaaybe a little more revealing than the typical duds of these characters. But we wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity for pinups of all your favorite characters, so here we are, an “in universe” reason that the flighty Rotty Tops and the taciturn Risky Boots are both wearing the same revealing garments. It’s not exploitation if there’s a reason for it!
Oh, and just to piss me off, the “ceremonial garb” is not actually worn by the character that they’re supposed to be emulating (because she’s not supposed to be conventionally attractive, you see). Even the excuses for fanservice are half-baked!
This is Wankery Week, so we come back to the question of the week: “why?” Why did Wayforward pump this game so full of fanservice that it practically eclipses the concrete appeal of a very well-crafted game? Were they concerned this game wouldn’t succeed without the added (primarily heterosexual male based) sex appeal? Was it a deep desire to pen their own fanfic and run their strong female character through embarrassing situations (oh, did I not mention the game starts with Shantae being kidnapped while naked and bathing)? Was it just because someone thought it would be funny, and the sex appeal is incidental?
I wonder, because Shantae’s previous mission had pretty much none of this nonsense. There were “sexy statues”…
… And that’s about it. Shantae is a pretty straight-forward heroine. Rottytops is flighty, but also a generally dependable ally. Mayor Scuttlebutt is clearly a corrupt politician, but has the town’s best interest at heart.
By Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Shantae is a randomly a rageaholic, Rottytops is selfish to the point that it nearly gets Shantae killed (well, it sure got my Shantae killed a lot… damn endless runner), and Mayor Scuttlebutt is some kind of gluttonous food monster with a pretty noticeable learning disability. I suppose everything was turned up to eleven for SatPC, so it’s only natural that fanservice would hit that same echelon.
I really doubt we’ll ever have an answer to the question of “why” here (“We wanted to appeal to a predominantly male demographic,” is something that most video game designers seem incapable of saying), but the end result is a pity. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a wonderful game that I am absolutely never going to play with a girlfriend, wife, or daughter. A woman is certainly capable of playing this game, but I’m never going to suggest to a female friend that we go grab a controller and play that game with the sexy zombie girl. And, sure, after we’re done with that, we’ll watch High School DxD and maybe catch the Deep Throat matinee.
And, no, I’m never going to recommend this game to a child. Maybe when you’re older, and I can explain the concept of pandering…
WW #4 Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
- System: Originally only on the Nintendo 3DS, it eventually migrated to the WiiU, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and most computer platforms.
- Number of players: Just one half-genie hero. Actually, she’s no-genie for most of the game.
- Could you play this with someone else in the room: Dudes are just going to play this game like business as usual, nothing shameful about a game with a sexy protagonist. Most women, however, would be likely to have opinions about particular sections of the game.
- Port o’ Call: The “original” 3DS version features 3-D “pop out” breasts for all the lady characters. Just like Senran Kagura! Oh boy!
- Fat Jokes: Alright, yes, there’s obviously also a number of fat jokes aimed at Mayor Scuttlebutt, but he’s actually, you know, heavy. There’s a significant difference between making a fat joke at the expense of an overweight male versus a practically twiggy female. Body shaming is bad in general, but there’s “bad” and then there’s “bad, and part of a larger problem”.
- Favorite Dungeon: Mud Bog Island is the worst island with the best town (Village of Lost Souls) and the Oubliette of Suffering, my favorite dungeon. I like the motif, I like the unconventional map, and I like any dungeon that is built around featuring Risky’s Boots (aka the Speed Booster). Also, big fan of “afterlife” interpretations in video games.
- Favorite Boss: Steel Maggot (patent pending). I… just enjoy hitting buttons.
- A Shape of Things to come: And the sequel, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, doesn’t seem to have the same problems as its predecessor. Everything seems to be tuned down to Risky’s Revenge levels. Good job! Seriously!
- Did you know? Wobble Bell, the lost dog from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, reappears during SatPC’s ending during a scene… in the Village of Lost Souls. But don’t worry! She’s not dead, just lost and chilling with other past heroes.
- Would I play again: I really like this game! Just going to be a lot of smacking start for the dialogue…
What’s next? How about a little something for the ladies, eh?
I’m guessing Inti Creates had a li’l more input on Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse than just a few extra art assets, ‘cuz the game was also the first (non-iOS/Steam) release in the series to receive a Japanese release. I’d guess WayForward really wanted to win over the Gal*Gun crowd.
Anyway, I like the game a lot but I sure as heck noticed that it went up a level in the skeeviness department. As such I’m more reluctant to recommend it, too. Previous games were primarily just pretty girls with boobs, but this has stuff like the Deviant Art-esque dragon drool thing and a contrived situation that dresses up the main female cast like slave girl Leia cosplayers.
Some people at TT were awfully defensive about the game. It’s like, I get y’all like the game, and I do too, but c’mon you guys, it did gain a few levels in the pandering department.
Anyway, Wobble Bell’s in Wobble Hell? Heh, guess pounding the pup for gems really was fatal. Nah, I kid, I know Word of Matt says the dog’s just lost. But still, you see that without knowing that…