Title: Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Developer: Mimimi Games
Release Date: August 17, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Mimimi Games
Genre: Tactical Stealth
I remember in high school how big the ninja vs. pirate debate had gotten, with my friends spending lunch periods debating the finer points of the clash between the two. I considered myself a neutral party in the debate; despite my predilection for Japan, I was never swayed one way in the fight. Instead, I was nursing an idea in my head, what if the pirates were ninjas? Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew seems to have taken that idea straight from my head and run with it to places I would never think.
The game opens up with a lone undead pirate, Afia Manicat0, on the search for a notorious ship, The Red Marley, and her crew. However, during her search, she is struck down by a member of the Inquisition, an organization hellbent on hunting all undead. Although, this isn’t the end – she finds herself back in time mere moments before the ill-fated encounter, with a voice telling Afia to find and release the Red Marley from its prison. Doing so will set her on a quest to resurrect the ship’s crew and find the final treasure left by its captain.
I found the initial hook of rewinding time to be very interesting; it’s there to encourage players to save and reset often, but it helps set the more fantastical setting that the crew calls home. I was excited to see what different powers lay waiting for me, and I often took several minutes when deciding what crewmate to revive next. Not only would they be giving me more power, but I would be introducing a whole new character to my game, one whom I have never met prior.
The crew itself consists of Suleidy, a doctor that can create cover and distract enemies. Teresa la Ciega, a Legendary Sniper who fires a bolt that contains her soul in it, whom Afia highly respects. Gaelle Le Bris, the Gunnery who maintains the Marley’s cannons and crew weapons. The ship’s quartermaster, Pinkus Von Presswald, the cook Toya of Iga, and the shipwright John Mercury round up the crew that players can revive early on in their mission.
So, looking at this crew of miscreants, I consistently found myself paralyzed by a choice that, in the long run, didn’t matter. Expanding the crew past Afia doesn’t unlock anything more than a few quests that can be done on the Red Marley while players are between missions. These crew missions could only be done a single step at a time and reveal a bit about their role on the ship.
However, outside of these missions, none of the characters interact with each other much. Sure, players can control any of the characters and force them to banter with the other crewmates, but none of those interactions ever stood out to me besides as incidental chats. Even now, I don’t remember anything from outside of the specific crew quests about each character.
I think it would have been better to get a sense of the characters by having them interact with each other more outside of missions and each character’s intended quest. As it currently is, I only remember the crewmates that I would consistently bring into missions with me as I found their abilities in combat to match my playstyle. I would often only try the newest crew member I revived for a single mission and then rotate them out as I saw fit or as missions forced me to bring specific crew members.
This meant that the banter I did hear from the crewmates on missions tended to be largely the same, which is a problem I made for myself. However, it felt more important to make sure I was using each character correctly in combat rather than getting a story across, and that is where Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew really shines.
Calling this combat doesn’t quite set the right expectation for what to expect when starting up the game for the first time. Players will need to keep to the shadows, stay crouched, and kill enemies as they are away from the group. Any loud noises or sidelong glances could spell the end for the crew.
Each crewmate can take about three hits of damage, and all enemies will die from a single hit regardless of who does the damage. Each skill has a small cool down, and the character needs to recover after they have successfully neutralized a guard. This time frame is long enough that whenever I attempted to kill a guard that was surrounded, I would only succeed in getting a character killed. I would then be forced to either reload or save the character depending on how bad the situation had degraded after my failure.
I quickly noticed that if I had failed enough times to get a character killed, I was better off reloading a save rather than attempting a rescue. The penalties for reviving the character (being that the revival window gets tighter) can get to the point where players won’t even get a chance to revive their ally. It wasn’t worth the headache of waiting for the right moment to sneak in and grab the body when I could reload the save I had made seconds ago and be in better shape for it.
I quickly found myself not using the revival mechanic, instead opting to use the quick saves that the game already incentivized me to use, which made my time much better. Doing this simple change also had me approach encounters differently, often splitting the party up to isolate my prey before striking. This felt satisfying and led to me taking more risks than I would have prior as if it all went wrong, I would just reload my save.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the time between reloads was getting longer, I was taking more risks, but they were paying off and rewarding me for the various strategies I employed. This was when I fully understood the appeal to Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew. There was something immensely satisfying about slowly making my way through a camp, killing its inhabitants before they even realized that something was wrong.
That feeling is the true strength of the game; it rewards risk-takers without punishing them too hard. The save system is extremely fair and is under the control of the player, and the entire game is built around the idea that at any point, the player can rewind time to retry a particular encounter that didn’t go their way. This leads to interesting design, where everything is a puzzle when approached correctly.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew can take a while for players to get used to, especially if stealth isn’t their forte. However, so much is here that allows the player to learn, and with a save system that encourages frequent reloads, newcomers won’t find themselves overwhelmed. Shadow Gambit exceeded my expectations and made me not only enjoy the strategic process but excited to jump back in after failing and try something new.
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