Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew - There Be Tactics Off The Starboard Bow
Mimimi Games have been quietly making a name for themselves as something of a master developer when it comes to tactical titles. Shadow Tactics and Desperadoes III were both excellent games that took a stealthy approach to real-time tactics, creating unique, well-loved games that deserve a home in any gaming library. So when I heard they were at it again, but this time the focus was on Pirates… well how could I pass up the opportunity to review something like that? Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is the result and honestly it is Mimimi’s best game yet.
Did I say pirates? Well, I should have clarified, it’s actually undead pirates, which is even cooler. The story starts with you taking control of Afia, an undead pirate looking for the famous sentient pirate ship, The Red Marley. Before long you find yourself on board, with the Marley in lousy shape. It is up to you to resurrect the Marley’s crew and chase down the late captain’s fabled treasure before the evil Inquisitor Ignacia and her poxy religion, The Inquisition of the Burning Maiden finds it first and destroys the fabled loot in the name of their rigid doctrine. To do this Afia, along with the resurrected crew must follow the clues left by their beloved captain while engaging in all sorts of sneaky shenanigans that involve special powers, backstabbing and a healthy dose of time manipulation.
Speaking of time manipulation, Mimimi, instead of shunning or discouraging the noble art of save-scumming, have built it into the core gameplay loop. The Marley has the power to remember a moment in time and bring the pirates back to that moment at any point. It is a fancy way to incorporate quicksave into the story but it absolutely works. What’s more, it encourages experimentation. By making the cost of failure minimal it allows players to really test what is possible with their chosen group of pirates and their individual abilities. Funnily enough, I didn’t feel like this lessened the challenge in any way, it just shifted the challenge to puzzle-solving instead of reflex tests. On more than one occasion I would find myself bashing my head against the wall, trying to get past a particular section when all of a sudden the light bulb moment would hit and I would devise the perfect tactic to get through.
The core gameplay loop sees you choosing three pirates to tackle each mission. The pirates all have a range of fantastical abilities and can be switched at the press of a button. The use of each pirate’s abilities is key to success and all of them have interesting ways to contribute to the mission. For example, one can hide underground and strike up at an enemy, instantly hiding the body in the process. Another can use any bodies lying around as ammo for a giant cannon, which can then, in turn, be used to take out other enemies. Perhaps my favourite pirate, Toya, a skeletal Japanese Chef/Assassin has the skill I used the most. He could place a marker anywhere on the map and instantly teleport to that marker, killing anything that happens to be standing there. Using this combined with his whistle is a blast. Setting traps this way never gets old.
Speaking of traps, one of my favourite parts of the game once again involves the time-bending power of the Marley. This allows you to essentially pause time and give orders to your pirates that will then be carried out when time is moving again, enabling you to take out a group of enemies all at once without alerting any others to your presence. Setting up the perfect ambush in this manner is such a satisfying experience and is more often than not the perfect solution for a tough section of the game. There is an undeniable thrill when watching your pirates take down a group of enemies in a coordinated fashion using their fantastical abilities.
The look of the game is very much worth mentioning too. It sits somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and Sea of Thieves in terms of style and carries with it a wonderfully vibrant colour scheme that pops in a way that few games do. There is a humorous element to just about every pirate and enemy design that really helps to sell the feeling that this is a swashbuckling adventure as opposed to a grim mission of life and death, making smiling a common occurrence during playtime. Despite the very tactical and tough gameplay, this is a game that really encourages players to have fun, dive in and immerse themselves in the craziness that is the entire setup. Mimimi has done such a fantastic job of creating this engaging world and the best part is they have continued this good work by giving players a multitude of reasons to continue to interact with it.
The writing continues this theme of humour and joy with the entire story being a wild, fantastical adventure that flips tropes and stereotypes on their heads. In this world, the undead pirates are actually the good guys, general citizens love to see them and the religious types are the ones that need eradicating (ok so maybe that part is pretty normal.) Each individual pirate has a wonderful side story that plays out between each mission for no other reason than to provide a humorous exchange, along with a set of specific training missions so players can get a handle on their abilities before taking them into battle. Even the banter between the pirates and the Marley is a blast, with each character having a clearly defined and utterly enjoyable personality that shines through in every conversation.
Essentially, what Mimimi have created with Shadow Gambit is the culmination of their previous work and the lessons learned along the way. Both Shadow Tactics and Desperadoes III were fantastic games but it is clear they have been surpassed here. In fact, there is very little to fault at all with what Shadow Gambit puts forward. This is a game that all tactical fans should check out. It works fantastically well with a mouse and keyboard or a controller so system choice doesn’t matter, it scales to a range of PC specs including the Steamdeck and Ally and there is nary a tech fault to be found. As someone who is very vocal about their enjoyment of tactical games, I can confidently say this is right up there with the best the genre has to offer. I know there are a host of cracking games all releasing around this time and it would be a damn tragedy if Shadow Gambit was overlooked as a result. So I implore you to check it out because I am sure you won’t be disappointed with what you find.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Mimimi Games.