At this point, Mimimi Games could be considered masters of the design of interesting and vast stealth tactical strategy games. The studio’s latest effort in this field is Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, which takes players from the feudal castles of Shadow Tactics and the dusty trails of Desperados 3 to the high seas of a pirate adventure. Not just any pirates, though. G-g-g-ghost pirates, and you’re playing the ghosts! Even if that was all I had to go on, I’d love this game, but it’s also another refined strategy title from Mimimi featuring a fun cast, interesting mechanics, and drop-dead gorgeous maps in which to employ them.
A fortune to die for
Like Mimimi’s prior games, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a stealth tactics game that puts you in control of a small cast of characters as you seek to defeat enemies and complete objectives across vast maps and scenarios. This time around, your main heroine is Afia Manicato. She’s one of many being known as Cursed: One that should be dead, but lives on through the powers of a Black Pearl embedded in them, as well as ghostly Spirit Energy.
What’s just as important is Afia’s occupation. She’s a pirate, and very interested in Cursed pirates just like her, which leads her to the trail of the for-reals dead Cursed pirate Black Eye Mordechai and his ship, the Red Marley. Word has it Mordechai kept a treasure beyond reckoning and hid it behind an extensive riddle. The problem? A holy group called the Inquisition killed Mordechai and his crew, took the Marley out of commission, and got their own hands on the riddle. Afia is going to have to recapture the Marley, revive what she can of Mordechai’s crew, and race the Inquisition if she wants the ultimate Cursed treasure.
Not only are pirates a good next chapter after ninjas and cowboys for Mimimi, but the addition of ghostly and supernatural elements in Shadow Gambit make everything as ridiculous as it is fun. As you go through the game, you’ll gather Mordechai’s old crew and they provide a fantastic menagerie of scurvy tropes. My favorite might be Quentin: a treasure hunter with a skull made of gold. He can throw it into an enemy’s sightline to get their attention before he stabs them in the back. He can also use his fishing pole to yoink keys from enemies, activate otherwise unreachable environmental traps and shortcuts, and yank bodies out of sight. He’s silly as heck, and many of the crew are just as wild in one way or another.
The environments in Shadow Gambit are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Your journeys through this game take you to all sorts of coastal towns, jungles, mountains, and so much more. Each map is beautifully crafted and features lush colors and detail for you to navigate. There was one mission where I had to reach two inquisitors on a bridge far inland from a lush, tropical coast. The journey through enemy camps, small bogs, and up rocky crags to reach them was so incredible it was hard to believe that was all just one mission.
I will say, however, that I don’t think Mimimi made the best use of the space they put together in Shadow Gambit. As big and beautiful as these maps are, some of the areas in them were seemingly just for show with nothing going on. It’s great these maps are so fully fleshed out visually and spatially, but I also feel they could have either focused in on the sections where the action is or given me something to do in some of the empty areas, like secrets to find or some such thing.
The ghost pirate rules!
The use of the ghost pirate theme is a big part of what I like about Shadow Gambit’s gameplay in general. Where Mimimi has had to base its mechanics and character functions somewhat in reality in games like Shadow Tactics and Desperados 3, everything is on the table when you have supernatural elements and the undead in play. They did a great job of using that premise to create fun gameplay for much of the playable crew in Shadow Gambit.
Among the crew, you’ll have members that can swim, hide themselves or enemy bodies, distract enemies, and all sorts of other specialties, and it’s usually tied into a ghostly power. I mentioned previously that I really enjoyed Quentin for some of his mechanics, but he’s just one piece of the puzzle as a distractor and gadget activator. Meanwhile, Gaelle Le Bris is the crew’s cannoneer, and she brings an actual cannon with her. Why? Because she can stuff someone into it and literally fire them out, whether it’s splat against a wall, into the ocean, or even at another enemy. Each one of the Marley’s crew is more ridiculous than the last and the way in which they specialize means you’ll likely find use for each one as you craft your strategies.
The Inquisition has its own nasty tools as well. Remember the two targets up on a bridge I had to kill? Well, I had to get them both at the same time because they were soul-linked and if only one died, the other would revive them and raise the alarm. There was also a crossbow sniper in a tower I had to use the shadows of night to navigate and get close to, and a special priest that would counter my crew’s ghostly attacks unless I killed them with indirect things, like dropping a boulder on them from a nearby cliff. Each level presented interesting challenges, and figuring out how to use my crew to overcome them was always fun.
I will say Shadow Tactics: The Cursed Crew isn’t an easy game in the slightest on normal difficulty. The game plays in real-time, except for pauses you can use to plan your actions and strategy. That said, so much can go wrong and probably will. Thankfully, Mimimi brought back its quick-save and quick-load feature from previous games to let you quickly save your instance and go back to it in a single button press if things go wrong. It’s a lifesaver of a mechanic as always, and one players will likely rely on unless they’re specifically trying to challenge themselves to play without it.
Unfortunately, I felt the collection of crewmates to be sliw and oddly confining. You can only revive a member of the Marley’s crew when you have enough Soul Energy and a Black Pearl to give them, and those pearls don't come easy. Once you make a choice of who to revive, you can’t go back and pick another. I wish the game let me experiment a little more freely with each crewmember and their capabilities before I was locked into a choice. Nonetheless, they are fun to explore and each will fit into your overall strategy in fun and interesting ways.
The price of a soul in gold
I really like this niche that Mimimi has taken on in their games, and they seem to do it better with each go. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew takes the character-driven stealth tactics I loved in Desperados and applies a ghost pirate theme to it in ways that are nearly always fun to play and beautiful to look at. It’s tough as nails and I wish I could experiment more before big choices, but I also think the concept allowed Mimimi to do some silly and spectacular things with its gameplay. Shadow Gambit sets a new standard for this studio, and I’ll be playing it until we get to see how they top themselves next.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew comes to PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on August 17, 2023.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
- Fun collection of characters & mechanics
- Level maps are drop-dead gorgeous
- Enemy variety keeps the challenge exciting
- Quick-save/quick-load is a lifesaver
- Ghost pirates! Yarr!
- Roster expansion is very slow & non-reversable
- Some missions are ridiculously tough
- Big maps are sometimes underutilized
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew review: Ghostly strategy on the high seas
Wishlisted it. Might even play it one day.
Love these games, but I'm too busy with BG3 to buy a $40 game right now. I'll scoop it up eventually, but this fall is DENSE with big games to play.
Still haven't finished Desperados 3. I'll tackle that later and by the time I get to Cursed Crew it'll probably be free on EGS or offered in Humble Monthly.
Played the demo and I’m buying it tomorrow on release. The environments are gorgeous, the UI is polished and sexy as fuck and I love the demo character’s special moves. The f5 - f-9 memory mechanic that encourages experimentation is fantastic too.
Seriously excited to play this tomorrow.