Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew review — Perfecting the Formula

Yarr! Gather up and listen true, fer I have a story to tell. The Red Marley, bloodthirsty and vicious a ship as there ever was, drug up a whole cursed crew from the Below, setting them to work swabbin’ the deck. But you and I both know that the Marley has more up her sleeve than scrubbed planks, and I’d bet my parrot it has to do with the Inquisition setting up shop in the Lost Carribean. Stories heard suggest that she has more than skeletons aboard, perhaps gathering up a whole crew of malcontent and cursed individuals, each with a host of unnatural abilities. While her cap’n may be dead, she still roams the seas, so lemme tell ye a story of piracy – the story of Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew tells a fantasy story of the Red Marley, a ship that resurrected a pirate named Afia Manicato to help her take down the Inquisition. They’ve set up shop in the Caribbean to dig up all manner of magical artifacts. Afia finds the Marley in a fairly rough state – nearly every member of the crew is dead, and I don’t mean the skeletons! Eight souls lie aboard but will need a touch of magic and a black pearl to resurrect each of them. Afia has a whole lot of work ahead of her.

If you’ve played a game from developer Mimimi Games, then you know they have a niche. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun was their first major title, and I absolutely loved it. Set in Japan, it gave us a wonderful tactical title that was as rewarding for bloody ruthlessness as it was for silent efficiency. Difficult, to be sure, the game didn’t have a right way or wrong way to tackle any of the missions. The team then followed it with the Western themed title Desperados III, and I was equally as enamored with that title. Returning to Japan, they gave us a standalone title that served as an expansion, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. They didn’t miss a beat there, either, as you can see in my review. While the formula for many of the characters between these games was similar, there was one character that I’d argue served as the catalyst for Shadow Gambit – Isabelle Moreau. Isabelle could use mind control darts to influence troops, distract enemies with her cat Kuma, and can “link” two enemies together so whatever happens to one happens to the other. When we talk about some of the characters and their powers, you’ll see some parallels…

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew - Cinematic Reveal Trailer

Like their previous titles, Shadow Gambit is about exploiting the powers of your team, coordinating their movements, and taking down your enemies. Foes have two sections of their vision – a solid piece and a checkered piece. The solid piece they can see clearly, and anything you do in that will get immediately noticed. The checkered piece is safe, as long as you stay crouched and don’t do anything suspicious like leave a dead body sitting in it. When an enemy thinks they’ve spotted something the cone will begin to fill up with yellow, as well as a dashed line leading to whomever is spotting you. Once it fills up, the alarm is triggered and they’ll sound a 30 second alarm. Most enemies will then run towards you with whatever weapons they have, stabbing, shooting, or in some cases using otherworldly powers to subdue you. Staying crouched, out of sight, and “view cone surfing” will let you get into places you shouldn’t, but Shadow Gambit leans into it in a whole new way. Before we get into that, let’s meet your undead cast of characters.

First we have the aforementioned Afia Monacado. She’s given the job of ship’s navigator and she’ll set the course for where the Marley heads next. In the field she’s able to use her power to leap forward a short distance to dispatch a foe with the sword conveniently stabbed through her chest. She can also use her stopwatch to suspend a foe in time, stopping them from moving or seeing anything for a short amount of time. This power alone is a huge boon as you can use it to walk straight up to an enemy to take them out and they can’t do a thing about it. She can’t swim, but she can climb ivy and ladders – this’ll become important later.

John Hughes Mercury (which may or may not be a nod to the famed late Director of such movies as Curly Sue, Uncle Buck, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, John Hughes) is the Shipwright of the Marley. He’s able to use his anchor to open a portal to the Below where he can hide, and then using his Anchor Up power, explode through another portal. He raises his anchor up high, striking an enemy not only dead, but shoving them through the ground and down into the Below, their body removed from sight. His ever-present buddy, Sir Reginald, is a fish that he carries around with him. John can blub at foes, distracting them to look a certain direction as…well, who in their right mind expects a half-eaten fish to blub at them at any point in their day. Naturally, and despite the giant anchor, John can swim and climb ivy.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew Resurrecting the Crew and Training Mission

Suleidy is the Ship’s Doctor. She can deploy Cover Seeds which instantly plants a bush where needed. This obscures vision in a straight line, meaning she can turn otherwise solid view lines into checked ones, allowing your team to sneak all the way up to that bush. She also has Wander Dust which will cause an enemy to immediately turn and walk the other direction from her in a straight line, leaving their post and often putting them into vulnerable positions. While she can’t swim, she can climb, and her ability to place a bush anywhere makes her invaluable.

Gaëlle Le Bris is the cannoneer and sometime poet of the ship. She can fire a kanol (which is apparently Breton for “Cannon”), knocking them out cold instantly as a giant 4000 pound gun is wont to do. She can then stuff said foe into the cannon and then shoot them at other enemies, knocking them unconscious as well. She makes one hell of a racket, but you can’t argue with the results. She can also pull willing crewmates into the kanol and fire them into crazy places, launching friends into areas they might not be able to reach otherwise. She can’t swim or climb (again, 4000 pound cannon), but that doesn’t stop her from doing a whole lot of damage. She can also distract and lure foes with firecrackers – something they should probably stop falling for but never do.

Teresa La Ciega is your crossbow sharpshooter. She can shoot two kinds of Soul Energy over a very large distance, either delivering lethal or just “temporary judgment”, as well as blinding them with her “Ashen Judgment” power which will blind an enemy temporarily. I say blind, but in practice their view cone is actually reduced roughly 90%, so I wouldn’t suggest walking directly past anyone. Like Gaëlle, she can’t climb ivy or swim, but her ability to reach out and silence foes at a remarkable distance that would be treacherous to traverse is awesome. Just make sure you retrieve the bolt – she only has one.

Pinkus von Presswald is your Quartermaster, and by far my favorite of the crew. He is your resident body snatcher, able to use his “Peruse Mind” skill to embody an enemy. While possessing a body, he is completely undetectable, allowing him to move freely and survey the battleground, though his range is limited, and he still can’t do things that would otherwise cause him to be detected. Once he’s done with that body, he’ll also need to dispose of it, though he’ll complain about having to drag the body the whole time. He can also fling a coin to distract enemies or chat them up, causing them to look another direction. Just like Gaëlle and Teresa, he’s not an ivy climber or swimmer.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew - Island Spotlight: Calamity Reef

Quentin Aalbers is a Treasure Hunter, but honestly aren’t we all? He’s also one of the strangest crew members, but also one of the most entertaining. He’s a skeleton with a large treasure chest on his back and…well, his head isn’t attached. That head is bejeweled, gold, and sports a lovely gemmed crown. Throwing his head into the view cone will cause basic troops to come investigate (it’s more likely they intend to pawn it). Those foolish enough to pick it up are soon met with a knife in the back when Quentin’s body comes to reclaim his skull. As a bonus, he can then yank the body into his treasure chest, removing the body from view. He can climb and swim, on top of all that, making him very versatile.

Toyo of Iga is the resident cook, but what he’s cooking up is death. A master assassin (and yes, also a master cook), he has a few familiar moves as well. He can throw a magical charm that allows him to instantly teleport back to that spot from anywhere on the battlefield. If an enemy happens to be in that same spot, they get a healthy serving of seven cuts from all angles, turning them into Inquisition Sashimi. He can distract and lure with a flute as well, allowing him to lure and dispatch foes with immediate effect. He’s also able to climb, swim, and move rapidly around the battlefield.

You do have another important crew member (beyond the mindless skeleton crew which is literally skeletons, naturally), and that’s Estelle. Estelle is an undead monkey (which you can pet, of course) and can help you with a few puzzles around the ship and will guide you to the challenges for your crew.

Time of day makes more of an impact this time around. The view cone of a guard has two portions – a solid section and a striped one. As previously mentioned, the striped ones will keep you in the shadows, allowing you to simply walk through them. During the day, however, they’ll slowly fill up as the guard trains their vision on you. You’ll have to carefully slip between hiding spots like bushes and fences to keep yourself hidden. As a new addition to the formula, a “View cone Marker’ can be placed on a spot or on a guard, alerting you to see if an area or person is being directly observed and by whom, moving with them if they are on patrol. This is incredibly useful for timing a strike, though you’ll still have to handle the body. It’s insanely useful as it all but eliminates the “Who the heck saw me!?” or “Nobody was looking at that guy!” moments that sometimes frustrated in previous titles.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew Tutorial and Red Marley Rising Level on PC in 4K

As all of your crew members are dead (beyond the normal amount of dead, in this case), they will need soul energy as well as a black pearl to bring them back to the land of the semi-living. This point right here is the secret sauce that makes Shadow Gambit work so perfectly. Right after the tutorial you’ll have the choice of two different pirates to revive, but you only have enough pearls and soul energy for the one. To bring more to life you’ll have to complete more missions and collect both. As such, there’s no set blueprint this time around.

All three of Mimimi’s titles have been prescriptive about who is going on your mission, and as such, those missions are somewhat tailored around them. It meant that the game was very linear as while there were many ways to tackle the mission once you are in, who you brought with you was no mystery. In Shadow Gambit, the choice is yours. It’s recommended that you bring a climber, a swimmer, and a hider for your mission (See? Told you I’d get back to this!), the choice is yours. Your crew will get angsty about being left behind, and the longer you leave them off the away crew, the more of a bonus to Vigor when you finally do bring them (more on Vigor in a few). It encourages you to bring them along without outright demanding it. For me, I never found a rhythm with Gaëlle Le Bris’s powers, so I just left her riding the pine, and that’s perfectly fine. I also used Pinkus excessively which is also perfectly fine. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is about your crew – you play your way, and it makes a world of difference.

In terms of gameplay, the flow is familiar. Early missions will be a bit more loose. Foes will wander away from their posts and they’ll be easily distracted. Later missions you’ll see far more discipline with interlocking view cones all over the place. If you want to take people out, you’ll need to break them away from the pack. It’s always better to see if you can coordinate an ‘accident’, such as a falling rock or collapsing crates. Each level has a number of these opportunities, if you are observant.

Another central mechanic is “Shadow Mode”. We’ve seen variants of this in all of Mimimi’s previous games, albeit by different names. Shadow mode pauses the game and allows you to specify a single action per crewmate. When you are done, hitting Enter on the keyboard will unleash all of those actions simultaneously – perfect for a multi-pronged attack or slick distract-and-scoot move. Now you can also queue up secondary moves like picking up a body and stashing it, or moving to a secondary location, adding some much needed utility to this mode. During one mission I executed a Shadow Mode strike with a whopping five crew members simultaneously, making me feel like a complete badass – I live for these moments in games.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew - Composer Announcement

Hearkening back to the link power that Isabelle had in Desperados, you’ll eventually run into Kindred. These guys are linked together, but in the opposite way. Killing one doesn’t kill both, instead causing the dead one to resurrect (and angry to boot) if you don’t take them both out simultaneously. This is what Shadow Mode is made for, especially when you also need to take down a Iudex or a Commissarius happens to have an eye on them, putting your third blade to use. There are plenty of opportunities to thread the needle with impossible moves, and that keeps this game fresh and alive throughout.

Of note, each of your pirates does come with a pistol, and you do have the ability to “go loud”. In my experience a fired shot doesn’t do anything to make the game easier – the opposite in fact. It’s always better to handle things quietly. Let’s talk about time manipulation.

All of the Mimimi games made saving and reloading a large portion of the gameplay flow. The game is difficult, and it’s meant to be. It’s easy to see saving and reloading as “save scumming”, but here it’s delivered as a power of the Red Marley. Stylized as Captured Memories and Unleashed Memories, the game will remind you to frequently use this mechanic. Your characters will even comment on it as they’ll remember the past run and this new timeline as a “new memory”. You have unlimited use of this, except at higher difficulty levels. These limit the use dramatically, honestly I felt like that took some of the fun out of it, but your mileage may vary.

Each of the characters you recruit have a number of secret badges they can uncover, skill upgrades to acquire, five Crew Tales (think Loyalty Missions a la Mass Effect, split into multiple parts), a Captain’s Test, and a trip to the Challenge room to complete so you can master their skills. The Crew Tales can only be tackled one step at a time, and only between each mission, so don’t expect you’ll be tackling all of these at once. That said, each of these reveal a bit more about the characters behind the blades in a way that Desperados never did. I feel like I know these characters far better than I ever did the crew of Mimimi’s western or Shogun titles, no matter how good those games were.

Every mission you complete will add to your overall “Vigor” amount. Vigor can be used to purchase upgrades for each of your characters. For example, Afia can get a long-range teleport strike, but it only gets a single use – I leave the rest for you to discover. I mentioned that your crew gets angsty when you leave them behind – bringing them along will add their bonus to the overall Vigor score, getting you these precious upgrades sooner.

A full stat system lies underneath the surface of Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, always watching. It keeps track of your total kills, total knockouts (all skills have a non-lethal option if you are a filthy pacifist), how many times you quicksave (“Captured memories”) or quick restore (“Unleashed memories”), how many alarms you’ve triggered, total playtime, total missions played, most played mission, most played island, most played crewmate, and the crewmate with the most kills. Digging into the individual crew members will reveal even more stats including how much distance they’ve traveled, how many times they’ve used their individual skills, how many times they’ve died, and more.

This stat system penetrates further into the overall experience at the end of a mission. As in previous Mimimi titles, you’ll get an overview of the mission with full time controls to see where you saved, killed, used powers, and more. Once you are satisfied you’ve learned all you can by rewatching your experience, you can click continue and see what badges you’ve either completed, either in partial or in full. Some of these are as simple as killing a certain amount of foes using specific powers, and others are more complicated like knowing to execute a specific enemy a specific way. Rest assured, you won’t be in the dark long, however, as when you’ve completed the game the entire gambit is fully revealed. You’ll see all badges at this point, as well as the conditions needed to complete them, giving you not only the motivation but the pull to return to previous missions. There are a total of 54 badges to uncover, leaving you with plenty to do once the credits roll.

Another major difference between Shadow Gambit and previous titles is that it’s somewhat non-linear. It doesn’t take long before you’ll be able to select which island you’d like to visit and when. When you get to the Captain’s Test, you’ll be able to tackle these in any order you see fit as well. Depending on who you revived and when, certain locations are more or less difficult, making the progress curve that much more interesting. You won’t have any shortage of missions, either – this game will easily take you 30 hours to complete, and somehow it never felt like it outstayed its welcome.

Another change to the formula is a bit more control over landing parameters. Once Afia selects an island to land on, you’ll see a short introduction video for each mission, as well as the parameters such a time of day, the maximum number of crew members you can bring, how long the mission is, and an opportunity to once again select your difficulty level. You’ll even get to choose where you want to land your crew. It means you’ll have more granular control over your experience, and I’m a fan of that – meet people where they play.

My only real complaints are the voice work and pathing. 99% of the crew sounds awesome, with Quentin and Pinkus being real standouts. Suleidy on the other hand was like nails to a chalkboard for me. Suleidy has a very dry American accent. I don’t know if this isn’t the native tongue of the voice actress, but every time Suleidy opened her mouth I felt myself wanting to reach for the skip button. It’s nothing personal, and it’s likely just my American ears, but there’s something about it – no offense to the voice actress that provided it.

The pathing in Desperados III had problems, and thankfully Shadow Gambit has improved on it dramatically. Still, during some missions I struggled to keep my troops on path. The final mission had so much verticality that I frequently had my troops heading where I didn’t intend, exposing them to enemy fire. When every guard has a military-precision interlocking field of visibility on one another, it gets to be a bit much in places.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew - Cinematic Reveal Trailer | Side by Side Making Of

On the other hand, there are so many small details that really bring this game to life. Your skeleton crew, when they aren’t swabbing the deck and the like, will gather around and listen to one of them playing a hurdy gurdy. Others will swab the deck, move boxes, and otherwise take care of the ship. Out in the field the guards will frequently talk and move around. Your crew (and the narrator) will frequently comment on the occurrences within the mission. It’s little things like this that really make the ship feel like it’s alive, even if the crew isn’t.

Ultimately Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew feels like a massive iteration over its predecessors. While it retains some of the same DNA that made those games a blast to play, it gives us so many new ways to play that it feels fresh and new. I enjoyed every bit of the 30 hours Shadow Gambit delivered (with more to go after the credits!), and I cannot wait to see what Mimimi Games brings our way next!

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!



Shadow gambit: The Cursed Crew

Review Guidelines

With innumerable improvements to the formula, Mimimi has delivered another hit. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a wonderful tactical title with an even better story than its predecessors. This is the formula perfected.

Ron Burke

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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