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If Skull and Bones has you hungry for a better pirate game, try this one

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.
Mimimi Games

After a long voyage filled with delays, Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones is finally out. The multiplayer pirate game sailed through troubling waters in order to get to where it is today, but its launch hasn’t been smooth sailing. It’s earned a mixed reaction so far, despite its combat and visuals impressing. Those highlights couldn’t turn the tides of criticism against it, as some reviewers aren’t as impressed with its narrative and repetitive missions.

Skull and Bones was envisioned as an expansion of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s naval combat mechanics, but its scope became increasingly bigger during development. Even Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said that it was a “AAAA” game to justify charging $70 for it. But what if you could experience a pirate adventure that only costs about half as much money and that also has charming characters? You can if you try Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.

A literal skeleton crew

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew takes place during the same period as Skull and Bones: the Golden Age of Piracy. But developer Mimimi takes a paranormal approach in its strategy game as a mysterious curse has revived the dead and given them superpowers. As the Inquisition hunts the undead, it’s up to you, as one of the undead, to stop them and steal their treasure.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew's characters.
Mimimi Games

These supernatural aspects already make for a unique premise, but the characters are what really make a splash. The story follows Afia Manicato, the ship’s navigator, whose glowing purple eyes hide a caring and reasonable personality. As a cursed individual herself, her body is made up of flesh like a normal human, but her left arm is completely bone. Instead of using a sheath, she tucks her scimitar through the middle of her chest and the sharp end just hangs out of her back.

I love how charismatic and creative the character designs are. Throughout the story, Afia can revive crewmates with Black Pearls she finds and have them join her. One of them, Quentin Aalbers, is a greedy treasure hunter who carries a giant treasure chest as a backpack and wields a fishing rod. What really caps off his design is that though he’s completely headless, he holds a golden skull with a bejeweled crown on it, symbolizing his materialism. The rest of his body is a regular skeleton, but you can’t help but think of the golden skull as his actual head. While this may or may not be what the developers intended, it’s an incredibly thoughtful character design.

After every mission, you can also engage in Crew Tales around the ship, which are like individual character episodes you’d see in RPGs. They add a lot of depth and make sure these character designs are more than just pretty faces. In particular, I was drawn to the ship’s cook, Toya of Iga, because of his Japanese heritage and his damn funny Crew Tale.

As he prepares a giant fish for a meal, Toya suddenly finds out it’s still alive and the fish is surprisingly aware of Toya’s assassin background. The fish then asks to be trained, and Toya, being too awkward to say no, now finds himself with an aquatic ninja student. That’s only one Crew Tale out of nine, and each one is just as entertaining as the next.

A sea of thieves

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew shows a level.
Mimimi Games

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew’s gameplay, like many other games in its real-time strategy genre, takes an isometric view. On each mission, you’re allowed to deploy up to three characters in order to achieve your objective, whether it’s to steal a certain artifact or eliminate a target. While the objectives are limited, the ways you can approach them are almost limitless.

The level design is immaculate, with guards walking back and forth and many terrain obstacles like cliffs and rivers. With only three characters, the islands may seem daunting and impenetrable at first, but once you learn how to create strategies with their abilities, the house of cards starts tumbling down.

You’re able to mix and match your crewmates’ abilities to find synergies between them. Gaelle, the ship’s cannoness, can shoot her allies to higher ground. Quentin can pull his allies up from lower ground, and so both of their abilities complement each other perfectly to help them cross the map in no time at all (there’s even an achievement for that). It’s satisfying to experiment with each character’s abilities to see what kind of tricks you can pull off.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew characters having a conversation.
Mimimi Games

I love that Shadow Gambit actively encourages experimentation with its save system too. In other strategy games, I’m often afraid to commit to a move, thinking that it’s possibly a bad one. However, Shadow Gambit gives you three slots to record your progress and provides an in-universe explanation for save scumming. While some might argue that the feature cheapens the difficulty, I was able to keep trucking along without fear, knowing that I could just rewind time in case I did screw up.

It’s such a shame that Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew wound up being Mimimi’s final game, as the studio announced that it was shutting down last year. It perfected its craft in the real-time strategy genre with games like 2016’s excellent feudal journey Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and 2020’s superb cowboy Western Desperados III. Fifteen years of experience culminated in one of the best pirate adventures ever told. While Mimimi has sailed into the afterlife, I’m eternally grateful the studio left us with a treasure trove of incredible games to remember it by.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is available for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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