It could be considered fitting that, like the Golden Age of Piracy, the shuttering of indie developer Mimimi Games was met with a glorious, albeit sudden, end. The final game from the studio, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, serves as a capstone of the studio’s constant innovation in the stealth tactics genre. Building off of its previous games Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Mimimi has done a fantastic job refining its stealth formula into an accessible, creative, and novel experience in a notoriously challenging genre. It’s a shame to see Mimimi close its doors after a 15-year run, even for healthy reasons, but Shadow Gambit is one hell of a send-off.
Whereas Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics leveraged the Wild West and Edo-era Japan, The Cursed Crew plants itself in a rendition of the Caribbean that I can only describe as “Monkey Island-esque,” complete with talking skulls and undead pirates.
In Shadow Gambit’s isometric perspective, you’ll spend the majority of your time analyzing enemy patrol routes and systematically eliminating guards while attempting to remain undetected. As you’re introduced to more resilient enemies, you might have to switch up your approach, but ultimately, each objective in Shadow Gambit is a puzzle that you solve with a combination of patience, observation, and careful timing.
Mimimi implements two clever tools to assist in this regard. The first is a remarkably forgiving quick-save system that the game’s narrator periodically reminds you to use. Quick-saving isn’t a revolutionary feature in and of itself, but loading a previous save in Shadow Gambit happens so fast that it’s practically seamless, drastically reducing the penalties for failure. What’s more, Mimimi has built “save scumming” into the game’s very narrative — it’s framed as the superpower of the Red Marley, the sentient pirate ship you return to between missions.
Shadow Gambit also sees the triumphant return of another Mimimi staple, its planning system, which allows you to pause the game and queue up actions for each character before simultaneously executing them. This grants the benefit of easily pulling off rapid maneuvers, and looking rad as hell in the process.
To accomplish each mission, you recruit and deploy a rogues’ gallery of distinct characters, all of whom have different abilities that allow you to eliminate, distract, or reposition guards. After a certain point, you can recruit the pirates in any order (read: necromance them using collectible Black Pearls scattered around the game’s archipelago). But initially, you have access to Afia, the protagonist whose Dishonored-esque powers provide a solid combination of maneuverability and lethality. My favorite recruits are Teresa, the blind, peg-legged sniper, and Toya, the teleporting assassin. Aside from a select few missions that prohibit certain characters from deploying, you can roll with any three-pirate crew you want; amazingly, I never selected a team comp that wouldn’t let me accomplish every objective with style and panache.
Beyond their stealth capabilities and quirky talents (the cannoness Gaëlle le Bris can launch enemies into the ocean, while the quartermaster Pinkus von Presswald can possess enemies, to name a couple), each member of your crew gets a bespoke side storyline. The ship's doctor and literal plant lady Suleidy, for example, is charged with diagnosing a strange malady afflicting the skeletal crew of the ship. Even your home base, the Red Marley, is a character in its own right.
You’ll revisit the same eight islands several times over the course of your adventures, which lets you gain a certain familiarity with the topography and features. While you can technically navigate an entire island in any given mission, you’ll likely only experience a small slice of it en route to your current objective. Each island feels like a testament to Mimimi’s dioramic level design, which not only accounts for different objectives with different insertion points for your crew, but also for different traversal options based on your particular squad.
Shadow Gambit’s take on the stealth tactics genre is an unlikely mixture that elicits equal parts novelty and thrills — in a game that’s largely about shanking dudes in the back. Case and point, I will happily shiv a guard, then promptly load him into Gaëlle’s cannon, before using his corpse as ammunition against his buddies. It’s a total subversion of what you’d expect from this otherwise serious genre, and I love it.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is clearly a labor of love from a studio that, not unlike the crew of the Red Marley, was able to bring a genre back from the dead, and sustain it with humor, cleverness, and a little bit of daring. It’s a surprising blend of intelligent mechanics and creative level design, standing as a monument to Mimimi Games’ contributions to the medium.