To see masters at work is always a pleasure, and Mimimi Games are the undisputed masters of what they call the stealth strategy genre. The German studio resurrected this style of games with Shadow Tactics in 2016 and Desperados 3 in 2020; their much anticipated new effort promises to be a major step forward.
In a number of ways, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew has a continuity of style with the developer’s previous games. Once again, the focus is on commanding a small group of elite characters to stealthily complete objectives in real time. Trial and error, facilitated by a snappy quicksave and quickload system, is as important as ever and many of the basic character abilities and the action-planning “shadow mode” will be familiar to fans of the genre.
Much is new, however. Most obviously, Mimimi have adopted a new magical, Caribbean pirate theme. The game is also their first to be self-published. What makes Shadow Gambit most exciting, though, are the ways in which it shakes up the genre.
The team has made changes which are as risky as they are dramatic. In almost all previous games in this genre, players have their team composition and entry points decided for them. Shadow Gambit will instead give players the option of which undead scallywag to resurrect next, which ones to take into each mission, and which point of entry to start from. Those magical entry points typically have to be discovered, because in another novel twist, the campaign will see our heroes return to revisit previously explored locations.
The real test of Shadow Gambit will be how these changes to the formula shake out. They are risky, because they tinker close to the core of how stealth strategy games work. The new meticulously designed locations, set on a chain of islands presided over by an evil inquisition, will be tested to destruction by the weight of new variables. Some of these ideas have been tried before, but with decidedly imperfect results, notably in Partisans 1941.
Still, if anyone can make this work, it is Mimimi Games. On the evidence of the demo build, Shadow Gambit is shaping up very nicely indeed. The game has an unfamiliar rhythm, because the denser narrative, smaller opening missions, and larger number of between-mission choices tend to slow things down slightly. The developers’ usual magic is present and correct, though – the visuals are charming and the missions are as beautifully designed as ever.
Speaking of magic, the new supernatural pirate theme has major gameplay ramifications. The new, larger roster of eight playable characters – a Mimimi game has never before had more than five – all have magic powers. Main protagonist Afia Manicato has a deadly short-range teleport which recalls Dishonored.
The team’s quartermaster, Pinkus von Presswald, has a “peruse mind” ability which essentially offers mind control. Mimimi first explored outlandish powers with the Isabelle character in Desperados III, but this time they have really pushed the boat out. Amusingly, quicksaving and quickloading are now explained in-game as powers provided to the team by their sentient ghost ship, the Red Marley.
Mimimi Games are simply brilliant at what they do and Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew looks on course to be a satisfying, landmark strategy release when it sets sail on August 17. A demo of the game is now available for play during Steam Next Fest.