Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew review

by on August 16, 2023
Reviewed On
Also Tested On
Release Date

August 17, 2023


I remember unlocking Isabelle in Desperados 3, and suddenly being able to use actual Voodoo magic in what was, up to that point, a fairly straightforward Western-themed stealth strategy game. Until her inclusion it was bear traps and shotguns, Bowie knives and throwing dynamite. And then after her inclusion all I could think about was that I wished developer MiMiMi would lean into that supernatural element a little more. And boy-howdy, if that’s not what they’ve done in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.

This is like Pirates of the Caribbean by way of isometric stealth, as your ragtag crew of undead scallywags take to the high seas in pursuit of trouble, treasure, and maybe a little rest. Pursued by the forces of a self-righteous Inquisition and the sadist leading them, your target is the treasure of Black-Eye Mordachai, the now-fully dead former captain of the Red Marley, a sentient galleon with a love of riddles.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

You play primarily as Afia Manicato, a Cursed Pirate with a sword in her chest that allows her to teleport short distances and freeze individuals in time. It’s her job to resurrect the crew of the Marley and lead them to victory – but it’s far from an easy task. To bring back each crew member you need a levy of soul energy and a magical Black Pearl you load into a flintlock and shoot into their heart.

So ingrained is MiMiMi’s development style that it’s hard to talk about Shadow Gambit without making comparisons to Desperados 3 and even Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, but even comparisons to those two stealth masterpieces aren’t enough to overshadow this latest adventure.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew takes MiMiMi’s talent for devious level design and dastardly challenge to another level. Where Desperados had you unlock the various characters in a certain order, and then crafted its levels around skills it knew you possessed, Shadow Gambit goes one step further. Not only are there now eight characters to unlock, but the order in which you unlock them and who you take on a given mission is largely up to you. As a result, each mission has been crafted in such a way that it’s possible with any combination of three characters and all the special abilities, strengths and limitations they possess.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

What this does from a gameplay perspective is hard to quantify, given that certain characters make some elements much easier and others much harder. Even simply mastering your favourites won’t work either, as every time you start to get too comfortable a story mission or development will force your hand and push you right out of that comfort zone. Each mission area is hugely vertical, filled with hiding places, secret passages, bushes to hide in, and towers to climb. There’s a sense that nothing is accidental here; every play-space feels meticulously structured to ensure you’ve just the right amount of time to pull off something ridiculously daring. And if it fails, the quick-load is a button press away.

As with Desperados 3, Shadow Gambit wants you to fail and fail again until you nail the objective. To facilitate this, the quick-save mechanic is weaved into the story, as the Red Marley uses time manipulation to capture and unleash recent Memories, allowing you to retry over and over until you get it right. Higher difficulties remove the option if you want them to, but most will use the system liberally.

Because ultimately these are games built on trial and error. You won’t know if something will work until you try it, and only by experimenting will you learn enough to go back and nail speed runs and pacifist playthroughs. There aren’t quite as many extra-curricular challenges as there were in Desperados 3, but you don’t need them. This is a longer, tougher, and genuinely more creative experience.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

For example, quartermaster John Mercury comes armed with a magical anchor and most of a fish named Sir Reginald. The latter can distract guards for a moment, while the former allows John to enter the Below, a mystical other dimension that then lets him resurface anywhere in a given area. He can even drag guards down with him for an instant kill, and hide the corpse. Then there’s the ship’s one-armed cook, Toya of Iga, who can whistle to attract patrolling guards, and deploy an origami doll that allows him to teleport to it and kill whatever’s in range. Or consider Suleidy, the ship’s doctor, who can conjure bushes and use a foul-smelling dust to chase guards from their post.

Each of the eight characters is wholly unique and, while some share common uses (hiding bodies, distracting guards, etc), their methods differ widely, meaning no group of three will ever play the same or have access to the exact same strategies. Each of their undead superpowers comes with enough of a weakness to prevent them feeling too imbalanced, be that a cooldown or limited range, or even the time it takes to use it. Some, like Terese’s long-range sniper crossbow, only have one use unless you retrieve the ammo or item.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

All your characters can be upgraded using soul energy, unlocking an additional move, but this is the one place Shadow Gambit falters. Earning enough XP to upgrade takes a ridiculously long time, meaning you likely won’t earn enough to unlock everyone’s new ability in a playthrough. It’s such a long slog that I forgot it was even a factor, and when I did unlock something new I’d spent so long without it that I never used it. You can earn more XP by leaving crewmembers on the bench, which earns them vigor to improve their overall performance, but even this feels like a bit of a shoe-in that’s easy to forget about.

One thing that doesn’t feel shoe-horned in is the story. Unlike Desperados 3’s fairly rote cowboy tale, Shadow Gambit’s supernatural pirate fable is colourful, fresh, and intriguing. No simple tale of revenge on the man who shot your Pa, this instead features a darkly comic tone and just enough nuance to keep you guessing. The characters, too, are well written and acted, never fully dropping into cliché, though some of them circle that particular whirlpool pretty closely.

In between missions you can take part in Crew Tales, non-combat scenarios that see you following simple clues from objective to objective on the Marley’s deck. If anything, I’d have liked more challenge in these, as they’re very simple and don’t require much thought or effort, and are really just little sea tales to flesh out the crew. Although, there’s plenty of challenge in the missions themselves. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a big game, and only gets bigger in the third act when you unlock a whole new set of missions pertaining to each character’s personal backstory. Add those to the existing quest for Black Pearls and Soul Energy, and the story missions and training challenge rooms, and there’s a lot of game here to sail through.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Often featuring changeable parameters and multiple paths to victory, each mission has the potential to be truly taxing, not least due to the enemy variety. While you’ll see the same soldiers and priests regularly, the abilities they bring to the table can create a catalogue of horrors in some missions. Because each mission is essentially a heist, you’ll always be looking for ways to outsmart or avoid the enemy. There are snipers with huge view-cones, zealots who won’t leave their position no matter the situation, and even high-ranking Prognosticars who require two crewmembers in tandem to take down.

While we’re on that, the Showdown mode returns from Desperados 3, whereby you can pause the game to select attacks, moves and actions, and then press a single button to have all three crewmates execute their commands simultaneously. It never, ever stops feeling cool to take out three guards at once – or even large groups if you’re quick enough off the draw and have made liberal use of distraction techniques.


For completionists, each mission area and character has optional Badges attached that are awarded for hitting certain milestones and optional objectives. And at the end of a mission, you’ll be treated to a time lapse video of the map showing your every move minus the save-scumming. It’s also worth pointing out that this plays great on a controller. I originally began with mouse and keyboard, which is certainly great for precision, but I found the free movement easier on controller and soon got to grips with the simple scheme. It uses the left bumper for selecting skills and left trigger for aiming them, while the right bumper either cycles the crewmembers or allows you to select whoever you need singly, or in groups of two or three.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is simply the best example of the genre MiMiMi helped create. It’s one of those rare games that gives you all the tools and then delights in making you feel clever, not stupid. It’s incredibly inventive, impeccably designed, and superbly paced. It’s also further proof, should you need it, that MiMiMi are the undisputed masters of stealth strategy.


Incredibly inventive
Great story
Likeable characters
Meticulously constructed


Levelling up feels a bit uneven

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is simply the best example of the genre MiMiMi helped create.