By Josh Speer / May 26th, 2020
|Title||Shantae and the Seven Sirens|
|Release Date||May 28th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence|
I’ve been waiting to play Shantae and the Seven Sirens since WayForward first revealed the game. I’m a big fan of the series, and have been since I first played Risky’s Revenge. It has grown and changed dramatically over the years, sometimes being more of a pure platformer, and other times closer to a Metroidvania. I personally felt the series reached near perfection with Pirate’s Curse, both due to the structure and plot of the game. It really gave more development to several characters, as well as expanding the game universe in fascinating ways. Then we got Half-Genie Hero which, though a definite step up visually, also felt like a step backwards in other ways. So when I heard Seven Sirens would be another Metroidvania-styled outing, I got really excited. If it could successfully mix the gameplay elements of Pirate’s Curse with the visuals of Half-Genie Hero, it had a outstanding chance to cement itself as best in the series. Keep reading to see if I feel it succeeded.
The story begins when Shantae and company head to a tropical island to participate in a genie exhibition. It takes place in Arena Town, where the mayor is pulling out all the stops to have an outstanding ceremony. Shantae is excited to relax for a change, as well as meet a few of her fellow half-genies. After you introduce yourself to each of them, a fancy and thrilling dance show starts, only for the lights to suddenly go out. When they pop back on, all the genies except Shantae are suddenly missing. Overwhelmed with guilt as the sole survivor, Shantae nevertheless musters the courage to hunt down her new missing friends, and get to the mystery of the island in the process.
Though I want to say more about the story, it’s probably best to experience it yourself, especially to enjoy the curve balls the game throws at you later in the experience. That said, I do wish we got a bit more character development. I realize that’s trickier since there’s several new characters introduced. It would be difficult to balance revealing and sufficiently developing many new characters, but I can’t help but remember how in Pirate’s Curse, many of the included characters got some great development, especially Rottytops and Risky Boots. Nevertheless, I’m not disappointed by the plot here. I just wish there were a bit more to it, especially since I was hoping for a deeper dive into Risky’s character, as well as her possible connection to Shantae.
Thankfully, you don’t necessarily play a Shantae game for the plot so much as the humor and gameplay. I am happy to agree that Seven Sirens is great in both regards. If you love games that poke fun at the industry silliness, Shantae is your girl. Tons of characters make fun of her lack of clothing as well as her bouncy nature, but in a way that isn’t offensive or cruel. There’s also an utterly hilarious sequence of events featuring Shantae, Sky and a couple other characters I won’t reveal. It reminded me a lot of a classic Simpsons Halloween episode involving Comic Book Man, but that’s all I’ll say. Just get ready to laugh frequently as you play through Shantae and the Seven Sirens.
Like I said above, the gameplay in Seven Sirens is also pretty great. It’s definitely more reminiscent of Pirate’s Curse, in that there’s lots of interconnected maps to explore with new abilities, and hidden treats to unearth. It’s also less of a hardcore platformer than I felt Half-Genie Hero was, so you won’t be swearing as you keep falling into deadly pits or run from dangerous creatures. That’s not to say there’s no challenge, just that it comes more from the enemies than the environments. And I’m fine with that. Pretty early in the game I invested heavily in Shampoo and Cream so my genie was a merciless hair-whipping machine, so much so that I worried I was too overpowered for most of the game, though the last few bosses were still a hefty challenge. Thankfully there’s a New Game Plus mode after you beat it once, and I fully intend to play through again but restrict myself from overpowering my genie, just so things are a bit more challenging.
One thing I loved about Seven Sirens is how WayForward streamlined the transformation process. You no longer have to dance, select a form and then transform. Instead, all your animal transformations are relegated to various buttons, so you can instantaneously turn into the right form. As examples, you can press ZR to turn into a newt that dashes at and climbs walls, or press ZL to turn into a turtle and smash through rocks. There’s some really wonderful forms you can transform into, and in typical Shantae fashion, they’re all adorable. But it wouldn’t be a proper game in this series without dancing, and I’m happy to say they improved this aspect as well. As you recover your missing half-genie brethren, they will eventually reward you with a portion of their magic. These are called Fusion Magic, and they let Shantae do some spectacular dances. Some provide support, others are attacks, but they all serve a purpose. Take the Seer dance. It reveals hidden items and secrets that help you progress. Or the Nourish dance, which not only heals Shantae, but also causes flowers to bloom and give you treats, or even turns murky poison water into clean springs. Best of all, when you finish each dance, it reveals a cool hybrid form of Shantae based off the genie you got it from. I wish I could show some here, but trust me, they’re all fantastic-looking.
What I really appreciated in Seven Sirens is how each transformation really opens up your exploration skills, much like in Pirate’s Curse. Each one lets you explore more and more of the island. My only minor complaint is that it all felt really linear, especially since you can always get a nudge in the right direction by talking to any villager with an exclamation mark over their head. Granted, you are allowed to wander, and there’s some big areas, but there’s just not that much to do outside of the main story. I really wish there were some huge bonus area you could only access after the credits roll, but alas, it all takes place on or near the main resort island. I also have to admit, I did get lost a few times early on, but mostly because I wasn’t thinking clearly and trying to rush. Once you have two or three transformations, there’s not much you can’t do. By the time you get the last one, things are totally opened up, if you have the inclination to hunt down every last scrap. And while most of what you’ll find hidden away are either Heart Squids or Nuggets, there’s one new element in Seven Sirens that makes the game more interesting: the Monster Cards.
I feel like WayForward really took inspiration from the Castlevania Sorrow games with this mechanic. Basically as you defeat foes, they’ll occasionally drop Monster Cards. Once you have enough of them, you can equip up to three cards at a time, providing passive bonuses to Shantae. Some examples are making food more nutritious or increasing the range of subweapons or even making dances cost less magic. There’s a lot of these cards, and I haven’t even found all of them. The most powerful are of the titular Sirens themselves, and it seems these can only be acquired by trading Nuggets to specific villagers. While you certainly don’t need to actively use the Monster Cards to beat the game, they offer a nice little distraction to broaden the experience.
Shantae games typically have really fun bosses, and that’s also true here. Each of the Sirens is well animated and fights you very differently. Take the Water Lily Siren, a beautiful flower that tries to smash you with vines, who needs to be coaxed into a pool of sunlight to reveal her weak spot. Or the Tubeworm Siren, a deadly Gorgon that attacks you with snake-like appendages. They’re all equal parts creepy, cute and dangerous. That said, I wish we got some personality from them other than how they attack you. Give me a line or two of dialogue. Anything. You’ll only really get to know one Siren, and the rest are just there to block your progress. Also, I can tell that WayForward toned down the bosses from when I last demoed Seven Sirens at PAX West. Then I was barely holding my own against the first boss, but now they all seemed to have less life and be more relaxed. Honestly I felt that Risky Boots was more difficult when you face her in various mini boss fights here. I guess I just wanted a bit more of an obstacle from the bosses overall.
Visually, there’s a lot to enjoy. Shantae games are always pretty, with bright colors and vivid designs. Each of the new characters has a distinct style and the new foes are also pretty creative, such as serpentine mummies. I loved the animated introduction by Studio TRIGGER, as well as several spectacular cinematics, many of which that take place right before major boss fights. I didn’t realize how much I needed these animations til I saw them, and they’re all wonderful, so much so that I almost want an animated TV show for my favorite genie now. That said, while this is a very visually attractive game, there’s one area it’s inexplicably a step backwards: some stage designs. I double-checked my review of Half-Genie Hero to confirm, and it’s true that there’s less visual complexity on display. Some areas look downright barren, much to my surprise. HD graphics are best when they’re trying to flex their muscles, and I just feel like several layouts here needed a shot in the arm. They’re not all bad, but some were very underwhelming. Just giving us more action happening in the background would have helped a ton. I still remember sights like the conveyor belts carrying would-be mermaids or rioting Tinkerbats attacking Scuttle Town in Half-Genie, and wanted more of that here. Musically, Seven Sirens is pretty great, with lots of jaunty, upbeat tunes. They do a good job of matching the theme of an island resort, without too many ominous or threatening tracks. And as I’ve grown accustomed to, the voice work is also really spot on. Each character has a distinct voice and personality, especially during the aforementioned cinematics. Overall, the aesthetics were pretty enjoyable.
Honestly, it’s hard to stay mad at my favorite genie. There’s just a lot to smile about in any of these games, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens is no different. Sure, I would have liked more to do, and a bit more challenge, but it was still a fun ride. It successfully cut out the irritating elements from past games while adopting elements I enjoyed from others. And for $29.99, it’s still a pretty good deal. I spent nearly eight hours to beat the game, and had about 70 percent item completion. Once you’re done, you can still tackle New Game Plus, as well as trying to unlock game clear screens. This might not have been the entry that took the crown from Pirate’s Curse for me, but it came damn close. I just hope that WayForward continues to improve on and iterate their formula for these games, and hopefully the next one will be the very best. If nothing else, the ending of Seven Sirens provides a good starting point for whatever comes next.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
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