Review: Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Ret-2-Go on vacation!

Console: Nintendo Switch

From the endearingly positive and self-aware tone of the games to the wonderfully quirky characters with their colourful and splashy designs, the Shantae series just oozes with sheer fun. It's also the gaming series that turned me around in the Platforming genre and successfully introduced me to the Metroidvania genre. Metroid: Samus Returns was just a bit too much for me at my first attempt. It's because of all of this that I'm the proud owner of the entire Shantae series on my Nintendo Switch. Digitally at least. As it has been a while since I played a Shantae game though and I've far from actually played them all, it's about time that I dig into the ones I haven't had a crack at yet. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the fifth and most recent game in the series, released in full on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in early 2020. After Half-Genie Hero went full platformer in an effort to make the series more approachable to newcomers hit goes back to its Metroidvania roots with this instalment.

Without further ado, let's dive in!

In the Seven Sirens, Shantae is invited to Paradise Island for the half-genie festival, bringing her friends Sky and Bolo as well as her Uncle Mimic along so they can turn it into a vacation. Once on Paradise Island, Shantae meets and befriends the five other half-genies that have been invited: Plink, Vera, Zapple, Harmony, and Filin. It's all going pretty smoothly until the festival itself where during the half-genies big performance everyone but Shantae disappear. It's now up to Shantae to find and rescue the other Half-Genies, uncover the secrets of Paradise Island and find out what her arch-nemesis Risky Boots is doing on the island.

A still to show the games artstyle and graphics.

Story of Seven Sirens is good and entertaining, but nothing we haven´t seen before from the series. Having played 4 out of 5 games in the series how WayForward structures these games have become clear to me. It's the more standard 'travel the world and defeat ... bosses' but spiced up by a bunch of seemingly unimportant side-quests like 'catch the doll thief' that end up giving you exactly what you need to overcome your current obstacle. Maybe in part because of this, it feels like Seven Sirens just going through the motions at times, is on auto-pilot. It follows its own established formula to a T.

Even so, the story was still entertaining because the personality, the game's humour and tone and such, are big in full swing and it's as enjoyable as ever. It's a mix of older pop-culture parodies alongside self-referential humour and 4th wall breakings shenanigans all done in good fun. The game even references parody characters and plots and, if I may get ahead of myself here a little, brings back elements from the series that were removed for Half-Genie Hero such as the Squid-Smith. This all helps create a world, an atmosphere, that is so strong that it smooths out the story's kinks.

To keep the good times rolling, Seven Sirens production values are the highest it has ever been for the series and it's immediately noticeable. The game starts with a high-beat animated opening that is animated by none other than Japanese animation studio Studio Trigger responsible for anime such as Kill la Kill and BNA: Brand New Animal. Not only that, but the game has brief animated cutscenes throughout the adventure as well. The game smartly takes the general style and graphics of Half-Genie Hero and expands on it to make it feel grander. Makes it feel like a bigger Shantae game.

A still image from the animated opening.

The game retains the same character designs and models of Half-Genie Hero, yes, but it reintroduces many old enemies in the new style as well as bringing in plenty of new ways. The backgrounds are fully 2D now instead of the 2.5D of Half-Genie Hero. The 2.5D backgrounds never bothered me personally but it was heavily requested by the Shantae fan base and I can't deny that it looks really good. The only area that feels like a step down in this department is the soundtrack. It's not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it also isn't as good as previous entries. It relies too much on previous compositions and is, all in all, not as snappy nor catchy.

Another department where the developers listened to player feedback is the animal transformations. Instead of pushing the dance button and then selecting the transformation into they are now activated instantaneously, with a push of a button. It´s just like the pirate equipment from Pirates Curse and it´s all the better for it. I never found the ´you have to stop to transform´ approach that problematic but even I can admit that it´s a lot more convenient this way and keeps the pace going.

The animals themselves are just OK. They are either a simple replacement of older animal transformations or new ones that are, well, the same if you think about it. The Dash Newt sticks to walls and dashes, essentially being the new Monkey transformation, while the Tortle is the new Elephant with an added speed element. The Gastro Drill and Sea Frog are essentially the same, just that one is to get through dirt and the other is to swim through water. The Jet Octo is by far my favourite. It's just a simple triple jump but it works wonders and is just so extremely useful.

Dashing with the Newt transformation.

The dancing is now used to activate the brand-new fusion transformations. By combining her magic with that of the other Half-Genies, Shantae can transform into new forms. A good idea that I think the game should've gone further with. In-game, the use of these transformations are limited. They either open up new paths, like the normal animal transformations and/or function as screen-nukes, do lots of damage to each enemy on screen. It's an OK use, if not a rather bland one. The concept has a lot of potentials which the game doesn't utilise. Perhaps make them new forms of Shantae that have completely different move-sets and playstyles? Something that you can use as the core mechanic of Shantae 6 if you ask me.

Back to this Shantae game. The last thing I really need to talk about is, well, the gameplay and the levels. As I said in the opening, Seven Sirens goes back to its Metroidvania and it's actually the most approachable Metroidvania I know of. Paradise Island is a well designed, good mix of exploration and platforming with the pure platforming sections that connect the various labyrinth and the labyrinths themselves. The game has some very strong level design. If only the map would allow you to place checkmarks, would've made the entire experience even that much better.

Sadly though, I can't give the same praise to the bosses which are a clear step down in more ways than one. While the animated cutscenes are wonderful to have, they completely replace the introductory dialogue and buildup. They're still just as well designed as always but they lack personality and there's thus nothing to really latch on to with them. The fights themselves also disappoint. The boss patterns aren't that interesting or creative and there are either over before you know it or drag on for too long. Even the final boss has a concept at her core that the series has done before.

The player also has a lot of utility at their disposal. The magic items such as the pike balls, bubble shield and fire blasts all return using the same magic system that was introduced in Risky's Revenge. You also have a skillset system in the form of cards. Defeated enemies can drop cards that, when equipped, will give Shantae certain buffs. More defence, reduced magic costs that sort of thing. Combine this with the animal transformations and the fusion dances and you have a lot of toys in the toybox to play with that makes the game easier if you wish it so.

The newly added card system.

Too easy I can say. I play Shantae for the fun of it, not the be particularly challenged but even I thought the game became too easy at the end. You can, if you invest in the upgrades, just run through the levels without having to worry to take damage, there are so many recovery options. In terms of combat, the merged forms are too powerful. Too much of a screen-nuke that can cut down even the most challenging of enemies. It makes the game approachable, yes, but also makes it so you can run through the last few parts of the game practically brainless and that isn't something a game should strive for.

Conclusion

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is one of the best Shantae games, though arguably not the best. It combines many of the quality of life and accessibility upgrades of the pure platformer Half-Genie Hero with the series' Metroidvania roots alongside listening to fan feedback such as the simplified transformations. It is also perhaps too accessible, as the difficulty can easily be broken in half and the game feels like it's running on auto-pilot more than once.Even so it's a game that Shantae fans will enjoy as its heart remains the same and serves as the best entry point in the Metroidvania genre.

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