Game Reviews Nintendo

Shantae and the Seven Sirens Nintendo Switch Review – A Wish Granted

This year, WayForward is celebrating their 30th anniversary with the release of the latest entry in their flagship Shantae series titled Shantae and the Seven Sirens. I quickly fell in love with the Shantae series after playing Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero on my Nintendo Switch, and I couldn’t wait for the chance to play the next offering in the series. I recently completed Seven Sirens and wanted to share my thoughts on the game and how it compares to the previous titles. This review will focus on the Nintendo Switch version, and the experience may vary on other platforms.

Story

The protagonist is a half-genie, half-human named Shantae. This game opens with Shantae and her friends on a vacation getaway to Paradise Island. Shantae was invited to partake in the island’s Half-Genie Festival with other Half-Genies like herself. But when the festivities got underway, the lights went dark, and when they came back to, she was left alone on the stage. It’s up to Shantae to find her missing Half-Genie friends.

She runs into her old nemesis, Risky Boots, and immediately suspects that she is behind the disappearances. Risky is certainly up to no good, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. There’s a legend about creatures known as Sirens that live deep beneath the island and have been terrorizing the land for a long time. Shantae has to fight these Sirens and rescue the Half-Genies. It all leads up to the final battle to determine the fate of Paradise Island. There were some twists and turns, but it’s more fun if you play the game to find out.

No time for vacationing after Harmony and her friends mysteriously vanished at the Half-Genie Festival.

Gameplay

With Seven Sirens comes the return of the familiar Metroidvania style the series is famous for, after Half-Genie Hero’s departure of it in favor of a more linear experience. It’s very much like Pirate’s Curse in that you’ll need to revisit different zones once you’ve properly equipped yourself with the powers necessary to advance in the map or acquire items. The mode of travel is different this time around. In Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, you needed to go to Risky’s ship to sail to different locations. In Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, you needed to visit Sky and ride on her bird Wrench to your desired location. In this game, you use warp rooms, which have platforms you jump on that teleport you to specific spots. As you advance through the map, you’ll unlock more warp rooms above and below Paradise Island. There is no Scuttle Town in this game, but there are three towns instead, including Arena Town, Tree Town, and Armor Town.

I like the controls overall and the new ways that magic was implemented into the game. Most of the basic controls still apply. You can whip your hair at enemies (while upgrading them to be faster and more damaging) or you can cycle through an assortment of magic weapons such as fireballs, pike balls, rockets, and scimitars. You can buy these power-ups in shops using the in-game gem currency. But there are new ways in which transformations are implemented. Shantae and the Seven Sirens introduces Fusion Magic, which are powers you inherit from your half-genie comrades. There are two kinds of this magic: Fusion Forms, which allow you to transform with a dedicated button, and Fusion Dances, where you can dance to activate a special power. For example, you can Fusion Form into a Newt, which allows you to zip through the air and climb walls. There is also the Seer Dance, which when performed will make hidden objects appear on the screen.

There are up to nine different ways to transform, including the Quake Dance.

It may sound complex, but I enjoyed how much quicker it’s made the gameplay experience. If I need to drill through the dirt I don’t need to dance; as long as I acquired the Drill Coin, I just need to move in the direction I want to drill and Shantae will instantly transform as needed. Speaking of power-ups, another new addition comes in the form of monster cards. These are cards that appear at random as you defeat different enemies in the game. They all have different perks, such as boosts in the attack, defense, speed, magic meters, etc. There are rare cards in the game that can only be acquired through villagers by trading in nuggets, which can be found hidden throughout the map.

My only gripe here is some of these rare cards are practically worthless relative to when they can be acquired in the story. There are also heart squids you can find and trade to the Squidsmith for extra heart holders (basically extends your life meter; think of heart containers from Legend of Zelda), as well as hidden statues and treasure chests. Your magic is the key to unlocking the secrets of Paradise Island.

Collect gems and spend them at the town shops to add magic weapons to your arsenal.

In terms of difficulty, the game isn’t that hard once you get the hang of the controls and figure out how to stock up on items. It’s still challenging and can be even more so if you’re a completionist who doesn’t believe in using guides (there are some hidden items that I don’t know how I would have found if not for guides and YouTube videos). I appreciate that WayForward showed some mercy and didn’t have a stupidly difficult timing jump thing with spikes like it did in the final levels of the previous two games. Seriously. I needed to exploit a glitch just to get up that tower in Pirate’s Curse. It was ridiculous, but that’s on me.

Boss battles in Seven Sirens felt fairly simple to me, similar to past Shantae games. The key is to always take advantage of the powers you had most recently acquired. It’s sort of like Mega Man in a sense. I want to add that the final boss battle felt the most epic of all the Shantae games that I’ve played, at least from a visual standpoint. For me that’s saying something, considering I got chills while battling Tinkerbrain in HGH.

Gorgeous animated cutscenes appear as you face new obstacles such as the Sirens.

Also want to mention that there is a New Game Plus mode, where you play as Shantae in her hula costume, and get a higher magic meter but less defense. I’m still in the middle of playing it and it’s noticeably more challenging. My experience is that the increased magic meter does not offset the amount of damage I can get, so I consider the margin for error to be smaller. It’s given me an excuse to play the game all over again with a higher level of difficulty. Bring it on!

Half-Genie Hero had a couple of DLC packs that allowed you to play effectively new modes as other characters, such as Sky, Bolo, Rottytops, and even Risky Boots. I enjoyed those modes and it was a little disappointing that those characters are non-playable in this game. The awesome, anime-inspired intro (which I’ll get into in a second) seemed to tease the possibility of playing as those characters but that simply wasn’t the case. It’s something I hope that will be considered for the sixth installment of Shantae in the future.

Visuals

When I was at PAX East earlier this year, I was able to play a demo of the game in what I now recognize is the Water Lily stage. What stood out to me then was that the game played similarly to Pirate’s Curse but the sprites still resembled Half-Genie Hero. Now that I’ve had a chance to play the game in full, I’ve been able to greater appreciate its visual aspects. Yes, they recycled some assets from HGH, but I prefer it to the pixelated look from Pirate’s Curse. I kind of liked the 3D-ish look of the levels in HGH so I missed seeing that here in Seven Sirens, but I don’t mind sacrificing that for the sake of getting it back to its Metroidvania roots.

Solve puzzles and make new discoveries as you travel through the depths of the sunken city.

I’ve always enjoyed the banter when Shantae speaks with other characters. There didn’t seem to be as much of it in HGH (I need to emphasize that the previous game was a big departure from what the Shantae series was known for, which is why I keep bringing it up). I’m glad the dialogue ramped back up with this one. Squid Baron is such a delightful dork, what a treat he is.

I was quite satisfied with how the game looked. It’s a platformer so nothing too fancy needed, though I did appreciate the hand-drawn art of the background in those deep-water levels. The GUI was sleek and easy to navigate. Seven Sirens continues the Shantae tradition of cute and sexy character designs the series has always been known for. I’m not exactly sure why this game’s ESRB rating went down from Teen to Everyone 10+, because as far as fantasy violence and suggestive themes are concerned, I saw no difference.

You’ll need your Fusion Magic to defeat the lovely but deadly Water Lily Siren.

Another thing I loved was the addition of animated cutscenes. Beautiful stuff. I’m a big fan of the cutscenes and hope we see more of them in the future. That includes the game’s introduction video, which was animated by Studio Trigger. What a tease! A Shantae animated series is something I didn’t know I needed in my life.

(While we’re on that topic, hey Matt Bozon and WayForward! Can’t you guys work something out with Netflix? Just need Cristina Vee on board and we’re Ret-2-Go! Make it happen! Okay let me get back on track…)

Everyone waiting patiently for Shantae to be playable in Smash (j/k). The gang’s all here on another adventure.

Sound

Let me get sound effects out of the way here. Nothing significant to report, it’s the same as usual. This game had a whopping nine different voice actors, more than double the previous game. I adore Vee’s work as Shantae (she voices two other characters in the game as well). It’s the little details that I get a kick out of, like the sound of satisfaction when Shantae eats or drinks something, or when she yells out the name of her power. Too cute! Please never change.

What was significant, perhaps more than anything was the change with its soundtrack. There was a changing of the guard when long-time WayForward music composer Jake Kaufman announced that he left the company back in 2014. He had composed every Shantae game up to that point, and HGH was his final project in the series. Music is an art form that has the ability to move you through sound, and Kaufman was masterful at it with his video game soundtracks. The musical experience throughout Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero was remarkable, and the first thing I remembered about playing those games more than anything else. The File Select theme for Pirate’s Curse had no business being the absolute banger that it was. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that this new installment to the Shantae series would no longer feature its super talented, long time composer.

You can use up to three monster cards at a time to enhance your abilities.

Kaufman set the bar high, so I had to set my expectations low and keep my mind open. Still, I was afraid, but I have to say… WayForward somehow knocked it out of the park yet again. The soundtrack is made by a group headlined by Japanese composer and chiptune enthusiast Professor Sakamoto. I enjoyed its very distinctly 8-bit theme to the soundtrack (with the Beach Travel East track being one of the more robust examples of this). Yet the music at times still managed to invoke those Arabian tones that have long been synonymous with Shantae soundtracks.

I’ve read other peoples’ reactions to the game music and it’s definitely polarizing. Some consider it flat and bland; others love it. I’m of the mind that, yes, this is very much not Jake Kaufman’s work, but these tracks still rock solid. They set the tone just right for every location in the game. The Seven Sirens soundtrack is available on Spotify and Apple Music. I have a Spotify subscription and there are a handful of tracks from the game that I go back to for a pick-me-up. I love it.

The new composition team proves to be worthy successors and I’m so glad that such a vital component to the spirit of Shantae wasn’t compromised. Thank you WayForward for not letting me down there.

Shantae

If you like action, comedy, puzzles, and a healthy dose of fan service, Shantae’s got you covered.

Summary

This game can be enjoyed by anyone, and prior knowledge of the series isn’t required, but it helps to appreciate the context behind some of the character interactions. The game is fun on its own, but the backstory adds to it. I learned that from the first time I played a Shantae game and had the jokes go over my head. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was my introduction to the Shantae series. It was an experience that utterly wowed me and one that can’t be duplicated because it was the first. That having been said, Seven Sirens incorporated many of the things that drew me into the franchise while introducing fresh new concepts that kept the game from feeling stale. It had just about everything that I could want from it: endearing characters and humor; great music and eye candy; a story with plot twists; lots of action and a large map to explore; familiar comforts with new delights.

If I had to nitpick, I’d say that Seven Sirens didn’t strike me as quite as challenging as it could have been. Shantae herself is pretty badass once you’ve gotten all the powers and loaded up on potions and monster cards. I would have liked for the map to have been just a little bit bigger and the game a little bit longer to beat. It’s partially why I felt compelled to play it over with the New Game Plus mode.

Shantae is the main hero but it would have been awesome if there was a chance to switch between characters, similar to the Friends to the End DLC in Half-Genie Hero. The Half-Genies give their powers to Shantae throughout the game but it would have been neat to be able to control them instead. Maybe alternate similar to Friends to the End, or going further back, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for NES where you could pause and switch turtles. As the player, I would’ve felt more drawn into these newer characters. There’s so much potential with this series and the game left me wanting more, for better or worse. That’s about all I can think of in terms of room for improvement.

It was an absolute joy to play this game from start to finish. Shantae games deliver on the fun every time. I gravitate to video games that make me smile and laugh as I play, and this one did its job. I wanted more Shantae in my life, and after waiting patiently for the game’s release, WayForward finally granted my wish with Shantae and the Seven Sirens.

If you’re ready to dance through the danger, you can pick up Shantae and the Seven Sirens today for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, or Apple Arcade. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this game. Thanks for reading and happy gaming!

This review was written based on a digital review copy of Shantae and the Seven Sirens for the Nintendo Switch provided by WayForward.

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