Review – Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Shantae is the heartwarming case of a franchise that, although debuting with a strong title, got criminally ignored due to the fact it was initially released for the Game Boy Color a year into the Game Boy Advance’s lifespan. That didn’t stop developer WayForward from believing in their belly-dancing mascot’s potential. After a handful of years developing extremely competent 2D platformers, ranging from a new Contra to the fantastic Duck Tales remake, Shantae made a comeback on the DS in 2011. It then proceeded to receive lots of sequels for almost a dozen platforms over the next few years. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the fifth game in the franchise and one of the best works by WayForward so far.

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How the hell are they breathing.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is, at its core, a metroidvania. It’s set in a resort island that looks pretty tame on the surface, but hiding the ruins of an old civilization underneath it. The fact this game is a metroidvania might not exactly sound very appealing to the uninitiated, considering the tons of other indie metroidvanias out there, but this is a bit more special for Shantae fans. The previous game in the franchise, Half-Genie Hero, ditched the open level design in favor of traditional platforming stages. Seven Sirens brings every thing back to what it once was ever since the GBC days.

Seven Sirens‘ progression system is very straightforward. You will usually be directed towards an area holding a Siren and a captive half-genie friend you need to save. Once beating the boss, you talk to your new friend, get a new ability, unlock a few sidequests and are transported back to the hub town, where you can get a new objective. This game’s take on metroidvania is heavily inspired by Metroid Fusion, being quite linear in the sense of story progression and being very objective-heavy, but still filled to the brim with new areas to go back to whenever you acquire a new ability.

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I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth…

One addition that I really liked in Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the brand new card system. All of the enemies in the game have a small chance of dropping a collectible card after being defeated. If you collect enough of the same cards, you’ll be able to unlock new active or passive buffs for your character, in a way that acts differently, but it’s still heavily inspired by Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. It adds an extra layer of strategy and customization to what would have otherwise been a very standard, albeit effective, platforming gameplay loop. With the exception of a few collision detection issues, the gameplay as a whole is pretty good.

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The boss battles aren’t challenging at all, but given how good looking this game is, it doesn’t even matter.

While the overall gameplay is great, albeit lacking in terms of difficulty, what really stands out in Shantae and the Seven Sirens is its presentation. Just like Monster Boy and Cuphead, this is basically a playable cartoon, with great character designs, color, lighting effects, and animations. The game constantly runs at a fluid 60fps at all times, which makes the experience even more pleasant. There is also a substantial amount of animated cutscenes, which rival most anime out there.

The sound department might not be as jaw-dropping as the graphics, but it’s still pretty good. It’s comprised of good music and good voice acting. The soundtrack might not have been composed by series veteran Jake Kaufman (who’s also the one who composed the magnum opus that is Shovel Knight‘s soundtrack), but it’s still excellent. The voice acting is also pretty impressive, even if some of the actors deliver some lines in a very cheesy and exaggerated manner. Looking at you, whoever voiced Risky Boots.

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“Here, young lady, you should eat more vegetables.”

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is an excellent return to form for the belly-dancing indie heroine. It’s a game that looked back to its previous iterations, took notes of what people liked the most about each one of them, and added everything to a blender together with some new gameplay features and quality of life improvements. There might be a ton of indie metroidvanias out there, but this one is absolutely worth checking out.

 

Graphics: 9.5

The cartoon-like visuals are absolutely fantastic and so is the quality of the animations. The game also features some animated cutscenes that are as good as any anime out there.

Gameplay: 8.5

There are some hit detection issues and an overabundance of airborne enemies that are a bit annoying to deal with, but the controls are extremely responsive, the framerate is solid, and the card mechanics add an extra layer of strategy to the overall gameplay.

Sound: 8.0

The soundtrack is pretty good, even though it’s not as good as the ones previously composed by Jake Kaufman. The voice acting is also great.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Not exactly the most challenging of metroidvanias, nor does it feature the best level design out there, but this is still a blast of a game that oozes charm like very few manage to.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch and iOS.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Shantae and the Seven Sirens was provided by the publisher.

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