Developed by WayForward Technologies, Shantae and the Seven Sirens may be the half-genie’s most ambitious game yet. Not only does the game return to the series’s Metroidvania roots, but it also serves as a grab bag of all of the series’s best ideas.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens plays like a cross between Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. Players alternate between exploring a large, interconnected overworld, towns, and puzzle and monster-filled dungeons. This is a refreshing return to form, as Half-Genie Hero utilized a linear, level-based structure and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was sort of a halfway point between a level-based progression and Metroidvania structure. In regards to the world and exploration, fans of Super Metroid will feel right at home.
Of course, a large world isn’t much good if it’s a chore to explore. Thankfully, the various locales in Seven Sirens are easy to traverse quickly, with multiple routes to any one point and several, evenly-spaced warp rooms and plenty of save points for added convenience. This is further helped by the fact that Shantae herself controls perfectly and her transformations—while relatively basic this time around—are all very intuitive to use.
This does lead me to my first complaint, however. While it’s relatively easy to get from one end of the map to the other, it’s not always easy to know where to go. The map only provides the barest essentials to be useful, with the only markers on map being the locations of warp rooms, save points, towns, and dungeons. While this may sound like a lot, it isn’t helpful at all when backtracking in search of items. Several items in the game are hidden in optional puzzle rooms that require a certain ability to complete. The entrances to these rooms—which are never hidden, for the record—aren’t marked on the map—nor does the game give the player the ability to place markers on the map. This left me wandering in circles desperately trying to remember where that one specific puzzle room I had just obtained the power for was on multiple occasions.
Another related issue is that the game doesn’t feature any sort of summary of the player’s current objective on the pause screen. If you happened to forget what exactly you’re supposed to be doing or missed an important detail, you’ll have to remember who gave you your current objective and backtrack all the way to their location to ask them again. Likewise, the game provides no easy way for the player to track their progress, which makes tracking down every item in the game somewhat tedious.
Shantae has a bevy of new abilities. This time around, all of her transformations are instantaneous, working more like the pirate gear from Pirate’s Curse or Risky Boots’s mode from Half-Genie Hero. This is way more intuitive than transformations in previous Shantae games and helps gameplay maintain a consistent flow.
That said, the game’s protagonist retains her signature belly dancing ability. This time, however, dances come in the form of screen filling magic spells. This works really well as a compromise, as having Shantae plant her feet and spend a few seconds dancing to activate a screen-wide effect feels way more natural than having to constantly stop to transform. These abilities also have a surprising number of uses, affecting enemies and the environment in a variety of fun and surprising ways that reward experimentation.
Best of all, Shantae and the Seven Sirens fixes a long standing issue I’ve had with previous games: there are no useless abilities! There’s no pointless back dashes or power kicks, and every power Shantae obtains remains useful until the end of the game.
New to Shantae and the Seven Sirens are monster cards. After defeating a monster, it might drop a card bearing its likeness. Three of these cards can be equipped at a time, with each one granting a special ability. None of these abilities are particularly creative: decrease how much magic a certain power uses, increase damage of a particular item, etc. As you can probably guess, most of these are situational at best. That wouldn’t be too bad if it was easy to quickly equip cards as the situation demanded. Unfortunately, the cumbersome interface makes the process of equipping and unequipping them very tedious.
Having said that, equipping cards is about as hard as this game gets. Enemies frequently drop healing items, meaning that the player is never without a means of restoring health or magic. To put it in perspective, I managed to go the entire game without having to use any store-bought restoratives; I always had more than enough just from what I picked up from enemies. On top of that, powering up Shantae herself and maximizing her damage output takes very little effort. I managed to get all of the upgrades for her standard attack before the second dungeon. This just may be the easiest game in an already fairly easy series.
The story begins with Shantae and her friends arriving on Paradise Island to attend a half genie festival and to enjoy a much needed vacation. Shortly after arriving, Shantae meets five other half genies who inform her that they all are expected to perform in show that night. However, Shantae’s fellow half genies all suddenly vanish during the performance. Being the only one left, it’s up to Shantae to discover what happened to her peers and uncover the island’s long lost secrets.
As to be expected from a WayForward game, the writing adopts a light-hearted and humorous tone, with a strong emphasis on character-driven comedy. While WayForward has proven time and again that they have this style of writing down pat, this game stands out as some of their funniest work yet. Just about every conversation had me at the very least cracking a smile, if not laughing outright.
Because the game ditches the level-based progression of Half-Genie Hero and its episodic plot structure, the overall plot also feels much more cohesive. This benefits the humor as it’s now allowed to set up jokes well in advance, only to call back to them later. That said, some of the subplots between dungeons, while humorous and all-around entertaining, tend to come out of nowhere and don’t really fit into the game’s overarching narrative. They’re something players will do because they know the game expects it, not because it makes sense in the context of the story. Additionally, the dungeons oddly get little build up; the player just kind of stumbles across most of them.
Lastly, the game’s plot reminds me of Mega Man Legends in a lot of ways, which is always a good thing.
Unlike its predecessor, Half-Genie Hero, Shantae and the Seven Sirens returns to a fully 2D world, with both 2D characters and 2D environments. While I think the 2.5D graphics of Half-Genie Hero were a bit more visually interesting, the visuals in this game are still very good. My biggest complaint is how small all of the characters are on the screen, not because I had trouble keeping track of where they were, but because it makes it harder to admire all of the silky smooth animations. You know the game looks good when my biggest issue with the visuals is my inability to properly admire them.
An additional facet of Seven Sirens’ visual presentation, however, is the inclusion of 2D animated cutscenes. While much of the game’s story is still delivered the old fashioned way, with text boxes and character portraits, these animated cutscenes depict the key moments of the game’s story and provide a little extra flare. The game starts with an intro cinematic by esteemed anime studio, Studio Trigger, while the rest of the game’s cutscenes are by WayForward’s animation team.
The intro features snappy, expressive, and frenetic animation, making for a tough act to follow. For the most part, the rest of the game’s cutscenes look great, but the quality isn’t entirely consistent. A few cinematics feature disorienting transitions between shots, noticeable lack of movement, and odd shot composition. Also, this game features some of the worst looking lip flaps I’ve ever seen.
Fortunately, these issues are the exception rather than the rule. The cutscenes make the game’s big moments stand out and the game is ultimately better for their inclusion.
Just as this is the first Shantae game to feature full-motion cutscenes, it also introduces voice-acted dialog. It isn’t fully voiced, however, as many scenes still rely entirely on text and the occasional, short, emotive utterance. In fact, the application of voice acting is somewhat inconsistent, with conversations often being mostly text only to have a few voiced lines in the middle. The acting itself is quite good and each character’s voice fits them well. This is especially true for Shantae and Ricky Boots, both played by Christina Vee.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the first Shantae game not to feature music by Jake Kaufman. I have mixed feelings about the soundtrack. Some of the songs, especially the ones in the early areas, sound painfully generic and don’t have that signature Shantae energy. At other times, the music fits in perfectly with the rest of the series’ best tracks. While I wouldn’t say the music in this game is quite as catchy as Half-Genie Hero’s, it’s still overall an excellent soundtrack that complements the game quite well.
Before I wrap up this review, there are just a couple of technical issues I’d like to address. While playing this game, I did experience some slowdown when there was a lot happening on screen at once, though that was very rare. Also, during my playthrough, this game did crash one time.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens continues the series’s excellent track record and in many ways out does it. It features the franchise’s best gameplay with well-utilized abilities, great exploration, and the return of many of the series’s best ideas; and is only held back by inconveniences such as cumbersome menus and a lack of quality-of-life features for completionists. The writing is rich with charming characters and hilarious dialog. On top of all of that, the game features a great soundtrack and the added flair of good voice acting and a few fully animated cutscenes. All in all, I would say this is Shantae’s strongest outing yet.
Overall, I would give this game a rating of “great”.
As for the price, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is priced at $30 (U.S.). While the game is on the shorter side, with my playthrough clocking in at ten and a half hours, I think that’s a fair price. However, I do feel obligated to point out that Shantae ½ Genie Hero: Ultimate Edition’s digital version goes for the same price but includes a lot more content. That said, I would say Seven Sirens is the superior game, and you in no way have to play the previous games in the series to enjoy this one.