Shantae and the Seven Sirens Review

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.

Gameplay

Map

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.

Abilities

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.

Monster Cards

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.

Difficulty

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.

Writing

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.

Visuals

In-Game

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.

Cutscenes

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.

Sound

Voice Acting

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.

Music

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.

Technical Notes

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.

Conclusion

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.

Dear Good Game Developers

I know that what you do is an art form. You strive hour after hour to perfect your masterpiece. You build hype the best you can in order that as many people as possible will enjoy your work. You are a craftsperson, you are a businessperson. You are an artist. You are good at what you do.

Dear video game developer…

Stop it. Stop it, please.

I despise your talent. I hate it because you are too good at what you do. Because you pour your blood sweat and tears into your Sistine Chapel of a game, I never want to stop playing. And it’s not just one of you, it is so many talented individuals who create endless grand adventures. I cannot be separated from your works. My only hope to play all of these amazing games is for you all to quit now. I implore you; have mercy.

Now, to those of you who make bad games, on the other hand, please, I beg of you, never stop. In the spirit of Two Button Crew, your terrible games bring me most profound joy. They bring me a laugh, or, at the very least, a scowl of confusion. Your immediate stench alerts me to the fact that I have encountered the extent of what you have to offer me in the first five minutes. You bring me smiles. You bring me tears. You make me want to pull my hair out because of your painfully obvious design flaws. Most importantly, you give me no incentive to come back for more, so that I can move on to the next piece of garbage. Our love is a passionate, though brief, one.

Oh, the pains of pleasure! To hate to love, or to love to hate? Why must this mortal frame force me to choose betwixt the two? For to do both would throw me into a deep valley and leech my time to naught.

In all sincerity (or, maybe not),

Simeon

To Backlog or Not to Backlog Scott’s Thoughts

That is the question. The question we are all asking as a new wave of indie titles hits the Nintendo Switch each and every week.
It’s nearly impossible not to fall behind.

To illustrate this point, consider the following group of games: Shovel Knight, TumbleSeed, Thumper, Sonic Mania, SteamWorld Dig 2, Golf Story, and Stardew Valley.
Did you purchase and play all of those?
This is just a quick list of games filed under “DON’T MISS” off the top of my head. Chances are, you’ve let a handful of these slip through the cracks. (If you actually played all of those, I want to shake your hand.)

Each week is a new opportunity to either A) catch up on amazing games in the backlog, or B) play the newest latest game that was released.

Option A feels good because you get to experience that title that’s been sitting on your wish list, enjoy it, and cross it off.
It creates a problem, though, when it causes your backlog to grow. Thanks to the deluge of new releases, truly “catching up” isn’t really an option.

Option B is exciting. You get to buy a brand new game and join in the conversations while it’s still hot. All the Nintendo podcasts and groups are discussing it.
The downside is, it prevents you from getting back to some of those earlier eShop games that received 8s or 9s out of 10.

No matter what we choose, we’re missing out.
How do you pick between shoring up your collection and trying out the latest greatest?

You have better chances of enjoying your purchases, and not regretting them, if you go with the backlog. Hindsight is 20/20, and a few months after a game launches, you know from the way a title is talked about (and IF it’s even remembered) if it’s worth it or not. You probably build a wish list and whittle it down as your perception of each game’s value evolves with time. What’s left is a series of sure-fire hits that you’re bound to enjoy.

Delve into games like that.

The cutting edge is risky, but rewarding. You can get in on a game’s fandom on ground 0 and be a part of a community’s formation. Other times, the game just isn’t what you thought it was and you’re out $10 or $20.

When you have a really good feeling about an indie title, and you can just sense that you will love it, buy it on launch day. Don’t let it pass you by. During those times, the backlog can wait.

Let’s Play Affordable Space Adventures! (3/3)

If you don’t like spoilers for this game, then… BUY IT ALREADY!


Part 3/3: Simeon and Scott take on their new favorite indie game, and it’s on Wii U! The game is Affordable Space Adventures, an asynchronous delight that will surprise you and challenge you. It’s a must own title, and this three part series is going to demonstrate just how hard the game can get toward the later levels!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Let’s Play Affordable Space Adventures! (2/3)

Enjoy a more uncut (less cut?) experience with this episode.


Part 2/3: Simeon and Scott take on their new favorite indie game, and it’s on Wii U! The game is Affordable Space Adventures, an asynchronous delight that will surprise you and challenge you. It’s a must own title, and this three part series is going to demonstrate just how hard the game can get toward the later levels!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Let’s Play Affordable Space Adventures! (1/3)

We warned you that this game was epic.


Part 1/3: Simeon and Scott take on their new favorite indie game, and it’s on Wii U! The game is Affordable Space Adventures, an asynchronous delight that will surprise you and challenge you. It’s a must own title, and this three part series is going to demonstrate just how hard the game can get toward the later levels!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch) Review

Look what gem we dug up.


Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is available on Nintendo Switch, including the timed-exclusive Specter of Torment campaign! Ryan has been playing the title for review, and has completed the game and assembled all of his thoughts. Watch to see what he thought of this villainous twist on Shovel Knight!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Runner3 (Switch Bit.Trip Exclusive) Preview

Can’t wait to play as the running cigarette!


Runner3 is an amazing indie title coming exclusively to Nintendo Switch, courtesy of Choice Provisions. You may also be familiar with this series and studio as Bit.Trip Runner from Gaijin Games, but things have evolved since then and this new entry in the auto-runner series is no exception. The main character, Commander Video, helped establish the genre of auto-running video games, and he’s back this year to redefine it with all new twists. Watch what Simeon and Scott have to say about it, and get hyped!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Home of the Indies: Nintendo Switch

After an incredible Indie Showcase that Nintendo aired before the launch of their new platform, the Nintendo Switch, I’m still left thinking about that reel of stellar indie software. The lineup looks fantastic, and in an otherwise barren stretch without software between Zelda and Mario Kart, the indies are going above and beyond in filling in the gaps.

Nintendo really stepped up their game in the way that they are courting independent developers this generation. You can tell. You can feel the excitement emanating from these smaller, self-publishing game creators. Not only is a slew of great games coming to Switch, but the indies are providing exclusives and timed exclusives by the handful.

Nintendo Voice Chat Indie Special

Recently IGN’s Nintendo podcast took a week off their normal format and interviewed some fine folks. They sat down and talked with many of the creators that were featured in Nintendo’s showcase, but also interviewed the employee of Nintendo in charge of managing these releases, all in one informative episode.

While you should definitely give the full show a watch or listen, I took two very important facts away from it:

1: Expect indie games to be enhanced with unique Switch features. Nintendo is helping indies implement the latest and greatest into their titles, and helping make these games more attractive on the Nintendo platform as well.

2: More selectivity is determining what appears on the eShop. It’s not an open invitation for indie developers anymore, but only the best of the best are being let in to the new eShop. This might seem like a step backward in Nintendo’s indie relations, but they’re really just taking an active step in keeping the shovelware out and wooing the best developers in. Damon Baker is the man in charge of Nintendo’s “portfolio management,” so he’ll be making a lot of calls, taking people out to golf, and not taking no for an answer when it comes to getting Nintendo fans access to the smartest indie titles.

Technology Implementation

Nintendo isn’t the only company taking advantage of HD Rumble or the other technologies packed into the Joy-Con controllers. Indies are crazy about this technology, and have reported that Nintendo’s documentation is off-the-charts helpful…

Let me say that again:

Nintendo’s development documenation for Switch is insanely good.

I know – sounds boring to you or me, but developers are going crazy about this. And it means we get better games, faster, so there’s that!

In one example of rapid technology implementation, Tomorrow Corp’s games (World of Goo, Human Resource Machine, Little Inferno) already take advantage of the IR-free Motion Pointer technology before it’s been seen from any other developer, first-party, third-party, or otherwise.

Indie games that allow full iPad-like touch-screen only controls as an option are also on the way.

Convenient Porting

Indie developers are having extremely efficient experiences in getting their existing games running on Switch hardware, which has historically not been the case with Nintendo platforms. In the IGN interview above, devs stated times between a single hour to two weeks when discussing port timeframes.

Not to mention that development kits are actually on the cheap end of the spectrum for indies! At approximately $450 per kit, it’s hardly a barrier of entry for anyone hoping to see their game running on Nintendo hardware. Finally, the Big N seems to have created a win-win situation with their development environment.

Support Them!

Switch is the perfect console for indie games. It’s easy to develop for, fully-featured hardware, that we can take with us anywhere! Let’s show independent developers that we respect their time and appreciate their efforts by voting with our wallets.

Watch for these upcoming (and some newly released) games:

  • Runner3 from Choice Provisions
  • SteamWorld Dig 2 from Image & Form Games
  • Yooka Laylee from Team 17 and Playtonic Games
  • Blaster Master Zero from Inti Creates
  • Pocket Rumble from Chucklefish Games and Cardboard Robot Games
  • Flipping Death from Zoink Games
  • Mr. Shifty from tinyBuild and Team Shifty
  • Wargroove from Chucklefish Games
  • Stardew Valley from Chucklefish Games and ConcernedApe
  • Shakedown Hawaii from vBlank
  • Graceful Explosion Machine from Vertex Pop
  • Tumbleseed from aeiowu
  • Overcooked: Special Edition from Team 17 and Ghost Town Games
  • The Escapists 2 from Team 17 and Mouldy Toof
  • GoNNER from Raw Fury and Art in Heart
  • Kingdom: Two Crowns from Raw Fury and Noio
  • Dandara from Raw Fury and Long Hat House
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove & Specter of Torment by Yacht Club Games
  • World of Goo by Tomorrow Corp
  • Human Resource Machine by Tomorrow Corp
  • Little Inferno by Tomorrow Corp

Best 2017 Indie Games to Watch For!

If you’re reading this, and you’re an indie developer, get in touch with us on the Contact page. <3


We love independent video game developers (affectionately referred to as “Nindies”). Why? Because they’re the underdogs – the small studios that are going toe-to-toe with giant corporate competitors. And oftentimes, they’re the ones that innovate and bring us the most interesting experiences, the ones that deserve further pondering and reflection after their completion. And so, going into a new console generation on the Nintendo Switch without stopping to examine the indie offerings would be a big mistake! These are the games to watch for in the coming months – don’t miss them!

Shot by Alex Campbell

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/