Review: Prepare to be spellbound by Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Like a favorite food, you might have had it dozens of times before, but Shantae and the Seven Sirens will feel familiar in just the right away, and even though it doesn’t do anything particularly different than the usual genre-that-shall-not-be-named game, you’ll have a fantastic time playing it. Personally, I have had little previous playing experience with the franchise created by Matt and Erin Bozon that’s been a mainstay in various consoles and portables since its humble Game Boy Color origin, but I felt right at home in this newest entry which was exclusive to Apple Arcade and is now available for consoles and PC.

Shantae is your typical happy go lucky and extremely cute platformer protagonist that just happens to be a half-genie. Thanks to that, she’s can wield a number of fun powers that are activated by her dancing, as well as being able to transform into different creatures that work as the series’ way of treating the traditional traversal gating that’s the base of the design in games like this — you know, uncovering the map little by little as you gain the ability to overcome obstacles such as previously unbreakable rocks, or too high of jumps. What makes this and previous games in the franchise so special is how much good humorous writing there is and how beautiful they are, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens is no exception.

Along with her friends from the previous games, she’s finally taking a vacation for the first time ever in a resort island where she ends up cast in a show starring half-genies, that is until all half-genies but her are kidnapped by Shantae’s frenemy and franchise villain Risky Boots, who is after something valuable in the island. What could it be? It’s up to our lovable djin to find out as she sets out to rescue her new friends by wiping her hair like mad and dancing through yet another adventure.

Watch out! Here comes Shantae!

While previous Shantae games apparently dealt with platforming in different ways, be it by serving it in the form of stages, the world in this is one single map broken up by loading screens and dungeons, meaning that you’ll probably discover every single one of its squares by the time you reach its conclusion but might not 100% your collectibles. There’s a lot to explore and discover, and true to the games that came before it, there will be a bunch of stuff you’ll want to make a mental note to come back once you have gained the right ability, possibly extending your playthrough time if you wish to get everything that the game has to offer.

Then again, you won’t have a dire need out of maxing out Shantae’s health bar or buying all of her upgrades because the game is quite easy to get through. Word’s that the previous entries tended to fall a little on the grindy side of things when it came to acquiring currency used to buy items and upgrades, but Shantae and the Seven Sirens is quite the opposite, showering you with so much money that you’ll be forced to warp back to town every so often in order to spend it in order to stop the counter from maxing out at 999. By the half mark, without going out of my way to search for hidden stuff, I had most of the projectiles that Shantae can use and all of her upgrades, with plenty of cash to go around for consumables or anything else that I needed. It goes without saying that if you’re looking to get all powers that come from the newly-introduced card system, it can take a while, since they aren’t guaranteed drops and usually require multiple copies before they can be equipped.

There’s been plenty of discussion lately about difficulty in games and how making them continuously harder is considered to be of value to a part of the audience, and there’s certainly a bit of value in that argument if you take into account the amount of time needed to be invested in order to master a game and bend it to your will. On the other hand, I have a soft side for games like Shantae, where the value lies in its smart design, personable cast and colorful world, and breezy gameplay. I only had one instance where I ran into trouble very late in the game due to some tricky platforming having to dodge 1-hit kill spikes, and that was about the most trouble I got, including the boss fights.

The card system in this game takes inspiration from Castlevania: Aria of Souls’ power up system.

In true WayForward fashion, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a spectacle to behold, sporting beautifully animated characters, colorful environments and a lot of witty self-referential humor. Movement is butter-smooth and it feels great to jump around as Shantae, and as she gains new traversal powers, getting around is a blast, not to mention her incredibly destructive dances that are used both as solutions to puzzles and screen-filling spells. There are even animated cutscenes in this new game, animated by famous anime studio Trigger, the folks behind the ultra stylish Kill la Kill anime, among others, and they look great! In terms of soundtrack, it’s got a very nostalgic set of songs that sound like they could’ve been pumped out of a Super Nintendo sound chip, seriously.

The world design feels tight and uncluttered, while the gameplay is as mentioned quite breezy and somewhat straightforward, especially for a game in the genre that it’s in: you’re constantly getting direct hints from other characters about where to go next, or through item descriptions. And I didn’t feel like the game worn out its welcome near the end of my 9-hour run through Shantae and the Seven Sirens, where the final traversal power was given, but it could’ve easily been a different story if it had kept introducing new gimmicks, that’s for sure, because the map became quite small by that point, thanks to the ease of getting around via warps and all of Shantae’s powers.

For as easy and positively safe of a bet Shantae and the Seven Sirens might be, it’s an gorgeously well put together platformer that’s a lot of fun to play that comes from a developer that’s become proficient at putting out heavily nostalgic and polished games. I had such a great time playing through this that I might just look into filling that gap in my gaming vernaculum and go back to play the older entries in the series when time permits. Consider me under Shantae’s spell!            

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