I say it time and time again, I am a huge sucker for metroidvania/platformers. They are my gaming equivalent to comfort food, and I can’t help gobble each one up as they pass me by. Shantae and the Seven Sirens, the fifth entry in the Shantae series, is one that has intrigued me ever since its announcement. My Shantae experience is limited only to the previous entry Shantae Half-Genie Hero, the title in the franchise that took a level-based metroidvania-lite approach, as opposed to the traditional metroidvania format that had been the norm in all prior entries. I loved Half-Genie Hero, however I was keen to see how that experience would translate to a fully-fledged metroidvania. I’m happy to report that, despite a couple of minor frustrations, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is something truly special.
Shantae is back and I can’t be happier
Upon booting the game, you are treated with a beautiful opening animation that is comparable to what you’d expect to see at the start of a Saturday morning cartoon. The narrative is also akin to a Saturday morning cartoon in its simplicity, and I unabashedly adore it. Shantae has been invited to participate in the Half-Genie Festival, an event that sees both her pals and herself set off to Paradise Island. When performing at the festival alongside multiple other Half-Genies, an unexpected event sees all Half-Genies other than Shantae mysteriously vanish. Desperate to find her fellow Half-Genies, Shantae heads off to track them all down. The story isn’t at all complex, but it succeeds in giving Shantae’s journey around Paradise Island a reason for taking place.
Despite the simplicity of the narrative, the personalities of the cast of characters solidify why this series is so charming. Franchise mainstay Squid Baron is one of the best examples; he’s wacky and annoying in all the right ways, and while I’d love to divulge on his role in the narrative here, it is much better experienced firsthand. The humour in Shantae and the Seven Sirens is not only subtle, but self-aware. It doesn’t drown you in attempted humour, instead providing funny moments that almost always hit.
The animated cutscenes are so pretty!
Amplifying the characters in-game is the beautiful artstyle. Shantae and the Seven Sirens looks absolutely gorgeous with plenty of colour and detail in its artwork, while the interspersed animated cutscenes look even more impressive. The soundtrack also slaps, which is commonplace for a Shantae game (seriously, listen to some Shantae soundtracks).
Unlike Shantae Half-Genie Hero, Shantae and the Seven Sirens returns to the series’ traditional metroidvania routes. While the progression in itself is linear, with you needing to defeat a labyrinth in one location to get access to the next, there is an explorable world in between them. You make your way through Paradise Island whipping at enemies with your hair and jumping around in what is nothing less than 2D platforming bliss. Shantae controls brilliantly in both her default state, as well as her animal transformations. Half-Genie and other games in the series had Shantae dancing to change into a specific creature. Shantae and the Seven Sirens forgo this form of transformation, instead having transformations happen when certain actions are performed. For example, when turning into a drill to plough through rock obstructing your path, you simply walk into the rock and becometh said drill.
Shantae can transform into various creatures
Transformations are given to Shantae in the form of Fusion Coins, a special item containing the power of the Half-Genie who fused the coin. These coins are created by rescuing a Half-Genie and giving them a fusion stone, and they are all required to complete the game. Shantae still has dance abilities though, that allow her to do things such as see previously invisible platforms, or cause earthquakes that can open up new areas, while damaging enemies in the process.
By far the best addition to the gameplay in Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the card system. While card system is a term that often scares people off, it’s used expertly here. When an enemy is defeated, there is a chance that they could drop a card. Collect a certain amount of cards for the specific enemy type and you will unlock an ability that you can equip up to three of at a time. A favourite of mine for example was a card that allowed me to not take damage from spikes, meaning I could stress less about my health when platforming through spike-laden areas. Still, collecting the cards of an enemy once unlocking their ability is still a valuable thing to do, as excess cards can be sold to the card reseller for gems. Having this system ensures that taking the time to combat enemies always nets you some sort of reward, instead of serving as additional fodder that you’d in other cases just dash past and ignore. It’s a novel system and one I’d like to see become a staple in the Shantae games going forward.
The card system is excellent (as are trophies)
Although my time with Shantae and the Seven Sirens was the video game equivalent of that first blissful cup of coffee in the morning, I did have a few minor irritants that decreased the experience. Firstly, while backtracking is paramount to the metroidvania genre, I feel like there is a bit too much of it here. It’s not so much when you’re going back to prior areas to access previously inaccessible areas, but more in the moments when Shantae becomes a glorified mailwoman and needs to hand-deliver items to people around Paradise Island. It feels like padding and the game would have ultimately benefited from its exclusion.
Further stoking the fire of this issue is the fact that it is really easy to get lost in the world of Paradise Island. Most of the time you can remain on the path, but when you for some reason step away from it, you can often find yourself running to every town and questioning every civilian or running through every segment of the world looking for the one interaction to make the plot progress. Yet again worsening this is the fact the game has no sort of objective system that reminds you of where to go. Sometimes a plot will be placed on your map to show you exactly where to head next, but in most cases you will have no idea where to go next if you misconstrued or flat out skipped the crucial dialogue.
The amount of backtracking required is something I could do with much less of
While I think both of these issues would be less annoying on a second playthrough when you know the lay of the land, it rears its head in your first playthrough and frustratingly padded out my playthrough. I also wish the game would say how many heart squids or gold nuggets have been collected, or at least mark off the locations of the items I have already collected, as my lack of knowledge on the total amount left me parading the island in search of more collectibles, another issue much like the others that could easily have been fixed.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a joyful game to play, hear and look at. The metroidvania gameplay and fluid platforming is at the level of quality befitting a Shantae game, and the iconic characters and witty dialogue serve as the wind beneath the series’ wings. At this point I feel like if a gun was held to my head and I was forced to recite my favourite metroidvania developers I’d exclaim “WayForward Technologies” almost instantly. Shantae has earnt her place in the upper echelon of metroidvania games, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens further serves to solidify that notion. It simply is a must-play.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher