Shantae first hit the scene on the Gameboy Color in 2002. Despite coming out well over a year after the Gameboy Advance hit the market, Shantae achieved cult classic status. The small series had gotten a few sequels in later years. In 2013, Wayforward launched a Kickstarter campaign for the fourth game in the series, Half-Genie Hero, and it quickly hit the $400k goal. By the end of the campaign, Wayforward had raised almost $950k, and Half-Genie Hero was released to critical acclaim. Wayforward has since grown to be a much larger company. In fact, they’re breaking through the barrier of even being an indie developer in the first place. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is their last hoorah as an indie studio, and my first Shantae game, so I was extremely excited to try it out. My copy of the game was funded by Indie Gamer Chick, as part of her promise to purchase a copy of every game she reviews, and I thank her dearly for it!
Shantae has been invited to a tropical island to partake in a Half-Genie festival! Getting to bring along her closest friends, and meet more Half-Genies, she was simply excited to enjoy her first vacation! Things quickly turn sour when the other Half-Genies are kidnapped by the seven sirens. It’s up to Shantae to find them, discover what Risky Boots is doing on the island, and stop the seven sirens.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens features wonderful animated sequences by STUDIO TRIGGER. Most of the game’s dialogue is delivered through standard character pop-ups, but the actual cutscenes are a huge bright spot and delightful when they show up! The game features amazing voice acting from top-of-the-line actors like Cristina Vee and Xander Mobus. You may recognize them as Marinette from Miraculous Ladybug or the announcer of the Super Smash Bros. series. Xander Mobus is also Joker, so it seems Nintendo just really likes him. I promise I will make this exact joke when I get to Persona 5 for the Series of Smash Bros.
The Shantae series is as pure of a metroid-vania as you can get. Shantae, in particular, starts pretty weak, but you can become mighty overpowered quickly if you can figure out what the best weapons are. At the start, you’ll only have access to a hair whip attack, but you’ll quickly be able to purchase upgrades and magic sub-weapons from the shop. To upgrade your health, you’ll need to find four heart squids and turn them into a blacksmith. I kept forgetting that I even had heart squids on me. For most of my journey, I was rocking three hearts for no reason.
Dancing and transformations have been a staple of the Shantae series, but they’re done away with here. Shantae does pick up a few transformations and extra magical abilities, but you don’t have to stop and transform to use any of them. Instead, it’ll be as simple as holding a direction when touching a particular surface to instantly transform and travel, or press a trigger to transform into a turtle and do a powerful stomping move.
Enemies will sometimes drop Monster Cards. Every enemy has its own type of card. Each card gives Shantae a special boost to one of her abilities or a new ability all-together. You can have three cards equipped at once. Monster Cards are extremely useful but felt polarizing to get. For some enemies, it seemed that every time I killed them they dropped a card. It took many sessions of grinding to some others.
Being a metroid-vania, you’ll be exploring one large world. As you earn more abilities, you’ll gain access to different shortcuts and warps to get you from place to place faster. I often get annoyed when exploring these games becomes tedious or confusing, but this struck the perfect balance. There were times I was confused enough to ask for help, but not many at all. The world felt cohesive and made a ton of sense. It’s not too big either! Even when I had to backtrack across multiple areas, it never took more than a few minutes to get where I needed to be.
Earlier, I discussed how the game told its story, and how beautiful the cutscenes are. The rest of the game looks just as great! All of the animations in the action feel like they’re bursting with personality. Every movement feels fluid and impactful. Even the large art used when characters are talking is delightful! Every track in the game has gotten stuck in my head. Even as I sit here and write this sentence, I can hear the theme of the main town echoing through the mini record-player of the earworm jamming out.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a wonderfully crafted love-letter to the metroid-vania genre and indie community. With beautiful art and music, frantic and fun gameplay, and tons of secrets tightly packed throughout the game’s world, Shantae and the Seven Sirens has been one of my favorite indies. It’s a shorter experience. My final time was only about eight hours, but none of it felt dragged out or bloated. I’d much rather a smaller dish that tastes better than a large tub of bloated mashed potatoes. I highly recommend Shantae and the seven Sires. As Wayforward continues to transform into an AAA studio, I can’t wait to dive into their past and be right there waiting for their future.