[Review] Shantae and the Seven Sirens – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: WayForward
  • Publisher: WayForward
  • Release Date: 28/05/2020 (NA) / 04/06/2020 (EU)
  • Price: $29.99 / £25.19
  • Review code provided by WayForward

Introducing: Shantae Seven Sirens Switch Review

The Shantae series has a storied legacy on Nintendo consoles. Beginning life as a hidden Game Boy Color gem, the series really took off with the DSiWare entry, Risky’s Revenge. Since then, Shantae and her genie-antics have become a darling in the community, with game after game receiving acclaim. I’ve always been on the periphery of the series, reading its praises in Nintendo Power and dabbling in both The Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero. Shantae and the Seven Sirens, though, marks the first Shantae game I’ve sunk significant time into, and I’m certainly glad I did. While flawed in certain respects, The Seven Sirens is a beautiful and polished adventure that I enjoyed front to back.

Spectacular Sightseeing

The setup, as one would expect, isn’t particularly complex. Shantae is a gameplay experience first and foremost, but Seven Sirens does offer a compelling enough narrative thread to bring the player from the intro cinematic to the credits. Shantae and friends arrive at Arena Town for an all-expenses paid tropical island vacation – with the provision that Shantae takes part in the local Half-Genie festival as part of the headlining act. To the surprise of no one, things go awry, and Shantae’s fellow Half-Genies are kidnapped, leaving her to save the day.

What’s special about the story in Seven Sirens isn’t the plot, but the atmosphere and world WayForward created. The game is packed full of eccentric characters who are brought to life by the game’s light-hearted and meta script that kept me meticulously reading text-boxes to catch each joke and reference. Important beats are also punctuated by stunning, TV-quality animated cutscenes that elevate the storytelling even further. Seven Sirens feels like a Saturday-morning cartoon come to life. I found myself constantly smiling, engaged by WayForward’s execution of game’s simple plotline.

This mastery extends into other elements of the game’s presentation also. If you’re familiar with the studio’s past work, including Ducktales Remastered and Half-Genie Hero, it should be no surprise that the game is visually stunning. Seven Sirens is lavishly and beautifully hand-animated. I’m a sucker for some good 2D-animation in games, and this is some of the best that I’ve ever seen. Paired with its wonderful art direction, taking in the sights is sublime. And, what incredible sights these are. From sunken ships to hidden, tropical towns, the locales in Seven Sirens are inventive and well-realized. The world is inspired and teeming with detail. The soundtrack matches this level of quality, with some true earworms that have been on repeat in my head since hearing them days ago. This is WayForward at the peak of its craft.

Tantalizing Transformations

The gameplay is just as polished as the presentation. Metroidvania fans will know what to expect here, as Seven Sirens sticks close to the tenants of the genre. The overarching goal is to rescue all of the trapped Half-Genies while defeating all of the Sirens in the process. To do so, you’ll explore every inch of the island, platforming and fighting enemies from the island’s highest peaks to the bottom of the ocean floor. As this is a Metroidvania, itemized progression is the name of the game.

Each Half-Genie is trapped in a labyrinth hidden on the island, and when you free them, they’ll award you with a medallion that will allow Shantae – in series tradition – to transform into various forms to overcome obstacles. From a Newt that’ll allow Shantae to dash and climb walls to a tortoise that’ll allow Shantae to smash through boulders, these transformations are seamless and fun additions to the gameplay loop.

As you power up Shantae with new transformations and magic skills, the game feels better and better to play. There is a fluidity and ease to the movement that makes just getting from point A to B feel exciting. I always felt in complete control, executing precision jumps and similar feats without much issue. At times, the nature of certain hitboxes – particularly on smaller enemies – can make using Shantae’s hair whip (her primary attack) overly precise. However, this is a rare issue, and the combat feels just as compelling as the traversal. In short, the mechanics in Seven Sirens are incredibly empowering.

Exploration Excellence

Equally empowering is the game’s puzzle solving, both with respect to individual puzzles in labyrinths and overworld puzzles. The latter is particularly important, and any Metroidvania player is familiar with the head scratching “I have no idea how to progress” moments that see you backtracking aimlessly before finally stumbling upon the solution. Seven Sirens is devoid of these instances. The game smartly nudges the player in the correct direction, peppering hints across the landscape. Sometimes, a contextual clue will be reminiscent of a particularly memorable and previously inaccessible location. Other times, simply talking to enough NPCs will point the player in the right direction. The way forward (pun completely intended) always straddles the line between obvious and abstruse in a way that feels rewarding to parcel out.

It’s incredibly effective design, and this quality extends to the construction of the world on the whole. Exploration is varied by smart implementation of transformations and is bolstered by elegant level design. Going on autopilot in Seven Sirens isn’t possible, because the game demands continued attention. Its Zelda-inspired labyrinths and enemy encounters provide a steady and fair challenge, which can be scaled depending on how you choose to engage with the game’s optional systems.

Gathering enemy cards (collected as random drops from enemies) can power up Shantae in different ways, and foodstuffs can be stockpiled and eaten on the fly to recover health. Smart exploration will lead to Heart Squids, which can be turned into extra health, a la Zelda’s heart containers. All of these systems allow for the difficulty of Seven Sirens to be tailored to the player’s liking. All of the facets of Seven Sirens’ design coalesce in an experience that kept me engaged for the lion’s share of its runtime.

Pacing Problems

That said, the biggest issue with Seven Sirens is its pace. Even though the game can be finished in six to seven hours, it still feels padded. Even shaving off just an hour’s worth of content would make the game feel a lot more focused. Series staple and Shantae’s rival, Risky Boots, pops up in each of the game’s labyrinths for the same mini-boss fight, rarely gaining new attack patterns. These encounters simply feel unnecessary. The flow of progression and exploration is halted at several points, too, as NPCs send Shantae out on fetch quests that serve as little more than filler that space out the game’s beats.

This padding manifests itself in other ways, too. The game’s map simply doesn’t display enough information to be truly helpful. At several points, I found myself wandering around a labyrinth or the overworld looking for a newly accessible location that I just couldn’t remember the exact position of. In these moments, the map was just too static to be relied upon. As such, I wasted time trying to relocate key positions that I had no way to keep track of outside of my (admittedly shaky) sense of direction. Even the boss fights – while inventive and fun – feel like damage sponges. After learning attack patterns, I’d find myself in a lull, sighing and spamming Shantae’s hair whip as I slowly whittled down the boss’ health.

Final Thoughts

Even though Shantae and the Seven Sirens has pacing issues, these flaws do little to undercut WayForward’s achievement. This is a polished and enjoyable Metroidvania that served as a great palette cleanser. The game is mechanically familiar, and to continue the metaphor, feels like comfort food. It doesn’t reinvent the genre formula in any respect, but it does execute upon it with mountains of polish and charm. There is a reason that the Shantae series has endured since the Game Boy Color, and Seven Sirens is testament to that.

Pros

  • Gorgeous presentation
  • Empowering mechanics
  • Polished design

Cons

  • Pacing issues
  • Static map

Verdict

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a highly polished and roundly enjoyable Metroidvania that, even in light of its pacing issues, is easy to recommend.

4/5

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