Thanks to Wayforward for the review code
Title: Shantae and the Seven Sirens
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 05/28/2020
After Half-Genie Hero shifted the series to a more traditional platformer with loose exploration elements, Shantae is finally back in a true metroidvania adventure, bigger and better than before as she goes out to investigate a mysterious island!
Due to Half-Genie Hero upgrading from pixel art to a hand-drawn look, Seven Sirens retains this look, although the animation and general presentation has been significantly improved since the prior adventure. Shantae moves and animates much more smoothly, and a bunch of new enemies have been added to the mix, as have re-polished older ones. There are a few returning characters that barely look different from their HGH counterparts, however, as is the case with some returning voice clips for Shantae and certain enemies.
You even have fully animated cutscenes that appear during certain parts of the game, too, and these are pretty darn spectacular. Like with Persona 5 Royal’s cutscenes, these are professionally animated, though outside of some introductory ones and a few near the endgame, they’re usually brief and made for boss introductions, which is a bit of a shame. Though with no super in-depth story here, it works with what they had to go with.
The music in comparison to Pirate’s Curse is definitely hard to get used to. While the Pirate Curse OST had a lot of energy that made some songs outstandingly incredible thanks to the work of the composer Virt, Seven Sirens goes for a different style that ends up being a mixed bag for me.
None of the songs in the game are bad at all, and there’s still some equally outstanding songs to be found in this score, such as the atmospheric song that plays during the grassy underground part of the map, but stuff like the boss and dungeon themes feel like a major step back from the previous games. It’s a small setback in a game with otherwise great presentation.
The biggest difference from Pirate’s Curse to Seven Sirens is the shift from multiple exploratory maps to a single interconnected world. A lot of other metroidvanias do this, and in fact the first Shantae did this as well, though that was a far more primative effort. Now, every single area connects to one another, and the dungeons are the only part of the game that are separate from the main map.
Control wise, it’s fairly similar to Pirate’s Curse, although it still feels a tad different due to the change in art style and engine. Nothing that takes too terribly long to get adjusted to, but they won’t feel 1:1 alike if you come off that game, not that it’s a bad thing here. You have your standard hair attack, and can still buy special subweapons if you’re in a pinch, though now the weapons depend on the new Magic Meter, rather than being single use, which makes combat very flexible and fun to use, especially if you find a subweapon worth using.
Combat is fairly fast, exploration is a ton of fun and over the course of the game you’ll gain new abilities that allow you to access newer parts of the map, in the form of transformations for Shantae. But unlike the first two games where it paused the action and required a dance, this one treats them more like the upgrades in Pirate’s Curse, making them easy to pull off with the press of a button. Likewise, you can gain special dances to impact the environment around you to access new places or find secrets, and even these are fast-paced, meaning that the game hardly suffers from a pace-breaking moment.
So while the usual norms found in this series are here and improved slightly, leading to another fun metroidvania to enjoy, there’s a few other aspects brand new to the Shantae series, some of which I found enhance the exploratory nature, while others hindered it. The biggest addition to this game comes from the addition of a Monster Card system, with fifty to collect. Each of these provide Shantae with an ability of some kind, whether it’s improving the speed or damage output of an animal form, or boosting the effectiveness of a subweapon.
You can equip three of these at a time, and you can gather them by either trading the hidden nuggets found around the island for rarer cards, or by defeating an enemy and having them drop their respective card. However, that’s where the problem with this system comes into play, since some enemies require multiple copies of the same card in order for their effect to be usable, and certain enemies only appear in very specific areas. Combine that with very high reliance on RNG to even get one card from an enemy to drop, and these are pretty random and not as fun to collect as I had hoped, making the only practical ones for me the ones I stumbled upon by accident, or bought with nuggets.
Considering how it seems you also need to complete the set in order to 100% the game properly (Note: Wayforward PR has reached out to note that cards don’t impact the percentage, there’s just a lot of hidden nuggets to find to trade for them.) that also makes this a gargantuan pain in the ass to accomplish, adding an extra layer of difficulty to getting absolutely everything that I found worse than the notion of grinding for gems in Pirate’s Curse for all the upgrades. (which was also a lot easier, and this game even averts that problem by having enemies and pots shower you with gems, which ironically makes the card drop rate all the more obnoxious to deal with)
Still, the flow of this game was absolutely incredible. Despite the grindy card system, I had a blast going through each new area, or returning to old ones whenever I got a new transformation or dance. Every nook and cranny was fun to explore, and I had a great ten hours of playtime trying to 100% the map. Though unlike Pirate’s Curse, Seven Sirens doesn’t bother to tell the player how many remaining heart squids are in a particular area, unless they’re a dungeon. This means that if you only have two more to find in order to get them all, you’ll have to triple check every last screen in the game, since there’s no indication on which area might have the ones you need, and that actually does impact your 100% percentage, meaning you might be on a wild goose chase for nuggets and scanning every room with a dance for any sign of them.
It’s pretty unfortunate, since this game has satisfying combat, excellent bosses, map and dungeon design, and this is a world I was more than happy to explore: yet doing so to perfect the game was a bit too tricky, and could have benefitted from some QOL polish. I had actually hoped that maybe the game would do what Pirate’s Curse did with the Pirate Mode, and made the New Game Plus a grand open world exploration adventure where you keep all your forms, cards and dances for faster exploration, though sadly the New Game Plus this game has to offer is very wimpy, as it just gives Shantae extra magic at the cost of less defense, a far cry from the fun, speedrun friendly nature of Pirate Mode. While what we got works as a suitable hard mode, that’s pretty much all it is, when it could have been so much cooler.
In conclusion, Shantae and the Seven Sirens was an incredible return to form for the Shantae series, after the weird missteps of Half-Genie Hero. Adding an interconnected world, quality of life tweaks, faster combat and fun collectibles was all a good thing that led to this being an incredibly addicting adventure! But compared to the near perfection of Pirate’s Curse, there’s still some aspects in SS that aren’t as good as I would have liked, from the musical downgrade, the lackluster new game plus, and the heavily reliance on luck to make the most of the card mechanic.
Still, Seven Sirens still is an absolutely excellent metroidvania worth enjoying, but I can’t help but feel some things could have been done to make this the ultimate game to surpass Pirate’s Curse. It definitely sets things back on the right track after Half Genie Hero, but it doesn’t quite match the peak the franchise had already set. Regardless, this is a must-own if you felt that the last game wasn’t what you felt Shantae should be, and missed the old style of exploration from which the series started on.
I give Shantae and the Seven Sirens a 9 out of 10.