Bright, colourful graphics? Check. Bouncy, high-energy music? Check. Cheerful protagonist? Check. Cast of kookie-characters and people in need of saving? Double-check! The fifth entry in a series dating back to 2002, Shantae and the Seven Sirens sees the charmingly enthusiastic half-genie star of the game (that’s Shantae, if you haven’t guessed already) arriving at the holiday island destination of Arena Town for the inaugural Half-Genie festival. As you can guess, things go wrong pretty quickly (sorry, no spoilers) and it’s up to Shantae to rescue the day, her new friends, and the entire island.
A 2D action/platformer, players will need to utilise Shantae’s abilities to jump, ‘hair-whip’ (using her strikingly purple hair to, well, strike her enemies), use magic, and transform into the shape of different creatures. Shantae’s magic and transformations play a vital role. While the game area starts off fairly small, it quickly expands as Shantae’s powers grow. A sheer wall blocking your path? Maybe there’s a transformation that’ll let you stick to walls. Can’t see how to get across a gap? Use the ‘Seer Dance’ to reveal things normally hidden. And the gameplay area is huge – a large, interconnected map both above and below ground, the main feature of which is the vast, sunken city beneath the island.
Compared to the previous entry in the series (the absolutely stellar Shantae ½ Genie Hero that we reviewed back in issue no. 2), transformations are handled quite differently. Whereas before, players would need to ‘dance’ (which would freeze time and pull up a menu that players could select from to turn into), transformations in Shantae and the Seven Sirens are virtually instantaneous or context driven (such as the frog form which only activates when in water). Whilst on the plus side this does simplify the game and put all transformations within easy reach for smooth platforming (especially if you’re playing with a controller), on the down side this simplifying means the levels and how they can be tackled feels more rigid and controlled then in Shantae ½ Genie Hero.
Of course, magic comes in more varieties than just transformations. Dances now activate special abilities, ranging from the aforementioned ‘Seer Dance’ to the ability to electrify the entire screen (handy, if you want to activate a piece of machinery). These powers can also be used in combat, and it’s particularly enjoyable to use the ‘Revitalize’ dance on undead foes – such as a flame-spewing, bandaged wrapped monster that gets transformed into a befuddled, embarrassed person trying to use the bandages to preserve their modesty (see the screenshots). There’s also a slew of defensive and offensive powers, the utilization of which, especially at the end of the game, are necessary if you want any hope of beating the final boss.
Crazy characters and a warped sense of humour also return, including the ever-hilarious Squid Baron (obsessed with geek culture and creating a game featuring ‘Dagron Balls’), as well as a healing pool whose mystical powers are believed to be derived from the tears of tourists. A new addition is the inclusion of ‘Monster Cards’ that defeated foes occasionally drop, which can be used to enhance Shantae’s abilities. Also, there are new animated TV-style cutscenes, which, while short, just add to the overall fun.
I’ve always enjoyed good 2D action games, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens is no exception. In fact, the only things I could fault it at were that it was sometimes easy to get lost, both literally and in the sense of not knowing what next to do (the map and objectives could be better explained), and there seemed less overall freedom, humour and variety compared to the previous entry in the series. That said, I consider the previous entry to be one of the best 2D games around, so falling a bit short of its mark is hardly a problem. Also, there is clearly scope for new modes and adventures to be added (as was done with Shantae ½ Genie Hero), so I’m anticipating that the game will only get better.
Great fun and suitable for the whole family, if you like 2D action/platformers, or have enjoyed previous entries in the Shantae series. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is easy to recommend. ■