A Hard Act to Follow
The Shantae series is always a good time. I’ve played the last two games to completion, and intend to do the very same with this one. My only question for a new Shantae game is never if it will be good, but rather if it will be as good as the one preceding it. And Shantae, ½Genie Hero was one of the best 2D Explorative Platformers I’ve ever played. And the one before it, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was ALSO one of the best Explorative Platformers (I hate the term Metroidvania) I’ve ever played.
That being said, this entry seems to borrow from Pirate’s Curse as much as from ½Genie Hero in terms of Gameplay, which really defied my expectations in all truth. A line of NPC dialog even criticizes the series staple of Transformation magic between the forms of Monkeys, Elephants, Bats, and the like. So we know Seven Sirens surprised me, what else?
After a series fraught with high stakes adventures, this plot kicks off with Shantae seeking a Vacation. Because why else would anybody be visiting a deserted Island? The said deserted island is hosting a Festival celebrating Half Genies from all over the world. And Shantae is a Half-Genie herself, decides to show up and join in the festivities, especially a scheduled Magic show starring the hybrids. But just as the Half Genies begin their performance, the lights go off and all apart from Shantae are kidnapped. Suddenly becoming the Last Girl Standing, the main event is canceled and Shantae dashes off on her own intent upon rescuing her Co-stars from whoever hatched this plot to snatch the batch of HGDD’s. (Half-Genie Damsels in Distress!)
Seven Sirens follows more in the 2D Explorative Platformer vein of Pirate’s Curse than the more Linear Level based Half-Genie Hero, and that comes through in the gameplay. Players will use this game’s Fusion transformations primarily, with Dances taking a backseat role in the gameplay. No more do you dance to become a monkey, a single pull of the Right Trigger instantly triggers a Newt Dash with similar wall climbing properties. In terms of Gameplay, the end result feels a little more Action-oriented than Half-Genie Hero. Though I very much miss the emphasis on Dances and especially the Hardcore mode from that game. In my very first playthrough of Seven Sirens, I actually chose to never upgrade my HP by using the Heart Squids and I debated doing the same for my New Game Plus run. (Which grants, the player, an Alternate Outfit with less Defense and more Magic.) *Update, I chose to use the Health Upgrades after all.
Shantae is known for using her Hair as a weapon rather than Punches or Kicks. Dunno why, but it seems to work out for her. By pressing Y, Shantae will whip her hair forwards to deal damage. Hair whips don’t have great range, but they’re how you’ll do most of your attacking. Hair whip attacks can be strengthened through the use of Hair Care products like Shampoo and Creams, which can be purchased from the Item Stores in the game. The best investment for dealing increased Damage Per Second (DPS) is the Silky Cream since it increases the speed of your hair whip attacks. I feel like the player attack speed is adequate from the start, and I’d like to try a run through the game without any Hair Upgrades sometimes. But if you want the game to be significantly easier, these upgrades will do it. Just prioritize Speed over Power at first for maximum impact. Upgrades increase to a max of Level 3.
Magic in Shantae is used for nearly everything else outside of hair whipping to attack. This means the use of Item Spells like Pike Balls, Fireballs, Bubble Shields, Boomerangs, Super Balls, and Rockets. Each Item Spell has an improved effect up to Level 3, with higher Level Spells dealing more damage and costing more Magic. Boomerangs for instance launch up to three Boomerangs at a time, Fireballs switch to three Fireballs at Level 2 and a Flamethrower attack at Level 3.
Magic also consists of the series staple Dances, though they do not Transform the player like they normally would. Instead, these Dances are strictly used as Spells with Screen sized AOE’s.
A series staple, Transformations are once again back and with an Overhaul of sorts in terms of their utility. Whereas Transformations previously always required a Dance, this time they require only a button press to be triggered. This makes the gameplay resemble Pirate’s Curse more so than Half-Genie Hero. You’ll gain a transformation within every dungeon in a room preceded by a battle with the Pirate Risky Boots, with Risky showing more and more of her full power in each engagement. As a bit of fanservice, Risky’s attacks are all reflecting the Equipment collected by the Player back in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse!
This game has three different Shops in three different Towns. Each offers a few unique Items for purchase, but all offer the same very valuable Red (Health), Green (Magic), and Super (Refills both!) Potions. Some Subweapons and Upgrades can only be acquired at one of the three Shops.
Seven Sirens contains 5 well designed Dungeons that you as Shantae will be trudging through. A Dungeon in this game is a unique series of themed Rooms separated from the Overworld. To minimize frustration, there are always exactly 3 Heart Squids as the only collectables found within a Dungeon not required for finishing said Dungeon. That design feature saved me from countless hours of revisiting Dungeons to double check for any missed items, and I applaud the Developers for taking obsessive Players like myself into account with their designs. All Dungeons also contain a captive Half Genie that will grant the Player a new Transformation upon their rescue, and that Transformation will in turn be critical to completing the Dungeon and in turn to Defeating the Siren Boss controlling each Dungeon.
Things I miss from Half Genie Hero
HGH VS SS
This is a new game that contrasts sharply with its immediate predecessor in some key ways. Upon finishing Seven Sirens, I felt compelled to revisit Half-Genie Hero to compare the two. While the backgrounds of Half-Genie Hero were 3D, everything in Seven Sirens is flat 2D like all the games prior to Half-Genie Hero. And while both Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero were divided into separated Levels, Seven Sirens has one gigantic interconnected Overworld containing all the Dungeons and Secrets to be found in the game.
I really enjoyed the Level Design of Half-Genie Hero and Pirate’s Curse. It was in my opinion just more fun to traverse the separate maps, and it made going for 100% completion much less stressful when I could see how much I had unlocked from the Level Select screens. Another item I missed when running around trying to get everything for SS, was the lack of any “Return To Base” item like the Whistle from HGH. I wandered every last screen of every last hallway to shake Shantae’s butt a little and hopefully reveal a secret or two before progressing another screen to repeat the process. It would have been exceptionally handy if I had a means of quickly leaving an area after I finished going over it with a fine-tooth comb. This complaint is partly mitigated by the presence of eight Warp Rooms scattered all about, but for a neurotic dude like myself with the compulsive need to check and double-check every last stupid room, even just the distance between a location and the nearest Warp Room adds up pretty quickly.
The Dancing. I really miss the amount of Dancing Shantae did in HGH. Most folk apparently considered it a drag to need to pause the action to switch forms. I was definitely not among them, as it never felt like too much of a delay to start with. Especially given there was an item available to speed up the process if I felt impatient. I also preferred the animation of her dances in HGH somewhat more.
It feels even a little sad to see Transformations handled so differently in SS with such consistency, not one Transformation in SS, is performed by way of a Dance. In fact, the character trait of “Shantae dances to Transform” even appears in the fantastic Intro Animation done by the famous animation Studio Trigger, in which we clearly see Shantae Dance transform into a Monkey! In my opinion, a better solution to common complaints about how Transformations were handled in HGH would have been to make them more versatile, such as making every transformation viable in Combat against certain enemies in addition to their designated purpose. Like having a Spider deal Poison damage to a strong enemy or the Bat to absorb HP from weaker ones.
Still, I don’t want to imply that SS is inferior to HGH. It’s just that there are some differences that made me very nostalgic about the former game. I’m also feeling more forgiving of omissions in SS in light of my expecting some DLC to be released expanding the scope of SS in the near future, much like how HGH received so much post-launch support via DLC.
Improvements upon Half Genie Hero
SS VS HGH
When playing SS, I found myself enjoying a lot more of the Metroid inspired gameplay the first two Shantae games were known for. While I’ve spoken a lot of what was lost between the two games, there are many aspects of SS that are handled better than the already brilliant HGH.
This did lead me to a lot of self-inflicted backtracking trying to get every little thing, I went completely nuts and probably 5 hours of my 14-hour playthrough was just me performing the Seer dance on every corner of every room, and repeating when unsure if I had combed a section or not. That and grinding Monster Cards to get one of each in the game. I even started doing this on my New Game Plus, which was meant to be a Speed Run and killed my time. So I’ll just beat finish game again and do an NG+ Speed Run the next time.
While I personally prefer Dances for Transformations, the majority of fans seem thrilled to see the change to how Transformations are handled. To quote a Nintendo Life reviewer “Wayforward really listened to Fan Feedback on this one.” and I feel like it shows, even if this bit isn’t something I would have done.
The Music, while a lot of folk feel like the music was a downgrade, I was initially going to comment that it felt like an all-around improvement on HGH before finding out Jake Kaufman did not reprise his role as the game’s Composer. And even after finding this out, I think Kaufman loses out in my opinion. The OST to Seven Sirens has more music that I’d personally listen to while working, and I say that while having copies of both the OST’s to HGH and Pirate’s Curse on my phone for that express purpose already. I especially enjoy the more melancholic music that plays whilst wandering the underworld of the Island. *I see why people prefer Kaufman’s OST’s, I just like what these composers came up with.
Animated Sequences and Voice Lines, upon each Major Event and especially Introducing every Boss Siren, there are these lovely Animated Cutscenes that I feel is a bit better than the Intro everybody enjoys made by Studio Trigger. Not because of a lack of quality with Trigger’s work, but because their opening animation looks like it was made for HGH instead of SS. And so the Continuity and high detail aesthetics throughout the rest of the game are my preference. I get weird about this type of thing, the opening of SS plainly shows Shantae’s Dance transformation into a Monkey, no matter how good it looks, that’s something the player outright can’t do in this game, despite there being no in-game explanation. Voice Lines, oh I loved these. The Secondary Characters of Shantae are always a joy, and they shine a bit brighter here thanks to the Voice Lines. Now I’m just hoping Way Forward makes DLC for them to be playable again. My Aria loves RottyTops!
Backgrounds, EVERYTHING in Seven Sirens is 2D. Going back to my fondness for consistency, it’s nice to see that from SS. Not that art from HGH was bad, but everything matching up gives a good feeling and it’s the only way I think they could have made some of the more spectacular underwater visuals. *Though dungeon backgrounds could use more stuff going on in them.
Collectibles, I love the Cards a player can collect. Just the idea that each enemy has something to acquire is brilliant, and I wish they had a Card Game for the Monster Cards akin to the Tetra Master card game from FFIX or Gwent or the unnamed fictitious game alluded to by the Card Enthusiast in Arena Town. Still, for each to have a unique utility is a great little bonus. The fact they drop randomly however means relying on them for a Speed Run is pointless. Unless you’re buying the Coral Siren card from Treetop Village from the girl with the Reptile buddy, all you got to do is save your Nuggets for that and it’s always in the same place. The Passive Magic Regeneration granted by it felt nearly game-breaking and I loved it.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a great game that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anybody that enjoys the archetypical Explorative Platformer/Metroidvania formula. That said, it could use a Hardcore mode, and I expected to see one from the start really. My seven-year-old daughter has started to be really interested in this game series after watching me play it, and I do hope some 2 Player Support mode is invented for Daddy’s like me to play as Mimic or somebody and help out our little ones.
Don’t start backtracking, do start packing, take a break and visit Paradise Island with Shantae today!
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Robert Kelly Ball
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