While it may be hard to believe now, there was a time when Shantae was relatively obscure. Released in the Gameboy Color’s twilight years, Shantae’s first game failed to get a foothold in a market that had already advanced on to Nintendo’s next iteration of the Gameboy line. That said, WayForward was confident in the I.P.—partly thanks to the cult following that had formed around the half-genie’s debut title—and were eager to develop a sequel. Eight arduous years and a few false starts later, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was released as a download title for the Nintendo DSi. In the years that followed, the game would see updated ports on several systems, including: iOS, Steam, Wii U, and now—of course—the Nintendo Switch.
Developed and published by WayForward, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut is an updated re-release of the original 2010 DSi game. Much like the first game for the Gameboy Color, it’s a Metroidvania that follows the adventures of the titular half-genie, Shantae, as she tries to thwart the schemes of the sub-titular pirate, Risky Boots.
The game’s story begins with Shantae’s adoptive uncle, Mimic, hosting an exhibition of various artifacts he has unearthed during a recent archaeological expedition. Unfortunately, Risky Boots steals one of the artifacts, a mysterious, old, oil lamp. Uncle Mimic warns Shantae that there may be grave consequences should Risky find the three magic seals that can restore the lamp’s hidden power, and upon hearing that, Shantae sets out to get to them first. And like that, the race to find the seals is on!
While it should go without saying by now, the animators at Wayforward are masters of their craft, which was no less true in the 2000’s as it is now. During gameplay, the game’s cast is beautifully rendered in detailed and fluid pixel art. The pixel art is supplemented with H.D. character portraits during cutscenes, which I can’t help but think are a bit superfluous. Don’t get me wrong, the art isn’t bad, but while the character designs are an improvement over the first game’s, I think they don’t hold up given what we’ve seen in later titles. More over, I have to question why the developers even thought portraits were necessary, given that the pixel art is more than capable of expressing the emotions and personality of each character.
Much like the game’s animation, the environment art in Risky’s Revenge is gorgeous. Backgrounds are detailed and vibrant, even sometimes including animated flourishes such as seagulls that react to the player’s presence. And while many of the area themes are standard video game fair, such as deserts and caves, others stand out as quite memorable, such as lilac and pumpkin fields dotted with ancient ruins.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t feature real widescreen support. There is a “widescreen” option in the game’s settings, but it merely stretches the game’s graphics horizontally.
As to be expected, the music was composed by Jake Kaufman. Compared to his other work, Risky’s Revenge’s soundtrack is a bit more restrained—or perhaps “conventional” is a better way to put it. Most of the music in this game lacks the unfettered exhuberance and funk that permeates the soundtracks of games like Mighty Switch Force and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. That’s in no way meant to imply that this soundtrack is lacking, however; it just stylistically fits more closely to what one would expect from a cartoony, action-adventure game. In fact, many of the songs are quite catchy and set the mood rather well, from the bouncy diddies for the fields just outside town, to the tranquil, trance-like forest music, to the moody and tense cavern track. Heck, I’m listening to the soundtrack even as I write this review!
That said, there are two tracks in this game that, for whatever reason, don’t loop properly. Maybe it’s just me, but stuff like that really irks me, and I know for a fact that this issue isn’t confined just to the Switch version.
The writing in Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is—much like the rest of the series—light-hearted and humorous. I would say, much like the game’s music, it’s a little more subdued compared to later games in the series: jokes are less frequent, and characters have less bombastic personalities. Most of the best jokes actually come from the N.P.C.s who populate Scuttletown. To the game’s credit, the good folk of Scuttletown have a lot to say, with their dialog updating frequently. Players who like to take their time and talk to everyone won’t be disappointed.
Overall, the game’s plot is simple and straightforward. There aren’t any significant twists or turns until the game’s climax, with some plot points not having any real impact on the story until the sequel. There is an attempt to drum up a little intrigue around the nature of the lamp and why Uncle Mimic seems so hesitant to send Shantae after it, but that quickly fades into the background until the game’s end. In short, almost all of Risky’s Revenge‘s plot happens at the game’s beginning and end. Given the game’s scope and scale, it’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s not going to keep players on the edge of their seats.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge largely follows the formula of its Game Boy Color predecessor. The game is a side-scrolling, 2D, action-adventure platformer in which players are tasked with navigating an interconnected world populated with N.P.C.s to speak to, items to collect, and enemies to vanquish.
The game controls well, with Shantae having a very tangible sense of weight to her movements that makes landing a jump just plain feel good. That said, I found it difficult to dodge some enemy attacks. It could just be me, but it seems that Shantae moves just a little bit slower than what the game’s enemies are tuned to.
Combat is fairly simple, with Shantae’s primary attack consist of whipping enemies with her hair. Additionally, our heroine can equip herself with a small arsenal of magic spells to defend herself with. Generally, I only found myself using one of the game’s three spells with any frequency. It’s very possible that this was largely due to the fact the game doesn’t give players the ability to cycle through spells with a simple button press, instead requiring them to open the pause menu to switch. Oh, and the back dash actually cancels Shantae’s attack animations and doesn’t have an invisible cooldown. How is it that the later games managed to so thoroughly screw it up when they already got it right in this one?
In addition to gaining new spells with which to attack, Shantae can also learn new dances that enable her to transform into different animals, thus granting her new abilities to aid her on her quest. Transforming is accomplished by holding down the X button to make Shantae cycle through each dance in sequence. While it’s not as much of a pace killer as it sounds like, this can take a while, especially when it come to the game’s final transformation.
Shantae can also augment her abilities by buying items from the store in Scuttletown. These include potions to restore health and magic, the aforementioned spells, and upgrades to Shantae’s hair whip attack. At first, these upgrades merely cost money, but later upgrades will also require jars of magic jam, one of the many collectibles scattered throughout Sequin Land. While it may seem like an unnecessary obstacle to purchasing upgrades at first glance, I actually kind of like it. One of the issues later Shantae games fall prey to is that it tends to be very easy to get all of the upgrades in the shop pretty early on, removing much of the mid game’s challenge. This paces the player’s upgrades in a way that’s congruent with the rest of the game’s design. In hindsight, I’m surprised the rest of the series hasn’t expanded upon or refined this idea.
Structure and Pacing
Much like other games in the series, the gameplay can be broadly divided into two parts, the overworld and dungeons. While exploring the overworld, the player must track down key items to trade for other key items or to unlock special abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas of the game’s world, often with the intent of finding a way into the next dungeon.
Dungeons are much like what you would expect to find in a side-scrolling Zelda game. In dungeons, the player encounters puzzles, traps, enemies, and locked doors. Also much akin to the Zelda series, halfway through each dungeon, Shantae obtains a new ability in the form of an animal transformation that allows her to reach new parts of the labyrinth. And, of course, the whole thing ends with a boss battle and one of the game’s McGuffins.
Overall, this is a very effective formula and, for the most part, well implemented. The game’s world isn’t very large, meaning secrets and items are densely packed. This is definitely a game that rewards players who like to check every nook and cranny. Likewise, the dungeons are well designed, albeit somewhat simple. Due the game being part platformer, more emphasis is placed on navigation than puzzles and what puzzles there are tend to be fairly simple. In the end, the overworld and dungeons contrast each other nicely, with the former providing open-ended exploration and the latter a more structured, challenge-focused experience.
That said, while the core foundation the game is built upon is solid, there are a number of nagging quality of life issues that can make exploration tedious. For starters, the map is barely any help at all, not only being difficult to decipher, but lacking any pertinent information regarding the entrances to caves or helping the player keep track of where he’s been or which items he’s already picked up. Far worse than that, however, are what might just be the worst-placed warp points I’ve seen in any game. For instance, there’s no warp point in town, with the nearest ones requiring the player to hike through monster infested fields. The placement of each warp point rarely, if ever, makes sense, ensuring you’ll be doing a lot of walking anytime you need to double check an area for power-ups.
My biggest complaint, and that of most people who’ve played this game, is that it feels like parts of it are just missing. The game only contains two real dungeons. That’s right, three seals, but only two dungeons. The second seal isn’t found in a proper dungeon, but in a battle gauntlet that, in most other games, would be a side-quest. This gives the game a very uneven sense of pacing that drags in the middle and runs counter to the game’s established logic.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is an enjoyable, if not short and somewhat flawed, action-adventure game. It nails its presentation and provides a strong core experience that is, unfortunately, peppered with nagging annoyances and inconsistencies. Ultimately, the game serves as a transition from the first game’s slower-paced, sometimes awkward gameplay and more down-to-earth presentation to the faster, flashier experiences offered by later titles in the series. Overall, I liked this game. The game currently sells for $10.00 on the eShop, which isn’t bad for a game that will probably take you five to six hours to beat your first time through, but I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to wait for it to go on sale.
Honestly, I would say that you could easily skip this game and just jump into the later games, but the plot of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse—which is widely considered the best game in the series—directly follows the events of this game’s story, meaning you will be missing some important context if you start with that game. I do recommend playing this one first if you plan on playing Pirate’s Curse, but otherwise, I’d start with Shantae: ½ Genie Hero Ultimate Edition or Shantae and the Seven Sirens.