Shantae has had quite an interesting history in this industry. After the commercial failure of the first installment, the series was forgotten until a second game hit the DS virtual store in 2010, eight years after the original Game Boy Color title. Since then, WayForward has consistently worked to deliver a new iteration of the half-genius heroine to us every couple of years.
The third title in the series, Pirate’s Curse, came to 3DS in 2014, and to this day is considered the best game in the series. Half Genie-Hero gave us the opportunity to enjoy this series on modern platforms with its debut in 2016, and modified the traditional formula a bit, changing the metroidvania style design, for more linear levels with some exploration.
Since its inception, Shantae has never been able to find a stable play style. Each installment retains some characteristics, mainly exploration, but the tools and the way we travel through these worlds is different. The first two titles opt for an interconnected island, Pirate’s Curse offers us small areas that try to offer the original experience, but in more limited doses, and Half Genie-Hero provides more linear levels, but with some freedom in the order you decide. complete side quests and get collectibles.
Fortunately, the Shantea story doesn’t end here, as a new installment has arrived to delight all fans of the series and captivate those who want to learn more about this heroine. Shantae and the Seven Sirens originally came to Apple Arcade last year. Did being designed for a mobile device affect the final product? Is Seven Sirens better than Pirate’s Curse? Discover the answer to this and more questions in our Atomix Review.
Medium-Genius, 100% heroin
Shantae is the story of a young half-genius who must guard a small island from pirate invasions, weapons of mass destruction, and the occasional evil spirit that threatens to eradicate all existing life. WayForward is aware of how cliche all this is, so they have never tried to create more than just an excuse to take our protagonist and her friends on a certain adventure. Although the first three installments had a continuous narrative, this time it is not necessary to play Half Genie-Hero to understand what happens in Seven Sirens.
For Shantae, being the protector of her island is not a task entrusted to a deity, but her job. So, like a worker with more than a year in a company, it is time to go on vacation to a tropical region, forget about problems, relax and enjoy a festival dedicated to the half-genius of other towns. But Shantae’s sense of justice doesn’t take breaks.
Not a day passes, and chaos takes over the island due to the surprise disappearance of the other half-geniuses. But that’s not all, as rumors indicate that an ancient civilization of terrible sirens are responsible for this. Shantae has to say goodbye to his vacation, search for the five missing girls, defeat the evil mermaids, face Risky Boots on the way, and bring peace to the island.
As I said, WayForward does not touch new ground. In fact, the premise is the same as you can find in any game in the series. The goal is always the same, the only thing that changes is the details. You have to find five artifacts, or in this case people, stop the villain who is about to take over the world and that’s it. In one game they are pieces for a machine, in another they are ancient gadgets, and in Seven Sirens they are other half-geniuses.
Although the lack of a strong narrative at first glance is a problem for many, this has never been the main objective of WayForward. Instead, the studio is focused on offering a simple proposal that is attractive to the entire public. The priority is in Shantae’s personality, and how she interacts with all the elements around her. This does not mean that Seven Sirens does not bring anything new to the table. The inclusion of more half-geniuses tells us of a world in constant expansion, something that begs to be explored in a sequel.
The game is full of interesting dialogues and interactions between new and old characters that will make you get at least a smile. In general, we have more of the same in front of us, but with a coat of paint interesting enough to enjoy this adventure without thinking much about previous stories. At the end of the day, it’s the little details that make Seven Sirens different enough to warrant their existence.
The magic of animation
From Half Genie-Hero, WayForward dropped the pixelart of the first three installments to focus on 2.5D HD environments. However, Seven Sirens changes the aesthetics of the game again, opting for 2D environments, but retaining the character design that characterized the previous experience. In this way, the studio manages to create a harmony between the old and the new. The developers continue to demonstrate their great talent for creating locations ranging from warm, tropical beaches to cold, dark labs.
Because the adventure leaves Scuttle Town aside, the locations of this island offer us a tropical perspective, something little explored in the Shantae world. We leave the deserts aside for beaches, and dungeons for volcanoes. Perhaps there is not a great variety like in Pirate’s Curse, but there is a uniformity that is well received. Nothing feels out of place and the interconnectivity of this vacation paradise is quite logical. Still, this adventure lacks the most magical environments we’ve seen in previous installments.
Sprite art is equally vibrant and detailed. Each character has a unique and fun design that suits the tropical aesthetic. Shantae is the most outstanding, superbly lively, as always, as her design always stands out. All his movements are effective in transmitting his personality and determination in everything he does. This same level of attention is also accorded to enemy art as well as Shantae transformations.
For the first time in the series, we feature spectacularly animated cutscenes. Who you will recognize for their work on Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, BNA: Brand New Animal, and a couple more anime, took it upon themselves to create the initial cinematic, and they fit in wonderfully. But this does not stop here.
Important moments in history also have cinematics, only this time it is Yotta studio, who were also in charge of the introduction of Sonic Mania, those who take the reins in this department. Each of these also features phenomenal voice work that brings Cristina Valenzuela back as Shantae and Risky Boots.
Where was the magic of Jake Kaufman?
The voice work manages to find a middle ground between the series ‘simple and fun nature, with some of the series’ most dramatic moments. Each character’s voice is sensationally in tune with each cutscene, and the performances are lively and lively. It might have been very easy to fall into flat acting, but I’m glad this isn’t the case.
Speaking of the auditory aspect, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is very kind to the ear. But it does not reach the level of its past deliveries. This is because, for the first time, Jake Kaufman, the composer of this series, is not present. Now, this is not a big problem, the soundtrack of the game fulfills its function of combining chiptune with a pop to the Arab rhythm. The change of leader in this department will not be so noticeable for those who first entered the series with the last installment, but for those of us who are already used to Kaufman’s style, it is something to consider.
All she does is magic
Shantae has always been characterized by combining the best elements of a metroidvania and The Legend of Zelda. In other words, we have before us a world full of secrets where we need different skills to explore every corner. However, our main objective will always be in a dungeon where we will obtain a new power. This is basically a Shantae game, but the balance between these two items varies depending on the delivery.
For example, the first title gives more emphasis to the different dungeons. While exploration dominates in Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse. Now Half-Genie Hero tried to combine these elements to make them more uniform, but at the end of the day it created a more linear experience. So where does Seven Sirens fall? Well, this delivery does not take many risks, and instead chooses to give us one more metroidvania.
Like any other game in this genre, initially our repertoire of skills will be quite limited, but as we progress through the game we will get more and better skills. For Shantae this means learning new animal transformations, each focused on expanding our mobility and giving us access to certain areas.
The classic transformations of monkey, mermaid, elephant and harpy are not present in this installment, but are replaced by other animals that practically fulfill the same function. Instead of being free to fly to our liking, we have a triple jump, for example. Now this is quite a compressible decision, Shantae’s previous abilities are designed with a bigger world in mind, one where all of our power is used to traverse large regions.
On the other hand, because Seven Sirens opts for a more traditional experience of the genre, the freedom to fly indefinitely or swim without restrictions would break the game a bit, so the new transformations are designed with this in mind. They no longer serve to explore as much as you like, they are now situational. A platform is not at your disposal, transform into an octopus and you have a triple jump, there is a block in front of you, destroy it with the turtle.
Fortunately, the way you transform has also changed to accommodate these changes. Because you constantly need to use your skills, you no longer need to do a dance to change your looks and abilities, instead, each power is used in a more traditional way, press a button and voila.
But does that mean that you will no longer use some of this character’s characteristic dances? No, these are still present but their function is similar to a passive ability. By rescuing the different half-geniuses on the island, you will gain their power, and with this you will have the ability to reveal the secrets hidden in plain sight, activate electrical mechanisms, bring the dead to life and create an earthquake. Similar to transformations, each one is quite situational.
But this is not all you have at your disposal. As is customary in the series, you can acquire certain items that will make your life simpler. From the cream that makes your hair faster and more powerful, through artifacts dedicated to reducing damage and consuming magic, to offensive gadgets such as fire, swords that revolve around you, or a shield of invincibility.
To get all of this it will take a lot of money, luckily the game is very friendly in this department. Unlike past installments, where grinding is sometimes necessary to acquire the best equipment, it seems that Seven Sirens gives money away at the slightest provocation. In a way it makes the game easier, but come on, Shantae was never a series known for its difficulty.
This installment presents us with a new mechanic that will be liked by many, but will be a nuisance for others. Without explanation, Seven Sirens introduces an item dedicated to the card collection. The title has 50 different ones, and all are based on the different enemies of the game. This is more than just a bestiary, since by obtaining a certain number of cards from each creature, you will be able to use some unique ability.
These range from reducing damage, hitting harder, improving your mobility, or making a certain item more effective. Although this sounds great on paper, there is not a great incentive to collect cards, each skill is quite situational, and the only ones that are worth it are the ones you get from bosses, which are a reward for completing certain sidequests. This idea is not as well implemented as I would like, and at the end of the day it is something that does not affect your true performance.
Speaking of collectibles, in addition to cards, Shantae and the Seven Sirens presents us with the task of collecting nuggets and heart squid. The first is a coin that you can use to obtain rare cards, and the second is more valuable, since obtaining four you will be rewarded with an extra heart, in the same way as in any Zelda. Truthfully, this is a disappointment compared to previous games in the series, since there is no extra skill for your animal transformations.
In previous games, each transformation can perform a specific attack by gaining a certain ability, either by sidequest or by finding them in the world. Seven Sirens has none of this. Now this is very damaging to the game as there is not a great incentive to explore other than getting more life. Again, the game is not designed for this, but it would have been great if your curiosity was rewarded with more than just nuggets and hearts.
It is time to talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, Shantae and the Seven Sirens was designed with iOS devices in mind, although it was always planned to reach consoles. However, it is clear that to create a uniform experience across all platforms some changes to the traditional formula had to happen. From the presentation abandoning the 2.5D of the last installment, the simplicity of the exploration, the fact that the game is divided into chapters that follow the same formula, and the zero challenge offered by the experience. It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Jake Kaufman didn’t participate in the soundtrack for this very reason.
Strangely, there isn’t a huge discrepancy between the first chapter, which hit Apple Arcade last year, and the rest of the game that was released this year. Shantae and the Seven Sirens does not feel incomplete and the quality is maintained from start to finish. The only big problem is loading times. You will always face a black screen that lasts between 10 and 20 seconds every time you decide to enter and leave a certain area, something that you will constantly do. Teleportation between zones helps a bit, but the problem persists.
Half-Genius Heroine, Medium-Good Game?
Santae and the Seven Sirens is a game that involves several classic elements of the series to be more accessible and experiment a bit with its traditional formula. Now, is this good or bad? Honestly it will depend a lot on your previous experience with WayForward’s work. The new fans of the series, those who started with Half Genie -Hero will appreciate a more traditional facet of this character, while those who have followed Shantae for almost two decades find flaws and positive aspects in Seven Sirens.
At the end of the day, this game manages to fulfill its mission: to be fun. It does not seek to elevate the narrative of the medium, nor to redefine a genre, or the way we interact with the medium. Shantae and the Seven Sirens can compete head-to-head with Pirate’s Curse, but at the end of the day the experience doesn’t feel as smooth as the 3DS title. Sin importar esto, Seven Sirens sólo busca ser divertido, y pese a sus errores, eso es lo que importa.