Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2015. Please disregard this original review.
Wayforward Technologies is a company who is known for making very solidly designed 2D games that look fantastic, even if they are licensed and carry the usual problems that a lack of polish brings. One of their earlier titles was Shantae, a wonderfully animated and very enjoyable 2D platformer/action game for the Gameboy Color game, everything seemed in place for it to succeed, except for one fact, that it came out in Summer of 2002, one year after the release of the Gameboy Advance. After a warm critical reception and low sales, the proposed Gameboy Advance sequel for the game struggled to find a Publisher to pick it up.
After the launch of Nintendo’s first handheld shop with the DSi, and Wayforwards Mighty Flip Champs, they announced that the game would come out in late 2009 as the start of an episodic series. However, this never happened, and the game was delayed until October 2010 as one $12 downloadable title. But is this title good, or has 6 years of development hell soured this otherwise sweet fruit? Hit the jump and find out.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Review
Release Date: 4/10/2010
Platform: DSi/3DS eShop (Reviewed), iOS
Price I Paid: $12
Well, that was rather dry, but whatever, it’s WayForward week, so I’m going to need to throw in a bit of history at some point. The game opens with a bit of a combat tutorial where you get accustomed to the titular character, Shantae, a Half-Genie who is the guardian of the game’s main hub, Scuttle Town. After getting used to whipping pigs with Shantae’s purple hair on Scarecrows and Moblins, I noticed that something was off with the hit boxes. Now, this is a problem that I have seen with many mods of 2D platformers, where you cannot touch the sides of a circle, or projectiles hit even though they have not even been fired yet, ect. It is not as bad as it sounds, but for a game that has such wonderful and colorful visuals, it seems odd that you could often be attacking an enemy, and while it is clearly not quite touching you, you still take a hit. I suppose that it should not matter all that much, since you can hold up to 9 full heals, and you start off being able to take 12 hits, double that if you find all the upgrades.
But after the tutorial, the game’s simple plot beings, Pirate named Risky Boots steals a mysterious lamp that belongs to Shantae’s uncle, and you need 3 Magic Seals to get it back. It is nothing that will inflame your house, but the dialog is well written and the NPCs are funny at times, while the secondary characters are memorable, if not a bit underdeveloped, but it passes my narrative checks. Although, the end plot is a massive cliffhanger that is begging for a sequel, which is not a good idea when it took you so long just to get this one out.
But shifting into gameplay, it follows a Metroidvania-esc approach where you have numerous secrets off the beaten path that do require certain abilities and are required to advance the plot. But where it differs is the map system, instead of having a grid based and detailed map, and maybe listing where an unobtainable item is like in 2D Metroid titles, the map for this game is very bare bones, and due to all the backtracking I had to do on my first playthrough, I cannot help but think that something with more detail than what room you are in on the overworld, would have been nice. But the world is fun to explore, despite the fact that there are only 3 major areas, exploring the caves is a blast, and the areas are well designed enough that traveling is enjoyable. although I would have prefered to see the teleportation pillars to allow you to request a location via a menu, and not just alternate between the 2 pillars per area.
The main combat of the game consists of whipping dues with your hair, back-dashing, using magic abilities that are fireballs, a weird lighting cloud that is hard to use, or the incredibly cheap rotation spheres. The three magic abilities all have two upgrades that increase with power and MP consumption, they are useful, but I never found myself using them unless I was in a bind or fighting a boss, kind of like how I use missiles in Metroid games or hearts in Symphony of the Night. Shantae also has the Genie ability of transformation, which includes three forms that are activated by dancing. They range from a Monkey, an Elephant, and a Mermaid. All of the forms have their own puzzles to solve, but none of them work well in combat, which is a shame, because while Shantae is fun to play as, her combat could have used some more random elements, and endlessly respawning enemies do not help. They all feel very underutilized, except for the monkey, who I used for most platforming sections, since he can climb on walls, but the Elephant can only bream certain rocks, which makes him as useful as you would imagine. Meanwhile, the Mermaid is used for traversing the water surrounding the game’s dock based Scuttle Town, and all she gets is some fast swimming speed, which works great if you want to run into frantic piranhas. The form never evolves past a point where you use it for a 2D shooter section, which is a glaring budget cut for the final dungeon.
Speaking of which, the game tries to trick you early on into thinking that it will follow the 4 dungeon model, kinda like a miniature Zelda game, but there are only two real dungeons, a timed gauntlet, and the previously mentioned shooter section. It is not bad, but it seems very haphazardly put together. And I would not mind much if the two dungeons at least looked different from the many caverns that hold secrets in this game.
while on the subject of visuals, let’s talk about the general design, and how great it is. The colors are vibrant, every area looks distinct and has a lovely background. The animations for everything look wonderful, with the possible exception being the economical solution of death animations, where a enemies early on just collapse into bones, namely the Nagas. The enemies and NPCs all manage to create a very odd aesthetic that is helped by a very catchy soundtrack. I have never been able to pinpoint Wayforward’s style down, on one hand it looks very anime-like, but there is a distinct Western feel to it. And combined with an Arab westernization that reminds me of Aladdin, it is at least a distinct style, one that looks freaking awesome.
However, there is one thing about the visual design that I can see people being turned off by, the breasts. This game is trying to be cute, not sexy, I would be perfectly fine with showing the characters in the game to children, and there are many worse offenders of this. And if you find this game to be sexy, Shantae’s breasts are about as big as her eyes. And the jiggling of her breasts makes sense, since she is running and swaying her body around and belly dancing to transform.
Overall, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a very fun game, there are many things that I could nitpick, but the lovely world, and overall great design, matched with some very solid gameplay, make this a game well worth the asking price. The budget cuts are evident, but it manages to stay unique at the very least. And if you do not have a 3DS or DSi, you can just get the iOS version for $3, you cheap and lucky bastard.
An impressive product, won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws, but is very enjoyable and worth a purchase.