WayForward’s Shantae series has been with us for quite some time now, dating back to the GameBoy Color/Advance era. Now, the games can be played on pretty much every mainstream platform out there, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the latest entry for the hair-whipping half-genie. We playtested the PlayStation 4 version, but Xbox, PC and Switch owners can also start playing right now.
Strictly speaking, Shantae and the Seven Sirens isn’t a brand new game – the first part of the game was released last year as an Apple Arcade exclusive. Though tempting, it wasn’t a reason for me to join Apple Arcade so for me and many others this was my first chance to play it, as regular consoles now have access to the full game (also released for Apple Arcade with “part 2” now).
Story-wise, Shantae and her friends travel to a remote tropical island to celebrate the Half-Genie Festival, where she meets some of her fellow half-genies. They suddenly disappear halfway through one of the festival’s performances though, and it’s up to Shantae to figure out what happened and save the day. While doing so, you explore the island and find out there’s an entire hidden city underneath it as well. You’ll also come across good old Risky Boots and will uncover who the Seven Sirens are and what role they play in all this.
As with previous Shantae titles, Seven Sirens is full of colorful visuals and ditto characters. The gameplay is different from Half-Genie Hero though, and feels closer to previous titles like Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse or Risky’s Revenge. As with those games, there’s a big world map to explore and slowly unlock, emphasizing some familiar metroidvania elements as you regularly retrace your steps and return to familiar places to open up new areas.
This ties into how you slowly gain access to new abilities, often needed to progress in spots where you previously hit a dead end. While this does mean you need to backtrack a little, it also makes for a pleasant pace where you’re not overloaded with a huge flood of abilities all at once – instead slowly learning to control and master them one by one. It’s something WayForward’s also done before, and the pacing helps to make these Shantae games such a joy to play. Everything’s organically woven into the storyline as well, since it’s saving half-genies and performing tasks for them that grants you access to these abilities.
In addition to unlock new abilities, you can also power up Shantae’s existing arsenal of attacks and boost stats by spending the money you find inside the game. There’s also a system where magical cards can be equipped to further boost your character stats, so there are a lot options for character customization available in case you have trouble or would like to play through the adventure a second time with a different playstyle.
I had the sense that Half-Genie Hero was more linear than Seven Sirens is, and for the most part that’s perfectly fine – especially if you enjoy a metroidvania type of experience. There’s a lack of hand-holding that can be somewhat of an issue though, since it’s not very clear which area you can now unlock using a new ability and Shantae is not the type of game where I want to be taking notes of things like this. Unless you have a great memory for this type of stuff, that’s something you might want to consider though.
Visually, Shantae and the Seven Sirens’s in-game visuals look similar to those in Half-Genie Hero, but the narrative is now supported with fully animated cutscenes that look lovely and push the envelope just a tiny bit higher again for the franchise in terms of its presentation. Everything’s still extremely colorful and characters and backdrops are very detailed, though NPC characters generally still just seem to rock back and forth in place.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a familiar experience for veterans of the Shantae series, and fans will definitely want to pick up the latest adventure as well. If previous games didn’t draw you in then this won’t convince you otherwise though. If you haven’t tried any Shantae games yet, then what are you waiting for? With its gentle learning curve, this is another great time to jump in.