I’ve always held a sort of admiration for the Shantae franchise. While never being especially flashy, over-the-top games that draw in millions of players, it’s a series that has quietly chugged along for many years now with nearly every game being…pretty good.
If there’s one thing you can say about Shantae, beyond the almost always present levels of fan service that are sometimes enough to make one cringe, the actual gameplay is always pretty solid. Every game follows the same kind of Metroidvania style but iterates on previous entries, often expanding the core experience outwards by either building on solid foundations or trying something entirely new. Shantae and The Seven Sirens, which has just recently made its way onto current systems off of Apple Arcade, seemingly functions as a love-letter to the franchise as a whole, pulling in every mechanic that was well-received and fusing it all together into a package that’s an absolute joy to play.
Not only does Shantae and The Seven Sirens function as one of the most accessible and easily understood Metroidvania on the market, but it’s also just a game that’s dripping with joy and colour and was difficult to put it down despite some annoying quest elements.
It’s time for Shantae and your friends to go on vacation as they desperately need a break from all the adventures they’ve been thrown into. Exploring an island paradise populated by a colourful cast of characters, Shantae is tasked with tracking down her fellow half-genie comrades after they’re all mysteriously kidnapped by a seemingly malevolent force. It’ll see your exploring an expansive map, one of the larger ones that I’ve come across in a metroidvania lately, and explore seven intricate dungeons to find and slay the Seven Sirens who’re responsible for corrupting the paradise island.
Which turns out to be perfectly fine. Shantae was never a franchise that sought to have the deepest stories, instead relying on fun and quirky characters to carry the narrative. Seven Sirens doesn’t disappoint, bringing together all the fan favourites from previous games and introducing some new personalities that never quite stand out on their own against the more established faces. Even if many do feel only tangentially related to anything, the writing is fast and quippy enough to make up for their convenient inclusions. The Shantae series has always revelled in being a video game, constantly breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at it’s own medium.
Much like all the previous Shantae games, Seven Sirens plays like a typical Metroidvania. The usual routine of opening up an expansive map, finding and unlocking new powers and abilities, using those upgrades to unlock new areas, so on and so forth. It’s not revolutionary but I’m a sucker for that type of gameplay, even if it’s nothing new. Shantae keeps things a little fresher than most by having a ton of unlockable abilities that are almost never related to combat. You can buy weapons and powers to better slay the catalogue of monsters you’ll come across but it’s almost always just more efficient to upgrade your hair whip ability and mash it. A nice feature that I believe was brought in from an older game (and originally inspired by some of the handheld Castlevanias, I’m sure) is monster cards. Upon slaying a creature, there’s a chance they’ll drop a card unique to their species and once you’ve collected enough, you’ll be unlock a unique ability such as immunity from spikes or a faster crawl speed. It’s a nice touch that incentivises not necessarily just blitzing past enemies but continually destroying them until they drop what you’re looking for. A grind? Perhaps. Yet I enjoyed being given a reason to keep engaging in combat in areas I’d already traversed.
Visually the game is utterly gorgeous. It’s worth noting that the cutscenes in Seven Sirens were animated by none other than Studio Trigger, the folks behind the stunningly beautiful Kill la Kill anime, and while these cutscenes only play for the most significant battles, they’re wonderfully animated. Every location and character oozes so much style and colour that it’s difficult to look away. I’ve always enjoyed the art style behind Shantae despite the occasionally overwhelming fan-service often getting in the way of genuinely well done art. Seriously, do they all the female characters need to be dressed like they just walked out of a strip club dreamed up by a horney thirteen year old?
The only other downside I have with the game is the lacklustre quest design that sometimes stifles the flow of the experience. In order to progress in the game you’ll often be forced to complete a fetch quest for a character which is not only annoying but incredibly disjointed. I understand that it’s a system meant to prompt the exploration and back-tracking that’s synonymous with the genre, but having to collect a random number of items only to have to turn them in before actually progressing feels clunky and slow. While none of the items are particularly difficult to find, it’s hard to shake the feeling the game is trying to pad it’s run time out, something it really didn’t need to do.
Yet that doesn’t detract from the fact that Shantae and The Seven Sirens is maybe one of the most enjoyable Metroidvanias I’ve ever played. While not offering much in the way of combat and exploration being pretty standard (albeit well-designed) there’s just something so…inviting about the world Wayforward has built. It’s cute, charming and a constant joy to run around a map filled with lovable creatures and characters all the while being treated some eye-blisteringly polished animation. If you’re looking to get into the metroidvania genre or just want a fun, light-hearted game to lose yourself in, I highly recommend Seven Sirens.
Last Updated: June 12, 2020