Shantae: Risky's Revenge / Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Director's Cut

A game by WayForward for PC, DS, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, iOS, and Stadia, originally released in 2010, with the Director's Cut released in 2020.
In 2002, Capcom published a WayForward-developed game called Shantae for the GameBoy Color. The title arrived on shelves very late in the platform’s lifespan, releasing after the GameBoy Advance had already hit the market, and thus saw only moderate success despite positive reviews. The game featured a half-genie girl, Shantae, intent on tracking down Risky Boots, a pirate who attacked Scuttle Town, and prevent her from gathering relics which would allow her to rule Sequin Land.

In this oft-overlooked GBC platformer, Shantae travels through a colorful fantasy world, exploring the environment, whipping enemies with her purple hair, and performing belly dance moves to transform into various creatures with drastically different movement abilities. Similar to the Metroid games, the player encounters areas that are inaccessible until Shantae gains the proper animal transformations.

For years, a GBA sequel was planned, screenshots were released, and a demo was developed, but the game failed to attract a publisher and never materialized, and this was also the case with a planned sequel on the Nintendo DS. But finally, after years of false-starts, WayForward’s May 2008 newsletter unveiled a Nintendo DS sequel, to be released as a 3-part episodic series via Nintendo’s DSiWare service.

Ultimately, the idea for an episodic release was scrapped, and a single title was released... Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was built for the ground up for the DS (the old GBA demos were scrapped) and once again finds Shantae going up against her enemy, Risky, who has come back to seek vengeance after her defeat in the first game.

The purple-haired half genie returns with a 2x variable jump, and the ability to duck and crawl. Shantae takes on enemies with her trademark hair whip attack, which may be upgraded in the Scuttle Town shop to allow her to deliver increased damage by whipping her hair more quickly.

The game begins on the day of the annual Relic Hunter Expo, and Shantae’s uncle, Mimic, is giving a presentation on an “object of mystery” in the form of an oil lamp. But during the presentation, Risky Boots breaks in through the ceiling and steals the lamp.

Risky returns to fight Shantae in front of her lighthouse with a bipedal boat called the Tinker Tub, declaring that the lamp will give her the power to destroy Sequin Land. After (temporarily) defeating Risky, Shantae speaks to her uncle. Apparently the lamp has something to do with Shantae’s past, but her uncle refuses to go into more detail on this. He does tell her that the genies sealed away its dark magic long ago and divided it into three seals, and Shantae must find the seals before Risky can get her hands on them.

Sequin Land is made up of one contiguous map that Shantae is free to explore, with her navigational abilities being her only constraint. There are four exits from Scuttle Town, two of which lead to paths that dead end at high walls, and another is blocked by a large creature made of stone, leaving only the path to the forest open from the start.

The physical structure of the opening areas is unique, in that it is made up of several overlapping layers. In order to move through Scuttle Town, Shantae may move to the left or right, and she may also activate arrows that point into the foreground or background, allowing her to hop in those directions. Background layers remain active while in the foreground – with just a mild haze separating them – allowing Shantae to see what is happening in the background.

While Scuttle Town only has three layers, the nearby Tangle Forest has many more. This area is divided into two sections with five or six layers each, and there are multiple arrows that allow Shantae to transfer between foreground and background layers. At first, this style of navigation is a bit confusing, but a thorough exploration of the area reveals that the second part of the forest is really just a narrow path of stacked layers, and navigating between them may be done very quickly.

Moving between foreground and background layers was a concept originally designed for the scrapped Game Boy Advance version of the game. While it does allow for some interesting visuals and an extra level of spatial challenge when it comes to finding secrets, it is not used for combat or any other advanced gameplay techniques. Scuttle Town and Tangle Forest are the only two areas that make use of this layered design.

In addition to the large overworld map, there are three dungeons, each of which is barred and requires that the player complete a set of tasks in order to open them. For instance, someone on the far side of the gate for the first dungeon is looking for something tasty to eat. Moving deeper into the forest reveals a chef who has lost her dog.

Tracking down your friend/enemy Rottytops – a zombie who seems enamored with Shantae… or at least with her brains – you learn that she has found the poor little lost pup. Returning the dog to the chef gains you a meal as a reward, which you may then take back to the dungeon entrance to be allowed inside by the strangely cute Squid Baron, who scarfs down the dish in front of you and then bounds away.

The first dungeon is set up in a similar fetch-and-retrieve fashion, with Shantae restricted to exploring a limited area until she can find a key to the next section of the dungeon, which she must do several times before encountering the boss. Further adding to the complexity is the fact that Shantae encounters her first transformation ability in this dungeon, which greatly impacts her navigational abilities, allowing her to reach new areas.

Finding a fountain reveals a naked blue genie spirit that grants Shantae the ability to transform into a tiny monkey, as in the original game. Holding the DANCE button causes Shantae to perform a 3-phase belly dance routine, and letting off the button during the first phase causes her to transform.

In her monkey form, Shantae is considerably smaller, so she can fit through narrow gaps. In addition, she can jump higher, stick to walls and jump between them, and climb almost any vertical surface, but she is unable to attack. With these expanded environmental navigation abilities, she must make her way through a series of monkey-specific challenges to continue through the remainder of the dungeon.

These new navigational abilities may be put to use on the overworld as well, allowing Shantae to access additional hidden treasure chests, which may contain Heart Holders, Magic Jam, or gems. Heart Holders operate in the same fashion as Heart Containers in The Legend of Zelda, adding an additional heart to Shantae’s life bar. However, unlike the Zelda games, these are in short supply... Shantae starts with three hearts and there are only three Heart Holders to be found throughout the adventure, allowing for a maximum of six hearts.

While hearts may be lost incrementally, it is important that the player remain aware of his remaining life, particularly later in the game when enemies may cause additional damage. It is also important to note that saving your game does not restore your life meter, even when reloading from a saved file, so the only way to restore your health is to kill enemies (many of which respawn infinitely) or break vases to reveal hearts, or to carry a supply of potions.

The Scuttle Town shop carries a variety of goods to help Shantae on her adventures, including potions to restore her health and magic meters, upgrades to speed up her basic attacks, and a variety of magic spells. Using magic is largely optional, but there are a handful of challenges that require the use of spells in order to continue. Spells include a fireball, a spinning pike ball, and a thundercloud. The basic form of each spell may be purchased with gems (found by killing enemies, breaking vases, and opening small treasure chests), but their upgraded forms require a combination of gems and Magic Jam in order to purchase.

This secondary currency prevents players from grinding for gems and buying a full supply of upgraded magics and abilities at the beginning of the game. On the other hand, Magic Jam tends to be difficult to find and often requires advanced platforming techniques in order to complete dedicated challenge areas. As such, all but the most dedicated of explorers will need to make choices about whether they would prefer to upgrade their physical or magical abilities.

Exploring the game world reveals numerous alternate paths and obstructed passageways, many of which require animal transformations in order to reach. A large chunk of the overworld is inaccessible without the monkey transformation, but a number of areas are blocked off by giant purple boulders, rock walls, or stone golems, each of which may only be overcome once Shantae discovers the Elephant transformation. Transforming into an elephant causes Shantae to move very slowly, but in this form, she has a dash move that can break through the aforementioned solid objects and open new paths.

The monkey and elephant transformations are returning forms from the first Shantae game, but the mermaid form is entirely new. Introduced late in the game, the mermaid form allows Shantae to swim freely underwater, whereas her standard form only allows her to swim along the surface. The mermaid is, as expected, generally useless on land, although Shantae’s belly dance moves can only be performed on solid ground, leaving her to flop into the water once her mermaid transformation is complete. The mermaid form is used less frequently than the other two, given its late-game appearance and general lack of water throughout many of the areas.

In addition to these three transformations, Shantae must also locate upgrades for the animal forms in order to grant them new abilities. One of these upgrades allows the monkey to dash straight away from any vertical surface that she is attached to. Another gives the elephant the ability to stomp through blocks positioned below her. Yet another grants the mermaid the ability to fire bubble projectiles to destroy enemies and break through underwater obstructions. All of these transformations and upgrades are required in order to complete the game.

Exploration is required in order to locate each of these forms and their respective upgrades, which in turn opens up new avenues for exploration and allows players to progress though the core experience. However, while the game’s design rewards continued exploration, this exploration is hindered by a generally inadequate map system.

The overworld map shows a simplified view of Sequin Land, displaying Scuttle Town at the center, with paths leading off in four directions. There is no indication of which areas have been formerly visited, which remain to be explored, or which areas have potential side paths that may be explored with one of your transformation abilities. There are indications as to underground routes, but these are simple outlines and provide no additional information.

Furthermore, there is no map system whatsoever for the dungeons. Given that two of the three dungeons require thorough exploration and a great deal of backtracking, the lack of a map makes it very difficult to keep track of where you need to go in order to proceed. This is particularly true of the Hypno Baron’s lair which has players opening and closing eyeballs to change which rooms appear on the far side of a given doorway. The first part of the dungeon leads to four possible rooms, with a later set leading to another four, and yet another requiring that the player cycle through eight possible combinations with no in-game indication as to whether any of these have been previously completed.

Interestingly, one of the dungeons comes in the form of a tower where the player must kill a room full of enemies before ascending to the next floor. The player is given a three minute timer under which to complete the entire dungeon, although there are 10- and 20-second clock pickups between floors, allowing the player to extend the timer somewhat. There is no formal boss encounter here; rather, when the player reaches the 10th floor, he must face off against a room full of stronger enemies, earning one of the magic seals upon completion. The dungeon is said to be a training area for the Ammo Baron's men, and the player must pay 20 gems for each attempt he makes, although the tower may be replayed after the main goal is completed in order to earn more gems.

There is a great deal of humor to be found throughout the experience, as well as some pop culture references. For instance, at the start of the game, Shantae walks in as her uncle is telling a story, where he says “…and grasping the white crystal firmly in hand, I ducked for several seconds at what appeared to be a common cliff face…” This is a reference to a mission in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest that stumped many a gamer back in the day due to its obtuse nature.

Also, when Shantae first meets up with Rottytops, she says that she is going to “check the web” for more information, at which point she starts using a spider’s web, explaining that zombies can communicate over long distances via web vibrations (a worldwide web, as it were). And there’s even a great bit of optional humor… When Shantae is tasked with returning the chef’s puppy, she can refuse to give it to her, leading the chef to launch into a huge story about what the rest of her life will be like without her dog.

The game’s graphics are bright and detailed, with character sprites being very expressive. Shantae has a determined look of action when she is in combat, and an enthusiastic idle animation where she has a bouncing stance and occasionally stops to adjust her top. The game was originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2010 as a downloadable via the DSiWare service and ported to iOS in 2011 with some minor changes, as well as the addition of an unlockable costume for Shantae that halves her magic consumption but makes her more susceptible to physical damage.

In 2014, the game was re-released as Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Director's Cut, which includes new HD portraits for all of the characters, and separates the costume swap into its own mode called Magic Mode, which is unlocked after completing the game, allowing the player to begin a new adventure with a new costume, more magic, and more susceptibility to physical damage. Later versions of the game also feature an improved warp system, allowing players to warp freely around the world map from any warp point, as opposed to being restricted to warping between pairs of warp points as in the original release, thus speeding up overworld navigation.

Shantae: Risky's Revenge was developed by WayForward, a California-based company founded in 1990. The developer’s catalogue consists mostly of licensed titles, including Contra 4, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, DuckTales: Remastered, The Mummy Demastered, and the Adventure Time games. In 2009, the company reimagined the NES game A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia with their Wii release of A Boy and His Blob. WayForward is perhaps best known for their original IP’s, which include the Mighty series (Mighty Flip Champs, Mighty Switch Force, etc.) and the Shantae series.

The Shantae series consists of the original Shantae on the Game Boy Color, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens.