Shantae and the Seven Sirens

A game by WayForward for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and iOS, with the first episode originally released on Apple Arcade in 2019, and the full version originally released on other platforms in 2020.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the fifth in a series of colorful platformers reaching back to the original self-titled game on the Game Boy Color in 2002. After an eight year hiatus, the series returned with Shantae: Risky's Revenge, followed by Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. All of these games star Shantae, a plucky purple-haired half-genie whose parents disappeared when she was a baby.

In her adventures, Shantae demonstrates that she is always willing to jump in and help people in need, which she accomplishes primarily through her ability to transform into various animals with different abilities (although she loses these powers temporarily, as explored in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse). The selection of animal transformations changes from game to game, although some animals have carried over into future installments. For instance, transforming into a monkey has traditionally allowed Shantae to climb walls, and despite the monkey appearing in the opening cutscene and Shantae mentioning her monkey transformation during an early conversation, all of her animal transformations in this outing are entirely new.

The game is an open world metroidvania with a strong focus on platforming, where learning new animal transformations and magic allows Shantae to reach new areas. Shantae has a 2x variable jump and she attacks enemies by whipping her hair, which she can do while standing, jumping, or ducking. There is no combo, but she attacks at a fairly rapid pace, and purchasable upgrades allow her to whip her hair more quickly and deliver more powerful strikes. She can also duck and crawl, although this ability is primarily used when seeking hidden treasures behind false walls.

Gameplay is very fast, with Shantae being able to run and attack quickly, and she has a super-boppy idle animation that speaks to her desire to get moving. In previous games, Shantae had to stop and perform a dance in order to change into her various animal forms, but that is no longer the case here; she still uses her dance moves to perform several magic spells, but her animal transformations are now mapped to button presses for instant access, which greatly increases the pace of the experience.

In Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Shantae has arrived on Paradise Island with her uncle and her friends: Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops. They have been awarded an all-expenses paid trip to the island by the mayor of Arena Town in exchange for Shantae’s participation in the first ever Half-Genie Festival. Five other half-genies have been invited to attend as well, each hailing from a different town, and this is Shantae’s first opportunity to interact with other members of her small species. Here she learns that all half-genies are female (with human fathers and genie mothers), and this small group of half-genies is destined to be the first and last of their kind, given that the full-blooded genies have since departed the human realm.

The mayor of has brought the half-genies together for a stage performance, despite the fact that none of them have had any time to prepare. It’s supposed to just be for practice, but it seems that everyone on the island has been invited to attend. During the performance, the stage goes dark, and when the lights come back on, only Shantae remains. All of the other half-genies have been kidnapped, and as you might expect, you take it upon yourself to set out and rescue them. As it turns out, there’s an expansive city beneath the island, and it’s filled with mysteries. Each time you rescue a half-genie, she grants Shantae the use of an animal transformation, and after bringing a special stone to each of them, Shantae gains additional magical abilities as well.

The first animal transformation comes in the form of the Dash Newt, which allows the player to perform a dash on the ground or in the air, as well as stick to walls and climb them. This ability is used to overcome tall objects that are too high for Shantae to jump over, and it can also be used to climb a wall and then jump or dash to another wall, since Shantae will not transform back until she touches the ground. This maneuver also allows the player to dash through enemies and projectiles without taking damage, and in a nice touch, dashing through enemies causes damage to them (albeit minor).

The second animal transformation is the Gastro Drill, which allows the player to dig through the sand, with movement restricted to four directions. Sandy areas often have obstacles or enemies embedded into them, so the player must steer around them, and the drill moves continuously unless it runs into a wall or a sleeping enemy. If the player digs into a space adjacent to an enemy, the enemy wakes up and begins pursuing him, although the player can drill into enemies to destroy them. Awakened enemies can only move along the areas that the player has drilled through, and the player's movement is much faster in drilled areas than in solid sand.

Next is the Bonker Tortoise, which can be used to slam downward and break destructible blocks. It can also be charged up to perform a Tasmanian Devil-style spinning motion that damages enemies, allows the player to move very quickly, and breaks destructible blocks horizontally. In addition, some areas feature special launchers that the player can enter to be fired along in a straight line, as indicated by the arrows on them. Blocks with only one arrow will hold the player for a moment before firing, whereas blocks with multiple arrows will hold the player until he presses toward one of the directions to be launched.

Next is the Sea Frog, which can swim underwater. Like the drill, it moves continuously and can only move in four directions, but the player must be careful of spiked objects. Before acquiring this form, Shantae is only able to swim along the surface of the water, and entering the water with any of the other animal forms causes her to transform back into her half-genie self. Throughout the game, the player regularly encounters bodies of water, but it takes a long time to learn the transformation required to traverse them. As such, once the player gains this ability, he’ll find numerous passageways and shortcuts open to him throughout the world.

The game’s animal transformations are the gameplay focus here, but Shantae does gain secondary magical abilities that are used to overcome specific puzzles. For instance, one ability allows her to see objects and enemies that are not visible, occasionally revealing hidden platforms, invisible enemies, or destructible objects containing gems. Another ability allows her to activate machinery and move objects, open electrically powered chests, or open doors. These actions are performed by dancing and then following up with a button press to select the desired magic spell. While there are quite a few places to use all of these spells, most of them are entirely optional.

Shantae begins the game with three hearts in her health meter, which can be lost in quarter-heart increments. By exploring the environment, she discovers chests containing heart squids or golden nuggets. By collecting four heart squids and bringing them back to town, a squidsmith will pound them down and turn them into an additional unit of health, eventually extending Shantae's health meter to a maximum of 12 hearts.

Killing enemies or destroying objects allows the player to collect gems (currency) or small hearts that restore a single unit of health. On rare occasions, the player finds a large heart that restores more health, but killed enemies frequently drop food items which may be collected and stockpiled for future use. On top of this, the player is able to purchase and stockpile health and magic restoring potions, and he learns a healing spell early on as well. As a result, the player is rarely in danger of running out of health, making the difficulty level quite low.

In addition to purchasing potions from shops, the player can also purchase various magical abilities, most of which return from previous games. All of these are optional, but they can enhance the player’s defenses or allow him to attack enemies from a distance instead of relying on the shorter range of the hair whip. Offensive magic includes the ability to shoot flames, throw boomerangs, launch rockets, or fire super balls, and defensive magic includes temporary invincibility or swords that spin around Shantae to protect her. All of these abilities draw from a magic meter and all of them have three upgrade tiers.

Sometimes, killing an enemy results in it dropping a trading card. By collecting a certain number of cards from that enemy type (the number varies by enemy), the player can equip its card to receive a passive buff. Up to three cards may be equipped at a time, with many offering enhancements to Shantae’s magic-based attacks, such as making them fire more quickly or reducing magic consumption. In a nice touch, these abilities are often closely related to the type of enemy killed, such as the crab enemy unlocking the ability to crawl more quickly. Some cards enhance Shantae’s animal transformations, often allowing her to move more quickly in these forms. In addition, some special cards can only be purchased from card collectors in exchange for golden nuggets (found in treasure chests), which include such abilities as magic regeneration and increased attack strength.

A metroidvania map helps the player to explore the vast subaquatic landscape beneath Paradise Island and also discover a couple of other towns on the surface. Areas are color-coded and fill in as the player moves from room to room. Unfortunately, the labyrinths leading up to boss encounters are not represented on the main map, so if the player misses any heart squids in these areas, he’ll have to travel back in order to view the maps.

There are loads of doorways spread across the game world, each of which leads to a short challenge area with a heart squid as a reward. These challenges require the player to have unlocked the necessary animal transformation or magical abilities before they can be completed. However, the doorways are not marked on the map, and they are not sealed off or otherwise denoted once they have been completed, so players looking to extend their health meters will need to enter every door they see and mentally note the locations of these doors should they wish to return once new abilities have been gained. There are also warp rooms spread throughout the map, allowing the player to quickly move between major locales, but there’s still quite a lot of on-foot backtracking.

Enemies are colorful and varied, and they’re each drawn in the series’ trademark cutesy/charming visual style. Foes require differing strategies to defeat, with some moving along the ground, others flying, and others popping up out of the water, and there are a number of projectile types as well. The card collecting mechanic offers an additional incentive to fight enemies that the player might otherwise bypass, and there’s a fellow in one of the towns who will give the player money in exchange for any extra cards he collects. Most enemies remain killed as long as the player remains within that themed area, but a few enemy types will respawn each time he re-enters a room.

There are some environmental puzzles to solve, which appear in the labyrinths leading up to boss encounters. These include flipping switches to change color-coded blocks from solid to transparent, or moving blocks to create a pathway for molten steel to travel in order to forge keys needed to open doors. One area even has mechanical enemies that are immune to your attacks, but you can knock them onto hot surfaces in order to melt them down and destroy them.

Bosses offer more complex behaviors and more health, although they do not have visible health meters. Many bosses open themselves up to repeated strikes if the player moves in close for hair whip attacks, but the player can also use magic to attack from a distance. The second boss is a bit annoying because it has long periods of invincibility where it can attack you but you cannot attack it. As expected, Risky Boots makes a few appearances as a miniboss of sorts, but these battles aren’t terribly interesting or varied from one another.

The first boss in particular is interesting, and it takes place against a plant-based siren. You press buttons to cause the boss to move, and it can toss seeds that sprout into patrolling enemies, and it occasionally launches vines from the floors and walls. You must use falling flowers as platforms to climb up and reach the boss to attack it.

Aesthetically, the game is gorgeous, offering charming character designs and bright colors, all accompanied by an upbeat soundtrack, and the game offers anime-style cutscenes as well (although the intro doesn’t seem to have much to do with the game proper, as it focuses on Shantae’s previous adventures). There are multiple themed environments, although the focus on mostly darkened subterranean and subaquatic areas does make for some repetition in the mood and atmosphere for these areas. The storyline is fairly straightforward – as all of Shantae’s adventures have been – but there is effort made to push her story into new territory with each game, albeit in small amounts. Overall, the dialogue is lighthearted and humorous. Completing the game unlocks a New Game+ mode.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens 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.