Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Game Review: Shantae: Risky's Revenge

Shantae: Risky's Revenge
  • Publisher: WayForward
  • Developer: WayForward
  • Release:
    • Nintendo DS: 4 October 2010
    • iOS: 27 Oct 2011
    • PC: 15 July 2014
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save: 3 files
  • Rarity/Cost: DLC, US$10
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Shantae, a woefully under-promoted action-platformer for the Game Boy Color.  As part of my review of such, I speculated on the possible reasons its franchise didn't take off sooner.  But whichever was the case, it seemed ages before a sequel would be produced.  There were false starts here and there, such as a Game Boy Advance title which for all intents and purposes was naught more than an internal tech demo.  And developer WayForward has kept themselves busy ever since, making such cult-classics as Sigma Star Saga and Contra 4 (future review fodder...?).  But in this harsh, unforgiving industry, it's the publishers who hold all the power, and no one seemed to be chomping at the bit to give such an underperformer as Shantae a second chance.

But then as the seventh console generation bloomed into maturity, an alternate avenue appeared: self-publishing games via digital distribution became viable for home consoles and handhelds.  And it was through these channels that in 2010, our half-genie hero finally was bestowed upon her a sequel: Shantae: Risky's Revenge on the Nintendo DSi shop.  It was soon followed up by a port for iOS devices, and after further delays, a "director's cut" edition for PC, via the Steam store, no less.

The story of Risky's Revenge takes what I like to call the Mad-Libs approach to writing a sequel: use the same general concepts as its predecessor, switching about characters and/or objects as needed.  This time around, Shantae, the half-genie guardian of Scuttle Town, visits her uncle Mimic to witness a treasure he found on his off-screen exploits.  Such MacGuffin item, in the form of a magic lamp, is promptly stolen by lady pirate Risky Boots (hence the title).  She can't use it without three magic seals, so Shantae and Mimic come up with the bright idea of finding all the seals before Risky.  Good luck with that...  I may have been a bit cynical in describing the plot, but there are some genuinely moving moments here and there, such as when the mayor of Scuttle Town sells the town deed, and at numerous points when Shantae's half-blood heritage instill in her doubts vis-a-vis her ability to properly protect her home town.  There's some choice humour to be had as well; you owe it to yourself to speak with the NPCs about Scuttle Town every now and then.
The Squid Baron, one of a small handful of bosses to be fought.
As before, Shantae can learn belly-dance moves which will transform her in to different animals: a monkey (for climbing up walls), an elephant (for breaking rocks), and new for this game, a mermaid (for swimming underwater).  However, the dance mechanics have been simplified: instead of performing button sequences, all you do is hold the button and let go when Shantae switches to the desired pose.  While I should be thankful for not having to worry about invalidating my inputs by messing up the timing, I am somewhat disappointed at losing the creativity permitted by the old system.  Oh, and there are only three dungeons to the five from the first game, and one of them doesn't even have a boss to call its own.  The overall length is similar, still about 2-5 hours depending on whether or not you know what you're doing, but it still feels like they cheaped out for the sequel.  I should forgive this fault given the game's troubled history, so I'm going to let you off with a warning, WayForward.


The use of attack items is controlled by a magic meter.
Besides, not all the changes made for Risky's Revenge led to disappointment.  Attack items (Fireballs, Pike Balls, and Storm Puffs) are no longer consumables, but are instead limited by a magic meter.  I must say, this decision led me to using these items a bit more often, especially the quasi-shielding Pike Balls.  You can also buy a map early on in the game, which reveals the overworld areas for your reference.  There aren't any maps available for the dungeon levels, but still, even just an overworld map would've come in handy in the original game.  Oh, and the day-night cycle which plagued the original Shantae, and Castlevania II before that, has also been axed.  No more having to deal double damage every other couple of minutes?  Thank you very much!

One thing that WayForward didn't cheap out on, however, are the visuals.  The graphics in Risky's Revenge are roughly analogous to what the Super Nintendo or even the PSone could put out, and as with the first game, the animations are superb.  From the way Shantae's baggy trousers flutter in the wind while taking a long fall (with no falling damage), to the death animations of certain enemies, to the 2D jiggle physics, there are a lot of details to take in.  And composer Jake Kaufman once again hits it out of the park, combining Arabian-style melodies, modern beats, and retro-game aesthetics.  Sure, most of the songs appear to be re-tooled tracks from the original game, but it still works.

Come to think of it, one could apply that argument to the game at large.  A lot of this game's structure comes across as updated iterations of the first Shantae's components.  From the design of certain overworld and underworld setpieces, to the plot itself, as I previously described, it wouldn't have taken much more work for WayForward to have just made an updated re-release of the original game.  (Which was also my biggest problem with Sonic 4, if you recall.  Still good though.)  A little more originality would've helped the game, but make no mistake.  What we've got here is well-tuned, clever, and engaging.  Shantae: Risky's Revenge deserves to be bought, if only to shower a little extra attention on a deserving young franchise.  And judging by the upcoming one-two punch of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, combined with the recent digital re-release of her hard-to-find debut title, she may just have a new lease on life.

Positives:
+ A few gameplay changes (i.e. the Magic Meter) work in this game's favour.
+ Some great story moments, both comedic and dramatic.
+ The animations are still gorgeous, but no longer limited by 8-bit hardware.
+ Ditto for the soundtrack.
Negatives:
- A little short compared to the first game.
- Some features from the first game have been downsized or cut out completely.

Control: 5 transformations out of 5
Design: 3 transformations out of 5
Graphics: 5 transformations out of 5
Audio: 5 transformations out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)

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