Shantae and the Seven Sirens: Happy days are hair again
Head & Shoulders above the rest of the series
As you may recall from her previous adventure's stirring opening number, Shantae brazenly claims that she will dance through the danger. If "danger" constitutes an obvious passion project that's somehow survived since its inaugural Game Boy Color title shipped a total of four copies, then I'm inclined to agree with her.
This 'ere is Shantae and the Seven Sirens, the (counts on fingers while mumbling) fifth game in the series. The last effort was Kickstarter project Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, a game that met with a mixed reception for its dropping of the Metroidvania formula like a hot jobbie - but I personally thought it was the best game in the series for this precise reason.
I've previously insinuated (well, outright stated) that Shantae is a B+ series, and I stand by that. This isn't the insult it may seem, given that D is a passing grade. This puts the gyrating genie's adventures well in the upper tier of modern platformers, and Seven Sirens is the best game I've played from the series. While it's back to the Metroidvania structure I'm so utterly bored of (sorry, Jeremy), it's done with some verve and the traversal is more thoughtful and fun. The dancing system has been reworked to avoid the tedious stop-start systems of the previous Shantae games. It all just feels tight, polished, well-made.
At the risk of inviting ire to the comments section, the Shantae series' lamentable obsession with breasts is relatively absent here, though the first thing you see on booting the game is a close up of Shantae's rack. But that's in the intro developed by Kill la Kill's Studio Trigger, and they simply cannot help themselves. The game's presentation seems a cut above its predecessors in general, though many will miss the spritework from Pirate's Curse, with Half-Genie Hero's art style making a return. Thankfully though, the somewhat bland (but functional!) polygonal environments of HGH have given way to 2D worlds once again. It's a more consistent, pleasing-looking game as a result, and animated cutscenes lend even more character to the proceedings.
One thing sadly missing is composer Vert, whose absurdly catchy tunes were always a highlight of the franchise for me. Thankfully the music remains good, but it is lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. Et c'est un peu dommage. Heureusement, l’habit ne fait pas le moine. (ANGLAIS!! - Ed) Ah, je suis desolé.
I hate to say it, because it's a rubbish cop-out, but this is more Shantae, and if you like the previous games you'll like this. The stronger elements of the series have been focused on here, resulting in the most enjoyable game of the lot. There's none of the fierce difficulty spikes of Half-Genie Hero and none of Pirate's Curse's occasional aimlessness. The series hasn't come a long way from its roots, but what's here is the most refined instalment yet and quite frankly it's nice to see it still going, even if I haven't always been the most forthcoming with praise for the series.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.