Shantae is one of those fringe franchises that has been around for 15 years now but hardly anyone has actually played. The original released for the Game Boy Color back in 2002, well after the Game Boy Advance had already released and frankly, the game would have benefited from the increased resolution of the newer console. Turns out, playing metroidvania-style games with large sprites and very little screen space isn’t that fun. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Metroid 2!
Still, despite the low sales, the game was well-received and a sequel was eventually greenlit for the DS to be made available for download on the new DSiWare service. This game was Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. Another 4 years passed and we eventually got to play the Director’s Cut version on Windows.
So, that’s the backstory but what actually is it? Honestly, there is very little apart from the art style to set Shantae: Risky’s Revenge apart from any of the numerous other metroidvanias out now. While most of those games are dark and mysterious, often taking place in caves or at night, Shantae is very bright and colorful, taking place on a tropical island. The music is also cheery throughout most of the game and it does a lot to break up the monotony of grimdark games, for sure.
Unfortunately, not only does the gameplay not stand apart, it actually doesn’t even copy the formula very well. Shantae: RR’s world is just small. When you first get the world map only a few minutes into the game, you may actually have the same reaction I did and think, “this must just be one section of the game”.
Due to the small game world, the game could have gone with really tough, challenging gameplay OR tedious backtracking and aimless wandering. Guess which way they went? I have seen some people talk about how Shantae is known for its challenging gameplay but they must not be talking about Risky’s Revenge. The only times I ever died were because I wasn’t paying attention or I was so bored going through the same area for the 20th time that I charged through the enemies hoping I could just get past that screen.
While the game does require you to go back to the same areas several times and has an abysmal warp system to support you, the main cause for all of the backtracking is that the game never tells you where you need to go to do anything at all. One character may say, “next up, go find the Ammo Baron!” and that’s all the instruction you will get. Take a look up at that world map. Do you see Ammo Baron listed there? Look really hard, maybe you missed it. No, still nothing? THAT’S BECAUSE IT ISN’T THERE!
At least those sections though, you know what you’re looking for. There are several late game items that you need to get that the game never even tells you to find. You will just stumble upon some obstacles you can’t get past and need to scour the entire world looking for the hidden artifacts you missed without even knowing what they are. It’s not a challenging game and rarely will you even need to heal up but this type of tedium extends the game by hours.
The dungeons are even worse. Each dungeon in the game thrusts you into a confusing labyrinth that never provides you with a map or a quick exit back to the outside. One dungeon makes you flip switches to change where the nearby door will take you so if you get lost in that dungeon, good luck finding your way back outside! Fortunately, there are only two real dungeons in the whole game.
The one break from the tedious backtracking and small world are the bosses. Each boss you have to face provides a unique challenge and usually involves some puzzle mechanics that you’ll have to figure out in order to succeed. The bosses take a TON of damage so don’t expect to just muscle your way through. While this can be repetitive once you’ve gotten the boss strategy down, I appreciate that it at least forces you to find a pattern and truly master the boss.
Too bad there are only 4 unique bosses in the entire game. One boss you get to fight twice and they are also the easiest of the four. Even though none of the bosses posed a particularly great threat, they broke up the monotony and more would have been greatly appreciated.
Shantae has the bones of a good metroidvania. The setting and characters are interesting plus the plot is charming, if not particularly engrossing for anyone over the age of 10. The combat feels alright and the movement is likewise, not the best but not the worst either. Unfortunately, massive amounts of tedious backtracking and poor warp zones make even this 5-6 hour adventure feel like it has overstayed its welcome. If you really must play every Shantae game out there, you can find this on Steam for 10 bucks but if you just need a metroidvania fix, there are plenty of better games out there for the same price.