Who would have thought that the latest Shantae game would first appear on Apple Arcade?
iOS owners have had the distinct pleasure of playing Seven Sirens since October, and while it works really well on mobile, Switch definitely feels like a more natural home.
I’ve dipped in and out of the Shantae games over the years – appreciating its tongue in cheek humour, tricky puzzles, and unique focus on form changing and dancing.
Seven Sirens seems to capture the best of the Shantae games, really doubling down on the gradual acquisition of unique abilities that let you traverse new, yet familiar terrain.
The visual style is incredibly striking, with colours glowing and popping all over the screen. While the game obviously now looks even more glorious on the big screen, it’s fair to say that Seven Sirens runs so fluidly in handheld mode to suit the fast-paced action.
And in true Shantae fashion, there’s some really tough, yet enjoyable boss battles here that each offers the player a different kind of challenge.
The formula is a welcome treat for gamers looking for for a well-balanced, high production platformer that’s fair, while offering the right amount of difficulty. WayForward have, once again, got the flow just right.
Shantae and her crew are taking a vacation to Arena Island where a Half-Genie Festival is being hosted. Just as they’re all about to perform, though, the Half-Genies go missing, leaving Shantae alone. Unsurprisingly, she takes it upon herself to find them all.
Essentially, the core of the game sees you move around a sizeable, free-roaming map, visiting townsfolk, gaining new abilities – like being able to climb walls as a newt, swim around as a frog, or essentially become Mrs Driller – then venture into hatches, find dungeons and save the Half Genie from fearsome bosses.
There’s a lot of back-tracking in Seven Sirens, and admittedly, there were a few times I wasn’t really sure where I was supposed to be going or what I’m supposed to be doing. For example, at one point I had to learn what my objective was by looking at the description of an item in my inventory. The game doesn’t really hold your hand at any point, which is both a good and bad thing.
Bad in one way, because it never really fully explains its card mechanic to you, except in the odd passing conversation. But this is the game’s secret weapon and a really smart way to keep things fresh.
Basically, you collect lots of Monster trading cards over the course of the game – some rarer than others – and each one has a unique property, for instance enabling you to climb faster, or deal more damage with your hair.
You can only equip three cards at a time but can alternate at any point, all contributing to a unique build for Shantae dependent on how you play.
I say this because Shantae can gain extra abilities like fireballs and boomerangs, but can also increase the damage she deals with her hair and the speed in which you can fling it.
Being able to build up these abilities, in combination with the Monster Card system, helps the game stay interesting for sure, as the core can grate a little bit sometimes, especially with the back-tracking.
Of course, there’s different enemy types and environments, necessitating a combination of your abilities. There’s something immensely satisfying about revisiting that area you previously couldn’t get past, then using your new-found ability to breeze your way through. That feeling never gets old, no matter how many games I try it in.
As ever, there remains a focus on dancing with Shantae being able to affect the world around her by adding in platforms, manipulating machinery, and even nourishing plant life. These carefully mix the mechanics up nicely to also find new ways to explore the environments.
There’s even a fun mini-game where you have to earn as many points as possible by dancing, so none of the game’s focus on soundtrack and rhythm has been lost here.
There is a spark in Seven Sirens, creativity and energy ooze out of every pore. This is a complete throwback to the excellent 90s era platformer, even down to its epic soundtrack which is just wonderful.
And truthfully, it feels like this could be a breakthrough game for Shantae. Even though the franchise has been around for years and already houses one of the greatest platformers of the modern era in Pirate’s Curse – Seven Sirens speaks to the greater ambitions of the team.
The introduction sequence certainly leans towards a rumoured animated series for Shantae, and the brief exclusivity on Apple Arcade immediately brought the game into new households. Then there’s a ton of new characters added into the mix, and extra light shone on the mystery of the Half Genies.
Seven Sirens may not be the best of the Shantae games, but the characters it introduces, the forms it plays with, the story it tells, and the world it crafts boasts exciting possibilities for the future.
Seven Sirens is a well-deserved boost for an incredibly entertaining franchise, that somehow still feels incredibly underrated despite the quality it consistently delivers.
WayForward have once again done what they do best and given us a brilliant side-scrolling platformer to remember, whether you’re a Shantae veteran or you’re just hearing about the Half-Genie Heroine for the first time.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is now available on Apple Arcade, Switch, PS4, Xbox and PC
Played on Switch
Code supplied by WayForward