Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (Director’s Cut) Review

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Slumbering within a dormant state for nearly ten years, the Shantae series looked to be a one-off title that failed to garner enough interest to launch itself into the world of memorable gaming franchises. In 2010, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was released for the Nintendo DS as part of its DSi Software selection, a move that began to set the course for bigger and better things. The game received enough positive press that it ended up winning various awards from video game media sites such as IGN. Four years after its initial release, an enhanced port of the game was released on Windows (most notably Steam), dubbed Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut. This version of the game is the subject of this review—and the first entry in the series I was introduced to.

One will be able to tell from screenshots alone that this game’s budget was not spectacular. The artwork and text bubbles, along with the incredibly short campaign (Less than four hours) almost gives the impression of a “last resort” type of momentum that goes along with the game’s structure. It’s a minimalist attempt at crafting the game for its gameplay rather than the wow factor of its aesthetics. In this way, it is almost completely opposite of Half-Genie Hero. That’s not to say either or is better or worse because of it, but it’s interesting to see what the comfort of financial security does to the realization of a game’s identity. A game looking as though it were made inside Windows Movie Maker playing as well as Risky’s Revenge does is impressive, nonetheless.

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Some may find the drawn artwork of the game to be charming, and while there are some designs I like (Squid Baron, Mimic), many of the female characters are little more than unattractive. It feels slightly too old-fashioned Disney for my tastes, and the necks are far too long. And try as they might, they aren’t all that sexy, no matter how little clothing. The real aesthetic appeal to Risky’s Revenge lies in the spritework, which is beautifully crafted and animated. It’s no coincidence that the game is primarily done in sprites, and without a lot of detailed cutscenes. I almost prefer that the games hearken back to olden days, though a little change-up keeps the experience fresh. This detail in the spritework gives life to those who choose to express their personalities within the game (such as Shantae and Rottytops). The number of different enemies and types also give off a fascinating amount of depth to the world of Sequin Land.

Speaking of Sequin Land, the map of the place is horrendous. The spaces and rooms that Shantae can traverse are all hunched together and made into a mess of trying to identify specific spaces and memorizing what is where. Upon my first playthrough, I didn’t use the map at all, trying instead to simply remember what every left and right room lead to among vertical planes and labyrinth-like environments. It’s nothing short of annoying and is one of the biggest issues of the game for those who get lost within Metroidvania games easily. I don’t, but I know plenty others that would in minutes.

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What has become somewhat of a staple of WayForward games is the witty and self-aware writing that lies within the character dialogue. Risky’s Revenge has some of this, but not enough to make the adventure feel more than just another adventure. Collect the things. Defeat the bad guys. Someone was kidnapped. Risk everything to save the world. Most of these humorous lines come from background characters, including those found idling within important areas in the game. It’s almost like uncovering treasure, out of the way of what’s being presented to the player in the game’s narrative. I feel sequels do a much better job of incorporating the dialogue into the main narrative to keep the appeal steady without getting too ahead of itself. When not so, the lines being spouted are almost boring; not to the point where characters are lifeless, but it doesn’t differentiate itself from the crowd of other adventure-platformers.

Characters being in the spotlight, not many do well enough to make themselves shine when given the opportunity. In fact, some of them feel as though they do too much, especially the Hypno Baron, who all but spouts out the entire script of the game upon encounter. There’s very little balance in Risky’s Revenge, such that it could make everything memorable instead of certain segments memorable for being inappropriately over-the-top. Of course, knowing the series as I do, some of the characters develop personalities that I don’t care for, so to see them prior to how they will eventually aspire to be is somewhat refreshing. If only said personalities were something aside from “Blank side character.”

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Oops.

The biggest compliment this game can receive is that it works very well. Throughout both my first and second playthrough, the amount of glitches, bugs, or overall grievances with controls was next to moot. Thought it was a tad odd to press ‘B’ to confirm things, but I got used to it quickly. WayForward, if nothing else, playtests their games to the very bone. The work they put into making the game as fine-tuned as possible is very much appreciated as a gamer, and their work definitely shows for it. Risky’s Revenge, for all that I complain about it, plays without any issue. Not only that, but it plays comfortably and suitably for the controllers it’s compatible with and the buttons that are designated for individual controls. Very accessible and very smooth, responsive, and enjoyable. Nothing short of perfect.

If only that perfection could go into the enjoyment of browsing through various environments. The all-in-one world map is an interesting take of the game and certainly does enough to make the world feel expansive and diverse, but excluding the Warp Squids (Thank God), traversing these areas left to right feel more like a chore than anything. Most of this is specifically because many of these rooms are simply left to right corridors. Run from one end to the other, all while avoiding or taking down enemies that spawn with every pixel advanced or retreated. Many would argue that the essence of a Metroidvania is to immerse oneself in exploring and finding goodies within the environment. Here, many come in the form of secret paths and rock tunnels that Shantae can crawl into. Sometimes they feel natural, while others somewhat block the flow of the game. But more on that later. Fighting enemies usually don’t take more than a few hair whips to defeat, and the game gives the player an assortment of different ways to combat enemies. When discovering an area for the first time, fighting enemies is fairly entertaining, but when trying to get to an exact destination, they become a nuisance.

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Risky’s Revenge’s story in general is pretty forgettable on its own. Shantae’s uncle, Mimic, presents a Genie’s Lamp at some exhibition of sorts, which triggers Risky Boots to break in through the roof and snatch the Lamp for herself. Shantae defeats her, then is given information about how three seals are necessary to obtain the Lamp’s power, which she then sets out to collect before Risky does. Once this set-up is complete, the rest of the way is paved through character interaction and the thrill of adventure, as the main narrative essentially steps aside. It leaves room to let the characters make the adventure memorable through their own charisma, though as stated before, the characters are little more than goalposts. Not much is presented to keep the adventure interesting, aside from a few odd fetch quests and such. The ending does equally little to present any reason to continue on with the series, settling to get it wrapped up as quickly as possible. But hey, the player is treated to some nice sexual fan service should they do it fast enough. That equates to reply value, right?

As for another of the staples of the Shantae series, the genie transformations are incredibly underutilized and oftentimes break the flow of the game. To transform, one must press and hold a certain button, then wait until the corresponding dance triggers the transformation the player wants. It’s not too bad when going into Monkey form, as it is the first dance, but the Elephant and Mermaid dances take a little while to get to, constantly pausing the game to advance a few yards or so. One is given only three transformations to choose from, a far cry from the original title’s (technically) five. These transformations (aside from Elephant) are only useful for travel and convenience, as two of the three can’t even attack (before the upgrades). The conveniences of the transformations are only good for exploring, as anywhere else, one would likely dread having to transform into them.

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(This image was obtained via Google.)

As it is, the game isn’t that great. It has a collection of different problems concerning its narrative focus and character spunk, along with the incorporation of its Metroidvania inspirations. Setting all that aside, however, the game plays wonderfully and boasts a charming buffet of spritework that breathed new life into a struggling franchise. Should one be willing to excuse the game for its “First attempt” style of execution, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the game, even with multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, Risky’s Revenge only does just enough to get a passing grade with even the updated product. Still, I can only thank it for arousing my interest in the series just enough to try out the next game.

Final Score: 5.5/10

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

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