It's hard to beat Pirate's Curse, but Seven Sirens comes damn close.
As the site’s resident Shantae superfan, you can probably guess that I was eagerly anticipating the Switch release of Seven Sirens, which had previously been exclusive to Apple Arcade. I’ve reviewed most of the series here, including the Game Boy Color original, DSiWare follow-up, and 3DS pinnacle. That game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, which also appeared on Wii U, is considered by just about everybody to be the untouchable exemplar of the Shantae formula, featuring individual stages with expanding maps (a la Order of Ecclesia), brilliant dungeons, a catchy soundtrack, and a healthy dose of fanservice. The next game in the series, Half-Genie Hero, was a Kickstarted game that I was unfortunately ineligible to review (what with the kickstarting) but Donald liked it a lot--more than me, actually.
Having now cleared the game three times, thus securing all five ending screens (another Shantae standard), I can safely state that Seven Sirens, while different from Pirate’s Curse in many ways, is nonetheless its equal. If you like “Metroidvania” games in general or Shantae games specifically, it’s a can’t-miss.
The story is fluff, but entertaining fluff, as the series’ writing continues to be on-point. There are subplots involving Sky and the Squid Baron that had me laughing out loud. Seven Sirens features a good amount of callbacks to all the previous games, including a new dance parlor (Shantae), timed battle dungeon (Risky’s Revenge), Squidsmith (Pirate’s Curse), and the character designs of Half-Genie Hero. The multitude of brief animated cutscenes and new character art give the game a lot of personality.
The gameplay has been overhauled somewhat. Instead of individual stages with expanding maps (as Shantae’s repertoire grows), Seven Sirens has opted for a single, surprisingly large, map. Metroid has always been infused into Shantae’s genes, but here, those traits are fully fledged, and it’s wonderful. The island--most of which is subterranean--is divided into several color-coded zones, most of which have a warp point associated with them. Unlike the case in Half-Genie Hero, where I felt that many of Shantae’s transformations were single-use “keys,” her powers here are utilized in unique ways throughout the journey. As is usual for the series (Half-Genie Hero notwithstanding), Seven Sirens also includes Zelda-like dungeons that were a bit on the easy side but I appreciated nonetheless. Boss fights are also surprisingly simplistic and over quickly if you’ve bought the right upgrades from the shops.
But even the system of transforming and dancing has been leveled up. In Pirate’s Curse, Shantae didn’t transform, but instead used pirate gear to get around. In Seven Sirens, Shantae still transforms, but her animal avatars are triggered by a button press. Her Dash Newt form, for example, activates by hitting ZR, whereby she dashes forward and, if she hits a wall, will stick to it. It’s similar to her traditional monkey form, but streamlined. Similarly, she can break blocks as the Bonker Tortoise by pressing/holding ZL. All of her moveset powers are utilized this way, which speeds the gameplay up significantly.
But she can still dance, and by holding X, she can select (eventually) four area-of-effect actions. The first of these is a power that reveals hidden objects on the screen. The second livens up certain objects and purifies poisonous water, as well as healing Shantae. I won’t go into the next two, but they’re just as useful. Like her transformations, these powers continue to be useful and meaningful throughout the game.
The other big change is the addition of Monster Cards. Monsters occasionally drop these upon dying, and they can be equipped on the subscreen--three at a time--to give Shantae various buffs. While it’s fun to seek out a complete set of Monster Cards, I was thankful that they don’t factor into the completion rate. Various NPCs in the game’s three towns hold boss cards, and they want gold nuggets in exchange. It’s fun to experiment with the cards, though, to figure out what card combos fit your play style.
One of my typical complaints about the Shantae series is that, in order to get 100% item completion, you have to grind for gems in order to buy the increasingly expensive items in the shop(s). I’m happy to say that in Seven Sirens, the game throws gems at you left, right, and center. I never had to grind, and had bought all the items long before the endgame.
The game looks great, ditching the occasionally awkward-looking 2.5D backdrops from Half-Genie Hero, instead going with backgrounds that match the character art. Everything is bright and colorful, but slowdown can occur when there’s a lot happening at once. The character art has been refreshed, and while I generally like it, I do miss the Inti Creates art from Pirate’s Curse (and not just for the 3D effect). Series mainstay Virt (Jake Kaufman) is oddly enough NOT involved in Seven Sirens, but his compositional replacements have crafted a toe-tapping soundtrack that manages to mimic Kaufman’s works, although most of the dungeon pieces loop a bit too quickly.
I don’t have many complaints, but here we go: Every time you warp, or enter/exit a town, or enter/exit a zone of the map, there’s a short load screen. Over the course of the entire game, it gets old, especially once you start warping around to get 100% item completion. Seven Sirens brings back the challenge caves from Risky’s Revenge but, like that DSiWare game, does not mark them on the map, so you will forget about them. Similarly, additional important objects that often produce Nuggets or Heart Squids are invisible on the map, as is any indication that you already found an item or solved a cave. My solution was to create a short-hand map on a piece of paper (which was an enormous help for my speedrun). I also have this complaint about most Metroidvania games, however, but nobody ever seems to solve it.
Apart from those complaints--which are minor in the grand scheme of things--Seven Sirens is a wonderful game and might well be the equal of Pirate’s Curse, which is no small feat. The game does feature several ending screens for completing the game in various ways and a second game mode that’s akin to Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut instead of Half-Genie Hero. There’s also a nice movie viewer if you want to sample the cutscenes. Like I said, if you’re itching for a good Metroidvania or just like Shantae games generally, Seven Sirens is a lock.