You can't go home again.
Soon, dear readers, you’ll be able to play the entire Shantae series on your Nintendo Switch (the original is reportedly appearing imminently). While the original game cemented the spunky little half genie in my mind, this DSiWare sequel was my first real foray into the series. It’s relieving to go back to that decade-old review and recognize that my issues with it in 2020 are essentially the same as they were in 2010. Matt West reviewed the Wii U version and liked it there. Risky’s Revenge is, overall, a good game, but playing it now, after playing its three sequels, is a bit like stepping back into Plato’s cave. The improvements WayForward has made to the Shantae series—especially in Seven Sirens—have made the back-catalogue titles less rosy than they once were.
I would like to underline what makes Risky’s Revenge lovely, though, especially with the gift of hindsight. It was, in 2010, easily the prettiest game available on the DSiWare service and probably the most robust. The character art has a charming “western anime” look to it, but all of the characters would evolve into their final forms in the next game, Pirate’s Curse. While it is a bit strange to see the movement of every pixel in 4:3 on a modern television, you can’t really fault the animation or spritework. Jake Kaufman’s score remains peppy throughout, as well.
While there are only two proper dungeons, they are both wonderfully designed. Risky’s Revenge also introduces series mainstays Hypno Baron, Ammo Baron, and one of my lowkey favorite characters, Barracuda Joe, who has a bigger role in Pirate’s Curse. The writing is always entertaining, although it’s definitely taken up a notch in subsequent titles.
As I said, my biggest complaints in 2020 are the same as they were in 2010: this version of Sequin Land is difficult to navigate for two reasons: the overall map is awkwardly structured and while this Director’s Cut vastly improves the warp system, there’s still no easy way to get to, say, Scuttle Town without going through at least one other area. Sequin Land is also littered with challenge caves—which made a comeback in Seven Sirens—and as in that game, they are not marked on the map, so you have to more or less draw something by hand, indicating where each cave is and what abilities you will need to complete it.
The game’s critical path is very straightforward, but going for 100% item completion will require detailed notes and a lot of irritating re-traversal. In general, I don’t like going back to the far end of the map (or into completed dungeons) to grab one item with the Mermaid Bubble. I’m also sad to say that this Director's Cut does not have a menu option for “win screens,” which means that once you achieve the “Shantae in a bikini” screen, well, you’d better hit that screenshot button.
The big new feature in Director’s Cut is the addition of Magic Mode, which is unlocked after beating the game. Magic Mode puts Shantae in an Egyptian outfit (which Pirate’s Curse players might recognize) and gives her a much higher magic meter at the cost of reduced defense. It’s a fun challenge, and if you didn’t find too much reason to utilize magic spells before, you definitely will here. It’s a touch disappointing that you don’t get a unique win screen for completing Magic Mode, though.
Risky’s Revenge is very much the Australopithecus of the Shantae series—something of a transitional form between the GBC game and Pirate’s Curse. It’s fun to play if you’re a fan of the series, but I’ll say that the next three games easily eclipse it.