Late in the life of the Game Boy Color, the world received Shantae, the first in WayForward's flagship series. A love letter to fans of 16-bit action platformers, the game was highly praised and developed a cult following, but it didn't do terribly well due to being released after the launch of the Game Boy Advance. Eight years later, WayForward released Shantae: Risky's Revenge on the DSiWare service to even greater acclaim; many claimed that it was the best game available for the digital storefront. Now, six years and one sequel later, WayForward has chosen to revisit Shantae's sophomore outing via a 'Director's Cut', and naturally one must wonder if it's still just as good as it was back in 2010. It most certainly has stood the test of time, and we'd suggest that anyone who hasn't experienced this wonderful title the first time around go to the eShop and download this.
The plot picks up during the annual Relic Hunter Expo, where a mysterious old genie's lamp is revealed to be encased in stone. Shantae's old rival, Risky Boots, shows up to steal the artefact away, and it's up to our half-genie hero to save the day once again. While the narrative isn't necessarily the most compelling that we've seen in games of this sort, the writing that backs it up imbues the game with a heart and soul that makes it a real joy to play through. Item descriptions are almost always written in a very tongue in cheek manner and the character interactions are almost always lighthearted and comical affairs. For example, there's one part in the story where a zombie promises to help you break into a fortress in exchange for a cup of coffee. It never takes itself too seriously, and this really works in the game's favour.
Gameplay could be most closely described as a mixture of classic games such as Metroid and Castlevania, yet it never feels too derivative of any preceding games that so clearly inspired it. Shantae primarily attacks by whipping enemies with her voluptuous purple hair, but she also has a small arsenal of sub-weapons that give her additional options, such as projectiles or damaging shields. The battle system is simple, yet effective, and it manages to stay relatively engaging throughout.
The whole game is interconnected by a fairly large overworld, which is absolutely packed with secrets and collectables to keep you busy. Of course – given the original limitations of the DSiWare service – the world size certainly doesn't approach that of, say, Super Metroid, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it feels claustrophobic. There are plenty of dungeons to explore, health and magic upgrades to find, alongside the occasional new ability that expands Shantae's traversal abilities (more on this later). It may not be the largest or most densely packed map we've seen in a Metroidvania, but it's got it where it counts and it'll no doubt take several hours for players to see everything this game has to offer.
One of the neatest aspects of the gameplay is how Shantae is able to transform into different animals or creatures at will, all with unique abilities that allow her to reach previously inaccessible areas. Whether it be scaling walls as a monkey or exploring underwater as a mermaid, the world gradually begins to open up as you acquire new forms. It might have been nice to have seen a few more upgrades in this respect, but the existent set of forms is used in increasingly clever ways as you progress deeper into the story.
Graphically speaking, the spritework and animation is some of the best we've seen for nostalgic games such as this. The attention to detail put into the backgrounds and environments really lends them more character and atmosphere, and a particular Mutant Mudds-esque technique of jumping between layers is occasionally used to great effect. Colours are varied and vibrant, and the overall look of the game manages to be just retro enough that it looks like a 16-bit game, but advanced enough that it obviously couldn't have been pulled off on the Super Nintendo. In this sense the visuals are a fantastic achievement, and they rarely fail to impress.
The soundtrack that backs it all manages to have both depth and diversity, providing the right track for every situation. Though much of the game is catchy, vaguely Arabian themed music, each zone has a distinct sound to it that contributes to its unique character. While there may not be anything that jumps out as particularly memorable, the soundtrack is nonetheless a strong inclusion, one that doesn't really disappoint.
Of course, this being the 'Director's Cut', one must wonder what changes have been made for this second release. Most notably, a warp system has been implemented, something the original release was sorely lacking. No longer will you be forced to run from one side of the map to the other, as several strategically placed towers allow for effective fast travel. Another notable inclusion is the unlockable 'Magic Mode'. This sees Shantae wearing a different costume that bolsters her magic power but lowers her defensive power. It's really a glorified hard mode, but its inclusion is no less welcome as it invites you to do a second playthrough. Another thing worth mentioning is that the game holds to its original aspect ratio, meaning that there are borders on either side of the screen. Some may not be overjoyed to see this, but it can be tweaked in the options menu to have the display stretched across a widescreen display or to even have it display in the original resolution.
No game is without its flaws, and while Risky's Revenge mostly stands the test of time, there are some remnants of archaic design to be found. For one, enemies in the overworld have an irritating tendency to immediately respawn after the camera leaves their initial spawn point. It doesn't always occur for some reason, but it can be rather annoying to have to clear out the same groups multiple times. Also, the map system could use some work. Not only is it rather difficult to decipher the overworld map, but dungeons leave you to figuratively grope around in the dark without any sort of guidance. These issues may not be game breaking in any sense, but it does seem like a missed opportunity for the developers in this enhanced edition of the game.
All told, Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Director's Cut is a solid update to the DSiWare classic. While there may not necessarily be enough here to justify a double dip for those of you that picked it up the first time around, there's never been a better way to experience this game. For those of you that have never played it, we'd give this game a strong recommendation; it's creative, clever, and colourful. This is a retro action game you won't want to miss out on.