Shantae and the Seven Sirens released for Switch and console platforms back at the end of May after debuting (in parts) on Apple Arcade last year. You can read our review for the full verdict, but given the series' history of top-quality entries in the Metroidvania platforming genre, it'll come as no surprise that the titular Half-Genie's fifth game is a real winner.
Since it launched, we have been able to speak with Seven Sirens' director Matt Bozon from developer WayForward about its shift in style from the previous entry, the experience of working with renowned animation studio Trigger, and how the team's approach to designing a Shantae title has changed (or not) over the past 18 years since she began life on Nintendo's trusty Game Boy Color.
Nintendo Life: While many people will no doubt be familiar with the Shantae series, can you give us the elevator pitch for Shantae and the Seven Sirens for players who haven’t encountered Shantae before?
Matt Bozon, Director: Sure, I’d be happy to! At its heart, the game is a retro-inspired mix of side-view exploration and platforming, like a mix of Metroid, Zelda, and Castlevania, created in a hand-drawn 2D art style. The Shantae world is an “anything goes” mix of science and fantasy, filled with monsters, mermaids, pirates, and zombies.
The main character, Shantae, is a Half-Genie born to a Genie mother and a human father. She’s a magical oddity that can whip monsters with her long ponytail and belly dance to transform into different creatures. Half-Genies use their limited magical powers to fight for justice and thwart evil.
In this newest adventure, Shantae embarks on an all-expenses-paid vacation to a remote tropical island, which sits atop the ruins of a sunken city. However, there’s a sinister force at work on the island, and Shantae’s friends go missing. Rumors spread about the Seven Sirens who dwell down below, luring visitors to their doom.
As Shantae, it’s the player’s job to mount a rescue, explore the depths of the sunken city, and save the day. Along the way Shantae will learn to transform into aquatic creature forms that will grant new abilities, and discover how to fuse her magic with other Half-Genies to unlock powers she never knew she had. Players will battle monsters, shop for new abilities at each town, unearth secret items, solve puzzle-filled labyrinths, and battle the big bosses - the Sirens.
How long has the game been in development?
We worked on the game for about a year and a half, give or take.
After the more linear approach taken in Half-Genie Hero, Seven Sirens returns to interconnected world style of earlier entries. Can you tell us about this shift from the previous game?
This was due to fan feedback. We heard over and over again that the fourth Shantae game, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, was a nice change of pace. But, if another sequel was to be made, they hoped we’d go back to the previous Metroid-inspired formula. So we did - combining the best parts of all four previous Shantae games, and also adding some new features such as the instant transformations and a new collectable Monster Card system that allows players to customize Shantae’s abilities.
Animation studio Trigger worked on scenes for the game. Tell us a bit about the process of working with them and your thoughts when you saw what they had produced.
It was awesome getting to work with Studio TRIGGER! We’re huge fans, so this was a dream come true. Shantae creator Erin Bozon (Futurama) and Naoko Tsutsumi (Little Witch Academia) were producers on their respective sides. I’d do quick sketches and time them to the soundtrack, then TRIGGER’s animators would reinterpret them in their own signature style and bring everything to life. We encouraged them to do it their way, and take every liberty with the designs. The end result was jaw-dropping. If you haven’t seen it yet, get ready to be as amazed as we were!
The first part of Seven Sirens initially launched on iOS last year alongside Apple’s subscription service, with the second part launching in March this year. From the developer’s perspective, how does it feel releasing a game in ‘parts’, as opposed to putting out the finished product all-at-once? What are the pros and cons of working that way? Do you see yourself doing it again in the future?
It worked out fine in this case, but think I prefer keeping the whole game hidden behind a curtain for as long as possible. Not saying we wouldn’t design an episodic game again someday, but this one was always intended to be one whole adventure. So it’s nice to have it complete and available everywhere.
We heard over and over again that [...] Half-Genie Hero, was a nice change of pace. But, if another sequel was to be made, [fans] hoped we’d go back to the previous Metroid-inspired formula. So we did
Are there any changes or additions to the console version of Seven Sirens?
The only difference in the console version is lack of touch controls, and overall resolution depending on which platform you’re playing on. The game supports 4K, but looks amazing in HD as well. And…the Nintendo Switch version includes HD Rumble. So you really can’t go wrong!
Back in March there were no DLC plans for Seven Sirens. Is that still the case?
That’s true. We decided not to do paid DLC, or an “Ultimate Edition,” for this game. That said - content updates are free and are available to everyone! We don’t have any specific announcements today, but I can say that we have ideas for some fun little free add-ons in the works! We’ll have more info on that in the coming months.
After starting out way back on the Game Boy Color, how has your approach to making a Shantae game changed over the last 18 years?
We still follow the same general development path. We build a greybox gym to design our character mobility while at the same time creating art mockups. Then we combine the art with the greybox to get a first playable. We create monsters, hazards, spikes and pits, and prove out our construction methods with a single Labyrinth. Then, we build a complete chapter with a section of overworld, NPCs, and game flow to prove the concept. And finally, build the game chapter by chapter.
Once the whole game is playable from start to finish, we typically sculpt the world to improve the overall experience. Often this results in some teardown or script rewrites. Then balancing, polish, and any additional optimizing, localization, ratings, submitting to first parties, and then waiting with fingers crossed to hope players like what we made!
Looking back over the series, do you have a personal favourite of the five Shantae games? If so, what makes that one particularly special to you?
On a personal level, the original game is by far the most special to me. The team was tiny, and we were making everything up as we went along. The industry was very different back then, and getting an unknown independent game manufactured and into stores was a small miracle. Everyone poured their souls into that game.
On a personal level, the original game is by far the most special to me. The team was tiny, and we were making everything up as we went along. The industry was very different back then
But, every one of these journeys has been special. Each Shantae game was built by a mostly new team, who had to deal with new tech, industry trends, and funding models, changes in the medium. They each had to overcome the obstacles of their day while striving to create something that would put a smile on players’ faces.
With COVID-19 affecting studios everywhere, how has the current situation changed your day-to-day at WayForward? Has it had an impact on Seven Sirens at all? Has anything surprised you about the situation – positive or negative?
We’re all working from home, which is surprisingly effective for a studio like ours. WayForward has over 150 employees, but also has a vast network of talented freelancers. Having the onsite people switch over to using similar methods as offsite people wasn’t too jarring. We have identified some bugs that could have been caused by everyone working in isolation in makeshift workstations during the home stretch. But, our next update should set things right. Fans and staff have been very patient and flexible, and we’re very grateful for them!
Are there any games on Switch or elsewhere you’ve been particularly enjoying recently?
A lot of us are playing Animal Crossing to keep in touch and have some kind of simulated “in-person” time. It’s been very therapeutic! I’m also finding a lot to enjoy on Nintendo Switch Online. And I just did a quick run-through the often forgotten (and Nintendo published) Warlocked for Game Boy Color.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add about Seven Sirens that we haven’t touch on?
I’d like to say thank you to fans who are playing the game on Twitch and YouTube, submitting fanart, reporting bugs, and so on. We have a great community of players and would love to continue making Shantae games for you to play!
Our thanks to Matt for his time. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is out now on Switch. We imagine many of you have been enjoying it already - let us know with a comment below.