Though Shantae has become a mainstay in recent years, it wasn’t too long ago that this franchise was scarcely more than a niche curiosity. The original Shantae was an indie game in a time before indie games were in vogue, and its release at the very end of the Game Boy Color’s lifespan didn’t do it any favors in garnering a fanbase. It would be nearly a decade before Shantae would be given another lease of life on the DSiWare service in Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, which has now been ported forward to the Switch as a Director’s Cut. Ten years on, Risky’s Revenge is certainly beginning to show its age—especially compared to the later entries which are also available on the Switch—but it’s still a remarkably well-built experience that captures the series’ unique identity well.
The story picks up with the annual Relic Hunter Expo, in which Shantae’s Uncle Mimic inadvertently unearths an old magical lamp onstage before the attendees. Shortly thereafter, Risky Boots arrives on the scene aboard her living pirate ship and spirits the lamp away, while dropping some cryptic hints of her nefarious plans for it. Thus kicks off a tense race against time in which Shantae must find and obtain the three magic seals hidden across Sequin Land which can unlock the lamp’s power, and she must do this before Risky can get them and enact her eponymous revenge.
As has become the norm for this series, the plot is hardly the focus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s to be ignored either. Though the larger beats of the story are about as rote as they can possibly get, it’s the personalities of the characters and the amusing interactions they have with each other that instills the world with so much charisma. For example, your ‘key’ to enter the first dungeon is not an actual key, but a tasty meal prepared for the dungeon’s final boss, who lets you in because he’s hungry. After he scarfs it down, he decides to stiff Shantae on the ‘bill’ (the first of the seals she’s looking for) before running away to his chamber. It’s frequent moments like these which remind you that the plot seldom takes itself too seriously, but this sort of goofy levity is what gives the world and its characters their alluring edge.
Risky’s Revenge plays out like a typical Metroidvania, with you having a big, gated 2D map to explore which is dotted with upgrades, collectibles, and a handful of dungeons to navigate. Completing dungeons and other objectives will see Shantae receiving boosts to her health and attacks, along with a handful of animal transformations which grant her access to new areas. The monkey form, for example, gives her a stronger jump and lets her climb walls, while the mermaid allows for greater underwater movement.
Upgrades are doled out reasonably quickly, with you having the option to buy basically all but the animal transformations at a shop in town. Given the relative ease of dealing with enemies, however, the additional boons offered up by the shop can often feel a bit like overkill, stripping a great deal of difficulty from combat which isn’t all that challenging to begin with. Still, it’s tough to be disappointed with the variety of playstyles present in Risky’s Revenge, and WayForward did a good job of expanding on the gameplay it had established with the first Shantae.
Compared to that debut release, the level design has also received quite an upgrade, although this proves to be a double-edged sword. The world is more intricate than before and features plenty of curiosities to reward completionists, but its additional size is handicapped a bit by a weird map that doesn’t do much to help you with remembering points of interest for later. Worse yet, there isn’t a map at all when you go into any of the dungeons, which can lead to some moments of frustration if, say, you’re missing a key to a door and have no means of knowing where it could be or where you haven’t checked yet. It’s never too difficult to find the right way again, but such issues tend to take some of the enjoyment out of exploration.
For the most part, Risky’s Revenge is the game you remember from the DSi all those years back, but the Director’s Cut brings with it some welcome improvements to give this version that extra bit of value. For one thing, the fast travel system has received a much-needed fix, which makes it far easier to zip from one end of Sequin Land to the next with minimal hassle. There’s also a new ‘Magic Mode’ which acts as a sort of New Game Plus wherein Shantae has enhanced magical abilities, but takes more damage. Neither of these new additions are exactly game changers, but they do add some meaningful content to help round out some of the rougher edges of the original experience.
In terms of presentation, Risky’s Revenge is exactly the game you remember it being on DSi, which can be both a good and bad thing: good in that the sprite work and environmental design is legitimately excellent and rife with detail; bad in that it doesn’t scale well to modern HD displays. The default display with borders is fine, but it blows the image up so you can see every pixel in all its low-res glory. Stretching the image or displaying in the original resolution are both additional options, but neither proves to be worthwhile for extended play. The display issue couldn’t really be sidestepped without totally remaking the game’s visuals, so it’s tough to fault the developers for going down the route that they have, but just be aware that Risky’s Revenge is rather obviously a game made for a handheld in 2010.
As you may have gleaned from the review thus far, perhaps the greatest issue that Risky’s Revenge faces is that it hasn’t aged gracefully compared to its peers. It’s not that the core experience here has changed at all or grown worse, but the latter entries in the series—which are also available on Switch—further refined and improved upon most of the ideas that appeared here, which set the bar that much higher. Going back to this earlier release is still enjoyable, then, but the simpler and more rough-cut nature of the overall experience makes it more difficult to recommend over its brethren. The cheaper price certainly helps to offset this perceived imbalance in quality, but just be aware before taking the plunge that there are better Shantae games which you could also buy for your Switch.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut still holds up reasonably well, offering up a mid-length Metroidvania experience with plenty of charming dialogue, secrets to uncover, and enemies to furiously whip with long purple hair. That being said, it’s also beginning to show its age, with a weird map system and more simplistic gameplay keeping it somewhat held back in the past. It's still an easy recommendation if you’re a fan of Shantae or are looking for a cheap entry into the franchise, but we’d also recommend that you first look into one of the other entries on Switch to see which is most right for you.