There’s a reason we keep genies in lamps, not the kitchen sink.
As the prophecy said, on their 25th year, WayForward has done the unspeakable: they have started porting all their games. I jest, but it’s true. WayForward is celebrating 25 years in the game-making business, and has begun putting out special edition versions of some of their well-loved games to whole new platforms. They recently released a completely HD version of the 3DS’ Mighty Switch Force on Wii U, and now have gone one generation farther back into their beloved history with Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut. This game is unique in being a DsiWare classic (seriously, what else did anyone even download on that thing), but how does it translate to home console? Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut is still every bit the game its original version was, but may still be best experienced on a handheld.
Risky’s Revenge is one of those games best described as a “Metroidvania,” taking the signature elements from classic series like Castlevania and Metroid that made those games so beloved, and using them to their fullest. This means that Shantae’s home of Sequin Land is designed for exploration and re-exploration, opening up with new paths and secrets as the titular genie gains new powers. From the deep forests to the suspiciously vast pumpkin patch and even larger desert beyond, every area of Sequin Land has secrets to be uncovered.
Shantae’s range of powers comes from some charming and unique origins. Shantae is half-genie and half-human, and stands as the magical line of defense against any evil forces that might threaten her home. Reminding us that Risky’s Revenge is a sequel, the game opens with the nefarious pirate Risky Boots attacking Shantae’s home of Scuttle Town, clashing with the genie herself and taking off in a giant cartoon pirate ship. Returning from the original Shantae on Game Boy, Risky has an all-new set of plans to wreak havoc across the land. Shantae learns that her old adversary is rushing to collect a trio of ancient items scattered across the land, and so it is up to the genie herself to beat this scallywag of the seven seas to it.
Shantae is more than a pretty face and a magical hip swing. The bellydancing half-genie fights using her hair as a weapon, whipping it with the full force of that one Willow Smith song to deliver devastation to every scarecrow, snake-woman, jelly…thing, or other foe in her way. Shantae’s foes range from the easily-murderable to the more well-defended or agile, but none are too far beyond demise at the hairs of her violet ponytail of death. Shantae also gets access to a variety of magic powers, including fireballs, lightning, and (my personal favorite) an iron orbitar that circles her in loops of varying sizes, whacking indiscriminately into any and all foes who stand in her way. Every spell can be upgraded, by way of special items found in secret chests, acting as a secondary currency.
Shantae’s repertoire is filled out to its fullest by a series of magical, form-altering transformations. These powers, each obtained in one of the game’s dungeons, give Shantae new abilities that fulfill the game’s previously-mentioned Metroidvania roots. Shantae can become a monkey, leaping up walls and across huge gaps with ease; she can be an elephant, with great charging power that can break rocks; or she can become a mermaid, able to dive down into the depths of the sea with the ease of an athlete going for a morning jog. Each of these powers adds a new element to the way Shantae interacts with her world, and while none of their applications are far outside what one would expect – which is to say that their mechanical uses can be rather predictable – all of them work well and add more to what the world has to offer.
Level design in portable games is something that should sometimes be recognized as fundamentally different than that of console experiences, and Risky’s Revenge has a couple moments where this fact shines through very distinctly. The game’s overworld is fun, assembled of multi-layered side-scrolling environments that all feel sizable and challenging enough to be worthwhile. Some of the dungeons are fine as they are, well-designed to be fun before and after unlocking whatever power will be key to victory. A couple times, though, the game shows the flaw of its portable roots with an area that would be fine to give a shot while taking a bus ride home, but which loses a lot when the prospect of sitting on the couch and trying it over and over comes to pass. Having to restart a 15-minute speedrun dungeon over and over is an easy way to make continuing forward less of a prospect, especially on a console. It’s an incidental deterrent effect that might make this version of the game less appealing to some players.
WayForward has become a prominent name in beautiful pixel art in recent years, and Risky’s Revenge is something of a progenitor for every other visual beauty the studio has since produced. The pixel art of Risky’s Revenge is on full display in the director’s cut, a fact which may be slightly disappointing to those familiar with their equally-fabulous HD work in Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition. However, it’s hard to take too much issue when the pixel art on display, years old as it is, is still some of the most beautiful spriteowrk in town, and pops with color and charm on Playstation 4 just as well as it ever did on the DSi. The one place where the art team did step in with some new visuals is in the waist-up talksprites representing each character during dialogue. These are well-drawn and look good in HD, but seeing them against untouched DS-era background visuals is actually a little jarring.
All in all, this revival-of-a-revival is every bit the game it was, but may have chosen poorly in its new home. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut is still a wickedly fun time for any Metroidvania fan with an itch to scratch, and for the most part the game does fine on Playstation 4. However, certain areas seem designed for much shorter spans of play time than a console would typically invite, and some visual presentation choices in terms of what got a visual upgrade creates an overall jarring visual effect at times. That said, the core gameplay is fun, complex, and evolving at all the right points. I give it 4 scantily-clad signature WayForward character designs out of 5!
Final verdict: 4/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: WayForward; Developer: WayForward; Players: 1; Released: June 23rd, 2015; ESRB: E 10+; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut on Playstation 4, provided by the game’s publisher, WayForward.