Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut Switch Review
Developer: WayForward | Publisher: WayForward | Genre: Metroidvania | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows 10 | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut is proof that little games can do big things. First released on the DS in 2010, this second entry in the Shantae series solidified the reputation of WayForward’s mascot platformer by doubling down on its best aspects: memorable characters, quirky humor, colorful art, and tight action platforming. It’s a bite-sized adventure that clocks in at only a few hours from start to finish, but it packs this compact runtime with charm and action, making it just as fun today as it was a decade ago.
Risky’s Revenge opens in the bustling Scuttle Town, a small city protected by the half-genie guardian, Shantae. During a local festival, Shantae’s arch nemesis Risky Boots attacks and steals a mysterious lamp that holds a secret dark power. However, the only way to release this lamp’s power is to gather three magical seals which have been scattered across the world of Sequin Land. Naturally, this sends Shantae hurtling into a journey to gather all the seals before Risky can find them and wreak havoc on the world.
As with most Shantae games, the plot isn’t the main attraction; rather, the characters are the true stars of the show. Risky’s Revenge features the series’ signature cast of lovable characters: from the coffee-obsessed zombie Rottytops to the bumbling Squid Baron, there’s a lot to love about Shantae’s eclectic dramatis personae. These characters might not get as much time to shine in this release as they would in later Shantae games, but their off-color, sometimes fourth-wall-shattering dialogue remains a highlight of the overall experience.
Once you embark on your quest to find the three seals, you’ll have all of Sequin Land open for exploration. As a tried-and-true metroidvania, the only thing limiting your progress in Risky’s Revenge is your toolset of abilities – which is pretty limited at the outset. However, as you explore, you’ll acquire new powers in the form of animal transformations. By performing magical dances, Shantae can transform into three different creatures: a monkey, an elephant, and a mermaid. Each one of these forms offers unique powers that shake up the gameplay flow and enable you to reach new areas.
The same song and dance
Sequin Land isn’t the most sprawling map to explore, but it offers plenty of gameplay challenges to tackle and secrets to discover. Movement feels snappy and precise; its platforming hits the perfect level of challenge so that you always feel like you’re in total control even in the trickier sections, whether you’re playing in Shantae’s human or creature forms. Using your animal abilities to reach new sections of the overworld is always satisfying, and the gameplay loop boasts of further variety with a small handful of dungeons and challenge rooms filled with puzzles and combat trials.
Transforming does pose some annoyances, however. You have to hold down the “dance” button and release it during specific belly dances to turn into your desired creature; for example, if you want to become the elephant, you’ll need to dance until you reach the second dance and then release. Eventually the timing becomes natural, but it can be tedious to routinely grind gameplay to a halt to dance for a few seconds. At least the rest of the game freezes whenever you dance so you won’t have to worry about enemy attacks or environmental hazards interrupting you.
Making the most of a small world
Each area is visually and mechanically distinct from the next, complete with unique enemies, settings, and gameplay ideas. From the desert filled with sands monsters and archers, to the pumpkin fields teeming with sentient scarecrows, to the beaches covered in hostile mermaids, it’s a delight to see what every biome has to offer. Every section of the map poses new challenges as well and offers bountiful opportunities to experiment with your newfound capabilities, whether that’s main story progression or discovering secret items.
Risky’s Revenge certainly makes the most of its relatively small world. Unfortunately, this compact design brings in a few drawbacks of its own. Backtracking is par for the course in most metroidvanias, but Risky’s Revenge can sometimes push it too far. You’ll often have to wander through the same areas again and again, either in search of new paths or to complete arbitrary fetch quests. While there is a fast-travel system in place, it’s fairly limited and often still requires you to retread the same environments regardless. This isn’t a major complaint in the grand scheme of things, but the backtracking does put a damper on the otherwise thrilling action platforming and exploration.
All this backtracking might have been intended to pad out the game’s already-short runtime. I reached the end credits after about four hours of gameplay, and even that was with plenty of time spent aimlessly wandering through the world when I was stumped on a few puzzles. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll likely see Risky’s Revenge to its conclusion in only three hours or even less. It’s certainly the kind of game that leaves you wanting more, which isn’t a bad problem to have, but it’s unfortunate that it ends as soon as it feels like it really gets going. With only two full-length dungeons, it can seem as if Risky’s Revenge could have been so much more.
A magical performance
Of course, none of that changes the fact that what you do have here is an excellent little metroidvania. Its few hours of gameplay are packed with variety thanks to the three different transformations and a handful of minigames. The “Director’s Cut” release adds even more to the package, most significantly including a “Magic Mode” that halves your defense while boosting your magic power, encouraging a second visit to Sequin Land.
The jump to new platforms from the original DS release also means that Shantae’s sumptuous art direction looks better than ever before in HD. Risky’s Revenge boasts of lush pixel graphics and vibrant animations that are all a joy to behold. As Shantae waves her arms after coming to a sudden halt, or as bat enemies with sweet faces reveal bloodthirsty jaws when attacking, even the smallest sprites and animations convey plentiful personality. Jake Kaufman’s musical score perfectly complements the visuals, with a mix of upbeat earworm-y songs and atmospheric backing tracks that make every area a treat to experience.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut is just as magical today as it was when its original version first released a decade ago. It might be over too soon, but ultimately, that’s only a problem because the gameplay it does offer is so gripping. Whether you’re playing it on Switch, Xbox One, or Windows, it’s a brilliant bite-sized addition to those platforms’ metroidvania libraries. From series veterans to Shantae newcomers, Risky’s Revenge is a dance that’s sure to please all audiences.