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All 3DS Reviews (DS, DSi)

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (DSiWare)

Amazing. Incredible. Virtually perfect.

Have I said enough?  Review complete?

What–you want me to elaborate?

Like everyone else, I’d heard a lot about the downloadable sequel to Shantae (Game Boy Color). Given that my trusty FAT DS endured 6 years of extremely heavy use without a single problem, I never made the leap to DS Lite, and therefore couldn’t take advantage of the DSiWare service.  Considering how many excellent cartridge-based games continued to arrive on DS, I never felt like I was missing much.

Then I played Shantae: Risky’s Revenge.

S:RR is a true platform adventure gem in the ‘metroidvania’ style, and, quite honestly, lives up to everything I’d been expecting. As a proud owner of a shiny new (black) 3DS, this title was among my first eShop downloads. Though the cost is relatively high for a downloadable title, after only 2 hours of playtime, I can say that Risky’s Revenge is worth the investment.

Humorous, polished, and truly retro in both subtle and obvious ways, S:RR delivers everything that an experienced player wants from a classic platforming title. The graphics are colorful and vivid, the action and controls are straightforward, and the story doesn’t get bogged down in boring narrative trivialities. There is plenty of outlandish, LOL-inspiring dialog within the first few minutes (the female villain comands her male underlings to lift her up, and advises them to ‘Put Your Back Into It’), and the story is witty and compelling without becoming annoying or self-important.  I was hooked by this game within moments of first power-on.

At the start of her quest, Shantae has only an exceptional jumping ability (an absolute must-have for any self-respecting platform protagonist) and a deadly purple ponytail (used for whipping enemies and treasure chests alike).  Using one’s hair as a weapon might sound too girly for a macho male gamer, but Shantae never comes off as anything other than a complete ass-kicking action hero, ponytail or not.  Her ‘hair attack’ feels satisfying and delivers that rewarding “smack” effect..strangely reminiscent of the whip  in the DS Castlevania adventures.

Defeating enemies earns jewels which are used to buy secondary attack items.  In a rewarding twist (or perhaps because download games are much shorter than cartridge titles) the game doesn’t require the player to grind through hours of play before powerups are available (I had 3 new weapons in my arsenal after only 90 minutes).  An excellent variety of items are available right at the get-go, and it is refreshing to be able to choose the order and type of upgrades, rather than following a predetermined schedule (ala Metroid, Zelda, etc).

I came to S:RR with little knowledge of the game or it’s predecessor (other than vague impressions of rave reviews).  It was an excellent surprise when, an hour into the game, I discovered yet another of the game’s most important features.  Shantae’s most distinctive skill is to shapeshift into different creatures.  Her first avatar is (spoiler alert): a tiny purple monkey who can scale walls, move slightly faster, and jump a little bit higher than the humanoid Shantae.  But to complicate things, the monkey has no attack skills, so the player must either dodge enemy attacks or make quick shifts back into your more powerful human form.  As soon as you’ve acquired the monkey dance, observant players will immediately begin to notice new types of obstacles that imply future skill-sets (for example, the sudden presence of giant chasms makes me wonder if I’ll eventually learn to perform ceiling grabs or short flights).  Playing as the monkey is both useful and entertaining, and switching between Shantae-human and Shante-monkey is as easy as the press of a button.  The shapeshifting game mechanic really lends an entertaining spin to an already well-crafted platform adventure, and keeps the player interested to see what other surprises lay ahead.

The music is worth special recognition (and a paragraph all its own).  Unlike far too many DS titles, the music is catchy, well composed, and perfectly reflects the areas and ethos of the game itself.  Given that Shantae herself is a genie, the game is framed in a Persian motif with complementary music.  The tracks change frequently (avoiding the biggest problem with game music–death through repetition) and are among the best soundtracks I’ve heard in quite a while.  Since playing this Shantae sequel, I’ve visited the composer’s personal website, and was equally blown away by his tracks for the original GBC Shantae.  Check them out here:  Jake Kaufman

I’ll add a bit more commentary when I’ve finished the game, but my final thoughts for now would be that platformers of such clever excellence only come along once in a while.  It is neither new or surprising that phenomenal games get shamefully overlooked, especially if they lack a famous mascot or movie tie-in (Henry Hatsworth for DS comes immediately to mind), but I’d propose that serious gamers owe it to themselves, much less the industry, to be on constant watch for games as good as this one.  Fortunately, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge seems to have captured a lot of fans, including me.

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