Shantae: Risky's Revenge
(Director's Cut. Man, those cinema-like title additions are annoying!)
Shantae, the charming half genie, is a victim of pure bad luck. The first entry in the series was released in 2002, and despite being probably one of the best games -if not THE best game- for Gameboy Color, appearing a whole year after the commercialization of the Gameboy Advance did nothing good for its sales. The few connoisseurs knowing about its existence valued the product as it should, making it a valuable collector object of interest -as it is proven by the insane cost of the last few physical copies available.
Risky's Revenge suffered a similar fate: originally released only on the “DSiware” store, the game was critically acclaimed as the best downloadable title Nintendo had to offer, yet due to the complete lack of popularity of the service (after all, it was restricted to a sub-type of a console nearing its final days, and Nintendo isn't praised for its online store management) it has once again been relegated to the shadows.
With the PC release, Shantae can finally have the recognition she deserves.
In Risky's revenge, after the burning defeat of the first episode the lady-pirate captain is back raiding the coasts of Sequin Land. This time, she stole a magic lamp that, according to Shantae's uncle, can bring no good -especially in pirate hands. The half-genie then decides that, for the security of the town, she should gather the magic seals needed to activate the lamp before Risky does, with a bit of aid from the cast of weird and funny characters. The plot is very light-hearted and doesn't take itself too seriously, a welcome change of pace in a genre that lately does the exact opposite without succeeding very often (I may name Valdis Story as exception, but I wouldn't be able to find a second one).
Following the standard Metroidvania scheme, the action platoformer will have you move trough different areas progressively unlockable when you receive new powers. In Shantae's case, she can learn new magic dances allowing her to change shape in a monkey, an elephant or a mermaid;in addition to that, she can also use three kind of magic (fire, spikeball and lightning). Each of those powers is upgradable and has its uses both in combat and in exploration (for example, the monkey can climb walls and a fireball can ignite vines blocking the path).
Though all those mechanics are fairly standard, Shantae manages to stand out form other similar games for the quality WayForward put in all the aspects of the development: not only a good level design, but also excellent artworks, an awesome soundtrack composed by Jake Kaufman and some of the very best pixel art you could find for such a low-definition console -I'd even dare to say that, given the same amount of pixels, Shantae: Risky's Revenge could rival the best Lucas Arts looks, and this is certainly something.
For what concerns the difficulty, I must say the game is as “casual” as one can be, being quite easy and extremely forgiving. You can even purchase up to nine health potions, so losing is almost not an option; still, it manages to remain fun even for an hardcore-bordering-to-masochist gamer like me. It is the ideal game for when you want to relax a bit while keep on staying active.
The game plays, sounds and look wonderfully, yet there is a big downside: it is extremely brief, no more than six hours if you manage to gather every possible secret item. Considering the original version was a DSi downloadable content I can blame no one for this, yet when such a good game ends so fast a little bit of bitter taste remains.
I hope to see Shantae and the Pirate's Curse here, soon, along with as many WayForward titles as possible!