Metroidvanias are great. Their worlds are full of mystery – and items that are knowingly out of reach in the early game, ready to be collected once you’ve discovered the relevant ability. From Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to Super Metroid (and many others in both series since), these games usually offer a huge amount of content for your money. Back in 2010 WayForward released Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, the second game in the Shantae series, on the DSi’s digital store. As part of the developer’s 25th anniversary, WayForward re-released Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut on WiiU, with slightly improved visuals for the move to HD and an entirely new game mode unlocked upon completing the game.
Shantae’s nemesis, a pirate girl by the name of Risky Boots, steals a magic lamp and embarks on a quest to find three Magic Seals in order to take her revenge on Shantae and her home town. It’s left to our half-genie heroine to beat Risky to each seal and foil her plan. It’s a simple plot that never really matters too much, only serving to point the player in the direction of their next task.
But therein lies the game’s biggest failing: it never actually directs you anywhere. This would be fine if it had the subtle, clever level design of the Metroid games, but its world is a confusing mess of multi-layered levels, complete with a map that offers very little in the way of help. In fact, the map does not even cover dungeons, which all too often leave you scurrying about trying to find the next door or item needed to progress, with no signposting whatsoever to aid you. In a game so reliant on knowing your surroundings, its levels almost seem designed to confuse and frustrate.
The design issues don’t stop there either. Save points are too sparse and the game offers no autosave capabilities, meaning that long trips are often needed just to save your game before quitting. Considering this was originally a handheld game, that’s an enormous oversight that goes entirely against the short burst nature of mobile gaming. There are teleport devices to unlock throughout the world at least, though strangely none of them go directly to the game’s hub town, again leaving you with more needless travelling that could have been avoided with a bit more thought on the developer’s part. It’s a minor issue but with so much backtracking leading through the town, it just feels like WayForward was trying to stretch out the game time. There are more examples of this kind of padding in Risky’s Revenge, most notably the mandatory challenge tower that tasks you with beating a dungeon within the set time limit, and also a collect-a-thon in the final third that is one of the most blatant attempts to add longevity to an otherwise short game.
The gameplay is fairly standard 2D platforming, but it’s very fun nonetheless. Combat comes in the form of hair whips and unlockable magic attacks, and is mostly enjoyable, but some of the enemies like to attack before they’re even visible which is one of the cheapest forms of difficulty that a game can employ. Luckily it only happens in a couple of areas, so the rest of the game is relatively frustration free. Platforming is nicely weighted, though it sometimes feels somewhat imprecise, leading to a few falls here and there that are totally out of your hands.
Visually the game looks great. Its pixel art is wonderfully vibrant and brings the characters and environments to life beautifully. Shantae herself obviously has had the most detail lavished upon her design, from the fluid animation to the various forms she can take as you progress through the game. It may not look especially great on a decent sized TV due to its original handheld status, but it does come with a few options to counter this. It is also playable in its entirety on the WiiU’s Gamepad screen, which is easily the best option and it feels a little more natural too. There’s a nice amount of humour that accompanies the colourful design, something for which the series is known, especially in its latest release, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Having played that first however, it did make Risky’s Revenge’s flaws all the more prominent as a result.
The almost total lack of direction in a game filled with backtracking and extended travel, is ultimately the game’s downfall. What should be a genuinely fun platform adventure is turned into a slog, even in a game that can be finished in under five hours on the first playthrough, all thanks to some hideously obvious padding and some questionable design decisions. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut (that’s a mouthful) is a reasonably fun game, but quite how its flaws remained unfixed in this updated version is a mystery.
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