More than giving the Shantae franchise new life after a considerable lull, it proved the quality of the formula that had been built nearly a decade earlier
Over eight years separate Shantae’s Gameboy Color debut from Risky’s Revenge, her Nintendo DS outing. To fans of the cult classic, who had to live a good portion of that period wondering whether the half-genie would ever get a second shot at stardom, the wait was positively painful; however, the title’s lengthy incubation period ended by bearing clear dividends. Thanks to a considerable technological leap and a pretty long interval during which WayForward had plenty of time to mull over the first game’s successes and failures, Risky’s Revenge comes out as a drastic improvement on a rough, yet alluring, gem.
After having her plan of dominating Sequin Land put on hold due to Shantae’s interference, the evil pirate Risky Boots hatches a new devilish scheme. Uncle Mimic, Scuttle Town’s relic hunter, unveils his latest discovery – an ordinary-looking stone – in front of the fishing village’s population. Upon hammering the rock to see what treasure might lie within, a golden lamp pops out; clearly affected by the sight of the object, Uncle Mimic tries to call off the demonstration – to the people’s disappointment – but is surprised by the arrival of Risky Boots, who blows the roof of his home open and steals the object away. Naturally, Shantae – despite being faced by her uncle’s unexplained resistance towards allowing her to go after the lamp – takes it upon herself to stop Risky.
Risky’s Revenge works a whole lot like its predecessor: it matches up combat-based platforming on its overworld, which is underlined by a Metroid-like non-linear progression; and dungeons filled with intricate design that offer a pleasant marriage of tight platforming with great puzzle solving. However, perhaps as a condition imposed by the size and budget constraints that surround the development of a DsiWare effort, Risky’s Revenge works within a smaller scope than the one explored by Shantae.
The overworld itself is much tighter: instead of featuring a sprawling conjunction of four towns spread across varied scenarios, the setting here is much more constrained, being centered around Scuttle Town and the areas that surround it. As a consequence of that narrow setup, Risky’s Revenge is far more streamlined, focused, and fluent, giving birth to an experience that is worthy of the slogan “all killer, no filler”, offering players a constant stream of gaming goodness during the six-to-eight hours it should take for one to clear the title with all of its collectibles.
In order to open the doors to each of the adventure’s three dungeons, the character will have to engage in wacky item-collecting tasks that will have her traveling back and forth between the locations that branch out from Scuttle Town: a maze-like forest, a desert that can only be traversed by exploring a relatively complex set of caves, a mermaid-ridden seaside area that is a gauntlet of tough enemies, and a tranquil bay home to some nerve-testing platforming.
The game’s charm steams from an incredible amount of sources. Firstly, there is the silly nature of the characters with whom Shantae will interact, such as a child-like zombie who is bent on eating her brain; and a minor villain who is a walking meme-creating machine. Secondly, there is the 16-bit aura that oozes out of the game with every passing second, a vibe that is solidly supported by great enemy-design, which works wonders towards the creation of engaging, simple, and challenging combats; a precise control scheme; and a good soundtrack that would be right at home on a Sega classic from the early 90s.
The highlights, though, are its dungeons. It is a little frustrating that, out of the three mazes present on Risky’s Revenge, one is a Battle Tower where – as the name obviously implies – the meticulous search for keys is replaced by a series of combats. Given the original game had a few fun mini-games, a feature that did not make the cut, said dungeon could have – instead – been used to replace them as a fun and challenging extra, or as yet another obstacle on the main quest, but not as a main dungeon. Yet, the two that remain are spectacular showcases of creativity and challenge.
The set of skills Shantae possesses to traverse those buildings, go around on the overworld, and unlock the game’s many secrets goes far beyond her signature hair-whip. Like it happened on the first game, she will – along the way – learn to transform into different creatures (three, in the case of Risky’s Revenge) that will allow her to gain access to new areas (some mandatory and some optional), hence creating a Metroid-like progression, one of the features that makes Shantae such a stand-out platforming series.
The scattered extras that can be progressively found thanks to the acquiring of those skills are a couple of heart holders, which give Shantae a much needed HP boost; Magic Jams, which allow her to purchase useful magical abilities on Scuttle Town’s item shop; and three relics that grant new powers to each of the transformations, which – in turn – allow the reaching of previously inaccessible items.
All that scouring for assets, not to mention the general exploration that takes place during the regular adventure, is greatly aided by a useful map – something that the series’ first game did not have. Although it is disappointing to see that dungeons still lack a mapping feature, not to mention the fact that underground passages of the desert area are not mapped, that system – along with abundant warp points – make progressing through the game a far more pleasant experience
When it is all said and done, Risky’s Revenge crushes all of its tiny flaws to deliver one of the most engaging and carefully crafted experiences on both the Nintendo DS and 3DS. It might not have the enormous size of most titles that rank among those systems’ finest, but it matches them with the care it displays – be it on its stunning layered visuals or fantastic level design – and the relentless torrent of untamed joy it produces. More than giving the Shantae franchise new life after an absence that often threatened to leave the series in limbo for good, it proved that – with improvements, optimizations, and tweaks – the concept that was built back in the early 2000s was good enough to compete against any of the current big guns.