Dance through the animeMy favorite genre in gaming has been and continues to be the Metroidvania. And Shantae and the Seven Sirens reminds me why.

It’s because the whole damn thing tricks my brain.

When Shantae was first released in 2002, it was a full-on Metroidvania (albeit more in the vein of Simon’s Quest than Alucard’s), this tradition continued into the immediate sequel, but by the time we hit Shantae’s third adventure, more of a level structure had emerged. This was a series that always had “dungeons”, but both Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero had very clearly selectable areas, and a map that absolutely requires pausing to select your next location. While backtracking and revisiting old areas with new abilities has always been part of the series’ DNA, both of those Shantae quests relied on a divided world. 2019’s Shantae and the Seven Sirens is thus a return to form, as the whole adventure takes place on one continuous map. There are teleporters for fast travel, and separate “dungeons” with their own unique challenges/maps, but this is a metroidvania in the grand Zebes tradition. If you want to see how long it takes you to manually walk from the northern tip of the sky to the southern bottom of the island, have at it! Make sure you count your steps!

Early in the gameAnd, if you were explaining this to someone that never played a metroidvania before (hi, Mom!), you might have a difficult time delineating the difference. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse has you selecting your multiple islands from an area select screen not unlike Mega Man X. And, since X is a game where you return to previous areas with new abilities to earn powerups, does that make Mega Man X a metroidvania? No, of course not! That would be silly! See, the difference is that in Shantae you talk to a guy with one eye about his magical sword, and in MMX, you talk to a guy with a magical sword who has two eyes. Totally different genre! But… no… there is still a feeling of exploration in a Shantae that is more metroidvania light. Uh… I guess we could see the various disconnected maps of “those” Shantae games as mini metroidvanias in their own right, right? Like playing Ultimate Nintendo Remix as opposed to the real games? Does that comparison track?

Bah! Let’s talk about what really makes a true metroidvania: it never stops.

Let us consider the grandmommy of the genre: Super Metroid. Super Metroid starts on a space station, spends a solid ten minutes there, and then drops protagonist Samus Aran off at the planet Zebes. After Samus lands, there is never a flake of spoken dialogue. Assuming you never pause, the only words that appear on the screen are notifications of item acquisition or that your save has completed. Bosses do not speak, and any blockades to advancing are tied to ability powerups (and one sentient statue). If you know where to go and who to hunt, you can conquer Super Metroid without ever stopping for any reason. The number one reason Samus might linger is waiting a whole three seconds for some acid-lava to rescind. Other than that, it is second morph ball to the right, and straight on ‘til Mother Brain (explodes).

I recognize this gameplayShantae and the Seven Sirens is not quite that uninterrupted. Shantae has always been a chatty cathy, and “for the personality” is and has always been a valid reason to enjoy her adventures. There are also moments when there are straight up events that require a little bit of a detour, and these trials are similarly a valid sacrifice on the altar of being a memorable experience (Super Metroid is great, but I have always said it would be better if Samus was transformed into an action figure thanks to an otaku squid). But once you get through a fetch quest for a ghost dog or doomed submarine trip (hey, that hits different after 2023), you will find that this is all one interconnected world, and your latest dance or transformation will allow you to speed past obstacles that previously required a story break to bypass. Once all the event flags across the island have been raised, you are 100% free to run as fast as you can across this world to obtain 100% map completion. Just like Super Metroid (assuming you don’t use that damned final save point).

What’s more, the designers of Shantae and the Seven Sirens completely understood how the momentum of constantly advancing was important. Shantae’s signature transformations do not require stopping to dance, and you can instantly become a newt or octopus with the press of a button. Once you have performed your aquatic tasks as a transformed frog, you instantly morph back into the land-based and capable Shantae. Similarly, the “dances” require a minor pitstop in the Shantae perpetual motion machine, but they are usually required at the start or end of a room when you are likely surveying the area anyway. You are pausing, but you were likely going to take a moment to observe your latest challenge anyway. And even the teleporter rooms, the old standby that would often halt a run through Dracula’s Castle dead as you tried to determine where you were going, are more motion-based than ever. All of the teleportation stations are plainly location labeled, and jumping onto a pressure plate feels a lot more locomotive than cycling through different coffins. Shantae is constantly in motion, whether it be because it is time to fly (ink) through the air, or simply because exchanging dolls requires a lot of cardio.

And damn does that feel good on my brain.

Slice and diceLook, I know I’ve got brain problems. It is clearly genetic, and someone really should have put me on medication at five when they realized my mother was only emotionally capable of opening her mail once every six months. It is a wholly accurate statement to note that I have the darndest time starting and completing projects, and, in many cases, these projects may be defined as “something that takes five seconds” or “typing up an entire sentence as an email”. You could even make the case that this entire website is my brain desperately attempting to escape anything remotely considered responsibility, and instead release serotonin by focusing on producing a thousand words marginally related to Mii Brawler. I have attention span issues! I gave up on completing the paragraph like ten

But a game that never stops? Holy cow is that my holy grail (or… cow again?). There is a significant chunk of my brain that resists and wants to quit after every game’s chapter break or cutscene. Final Fantasy 16 has delineated time skips and story segments? Great! Sounds wonderful! I will beat that game by 2067. But a metroidvania like Shantae and the Seven Sirens? A game that cherishes how it never stops? With level design that is always presenting a new place to explore and master? Where its dungeons continually finish inches from just one more place where you can utilize your freshly found skills? I completed SatSS in two play sessions, and it probably would have been one continuous run if my frail human body could have survived that long without sleep. I will dance through the danger forever just so long as Shantae hides a heart squid behind an unusual block.

PointyShantae and the Seven Sirens draws a circle around why I have always liked metroidvania titles: they keep me going. With a general lack of pitstops, I make progress in metroidvanias effortlessly, and my diseased brain hungrily devours any new content. There are no breaks, and I barrel forward without thinking about how much I inexplicably want to do something else.

Thank you for tricking my brain, metroidvania genre. Being able to enjoy things is… enjoyable.

SBC #21 Mii Brawler & Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Shantae Mii Brawler in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Dance through the brain

  • They any Good? For a game all about hitting, you would expect Mii Brawler to be a little better at it. I want someone with “Brawler” in their name to be as strong as Ganondorf! Alas, they are just generally alright, and the “up close and personal” Mii fighter is at least worth a round or two. Oh, and that lightning punch skill is marginally reminiscent of Shantae’s hair attack. Hooray?
  • That final smash work? Isn’t Omega Blitz just Zoroark’s pokéball attack? It feels beefy enough for a brawler, but zero points for originality.
  • The background work? We are going to assign Wuhu Island to Mii Brawler, because Wii Sports Resort is Mii-heavy, and Shantae always seems to wind up on islands. Anywho, switching planes is a pain, and it is otherwise a remarkably boring stage layout. Cannot recommend unless you really want to see Mario punch Link in a more tropical environment. Also, is it weird that Street Fighter 5 has this exact same stage?
  • Classic Mode: I don’t know who the Mii Fighters pissed off, but Mii Brawler and their buddies do not get a Classic Mode. Sorry!
  • Smash Trivia: Mii Brawler and their infinite adaptability naturally lends themselves to appearing often on the Spirit Boards, with the most appearances of any fighter at 14 total boards (with DLC). So somebody likes these dudes and ladies!
  • This doesn't look like shantae

  • Amiibo Corner: I appreciate that we got amiibos of every last Smash Bros. character, but the basic miis are very… basic. He… has a belt? And prominent, yellow gloves? And mii “eyes”. Not much to write home about.
  • Does the character work to represent this game? Hey, we got a song with this costume, so that is something. Shantae and her pirate rival were spirits in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate right from the start, but it is a shame we never got a “real” Shantae fighter. Her moveset writes itself! And involves monkeys!

Shantae in Shantae and the Seven Sirens

  • Yay heartsSystem: Originally an Apple Arcade exclusive, Shantae danced over to the Switch, Playstation 4/5, Xbox One, and Microsoft computers. The original-original release for Apple Arcade was actually two parts, and that would have driven me insane.
  • Number of players: I would be cool with a multiplayer Shantae title that included all her friends. But a single player experience like this is good, too.
  • Favorite Dance: The Refresh Dance will restore health and can “heal” the undead into oblivion. I am pretty sure I used that move every other room once it was available. What? I get hit a lot! I am a very clumsy guy.
  • Favorite Transformation: Instantly transforming into an air-dashing newt that can climb walls like some kind of DaNasty pirate is the bee’s knees. The transformations across all of Seven Sirens are fun and versatile, but sometimes the first you find is the best.
  • Gotta Catch ‘em All: Every single enemy can drop a collectible card, and boss cards are available for trading with random townsfolk. Every one of these cards offers some sort of buff, so collecting isn’t just for appeasing your obsessive-compulsive disorder, it also serves a gameplay purpose. And, while each of these cards are fun to look at, it does make this player a little skeeved being reminded of the saga of Shantae Steam Cards…
  • Mole mania!An End: Once again, the Shantae series saves its big “final boss reveal” for the final moments, so the dramatic, scary finale is slightly undercut by head scratching and wondering why this siren was worth all the trouble. Yes, she was trying to eat you and your magical legacy, but she is basically a sentient slug-vampire, right? Whatever! What’s important is that the final stage is an excellent test of all of your Shantae abilities, and I swear Shantae games are designed exclusively to feed into a complex concluding dungeon.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: The dance parlor minigame is not worth it on any conceivable level.
  • Did you know? Anytime Shantae is drilling/digging around the sand, you wind up with a setup that is strangely reminiscent of Super Mario Bros 2. Unfortunately, at no point in those sequences do you ever pick up a key, so we cannot say for certain if Shantae is (reasonably) afraid of flying masks.
  • Would I play again: My brain is sufficiently tickled for the moment, but, much like Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, I am extremely likely to play this again. Particularly if it goes on sale on another system…

What’s next? Ken is going to launch a flaming dragon punch onto the scene, and show that he is better than Ryu once and for all. Please look forward to it!

TUBES!

One thought on “SBC #21 Mii Brawler & Shantae and the Seven Sirens”
  1. If you like final dungeons where you have to skillfully use all your abilities to progress, then boy do I have a Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for you.

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