Version tested DS
If Treasure and Intelligent Systems – and lately, Visceral Games – seem the most appropriately-named developers, WayForward is perhaps the least suitable moniker, given the studio's output. The Californian team specialises in looking back to the 16-bit era for inspiration, with the likes of Contra 4 and the adorable recent Boy and his Blob remake applying a contemporary polish to determinedly old-school mechanics.
Shantae continues in a similar vein, though rather than a remake, it's a follow-up to an under-appreciated Game Boy Color title from 2002. Like the original, Risky's Revenge is a platform adventure of the 'Metroidvania' ilk, blending running and jumping with exploration and a world that gradually opens up the more powers you accrue.
The protagonist is a half-genie, tasked with saving Sequin Land from the brilliantly-named pirate Risky Boots. The world is predominantly populated by female characters, which would be refreshing were they not all dressed in outfits designed to show off both midriff and cleavage. At times you wonder if Risqué's Revenge might be a more apt title. Don't expect double-entendres from the script, though – the dialogue is sometimes silly but it's reasonably sweet, even if most of the gags fail to raise a chuckle.
To begin with, Shantae's only weapon is her hair, which she uses to whip enemies in a manner suggesting a familiarity with the Belmont clan. Indeed, Shantae shares Castlevania's love for enemies which don't just dissolve with a single hit, as well as the Konami franchise's predilection for irritating flying creatures that always seem to be at just the wrong height or distance for you to hit easily.
The gems you'll collect from destroying the denizens of Sequin Land can be spent on power-ups in the Scuttle Town shop, the two most useful being a fireball attack and a metal spiked ball which swirls around Shantae, delivering damage to any enemy stupid enough to step too close. The third option is a slightly capricious cloud which shoots out bolts of lightning at random. All three can be upgraded twice, though you'll need to collect the magical jam pots secreted in the deepest and darkest corners of the game world. You can also trade jewels for health vials or potions to fill your magic meter.
As you progress, you'll gain the ability to temporarily transform into three different creatures: a monkey, an elephant and a mermaid, each of which has two unique abilities to help unlock new areas. No prizes for guessing which one can leap across large gaps, which can smash through boulders and stone golems and which lures sailors to a grisly demise (and can swim through watery areas, obviously).
In theory, this should encourage backtracking through locations you've previously visited in order to pick up items you couldn't reach or pass through doors that were locked. I would have felt more inclined to do so were it not for the fact I'd already traipsed through areas on two or three occasions before being called upon to do it once more. WayForward frequently sends you from one corner of the map to the other on simple fetch quests and back again, and with enemies respawning every time you pass from one area to the next, finding new secrets is much more of a chore than it should be.