The time is right for ranking the Shantae games since I finally received my epic physical order from Limited Run! I’m more of a recent convert to the series, but have loved catching up on all the games the past few months. If you’re unfamiliar, the Shantae titles are generally some hybrid of platformer and Metroidvania elements, full of beautiful graphics, snappy controls, fun characters, and a fourth wall-breaking sense of humor. One of the best things about the series is how it never takes itself too seriously. Especially the eponymous half-genie herself! I truly love Shantae’s kindness, humor, and lighthearted approach to life-she always makes me smile.
Now that I’ve finished the remaining games I hadn’t played, I want to talk about my favorites so you can jump into the series too (every one of them is on Switch-no excuses!). As per usual, this is just my opinion. There are only five games in the Shantae series, each pretty beloved by fans-this is simply how they resonated with me! Alright, let’s get into ranking the Shantae games.
5. Shantae (2002)
The first game in the series was also the first I played, but way, way after it released! I downloaded it on my 3DS on sale a few years ago, after hearing how overlooked it was as a late-Game Boy Color era title. There are a lot of impressive things about the original Shantae! The amount that Wayforward pushed the Game Boy Color hardware was pretty astounding-the sprite graphics are gorgeous, the world is huge and detailed, and the transformations are all a blast to use. The game really laid the foundation for a lot of what makes Shantae amazing.
But the gameplay itself can be a bit rough. Movement is very slow and combat is a little clunkier compared to later entries. There’s not a great fast travel system (it’s really only unlocked towards the end, and only in dungeons). And with the screen size being so limited, it’s very tough to see upcoming obstacles and enemies! Couple that with a traditional “lives” system and instant death pits, and the game can be frustrating. Plus, there’s little in the way of a hint system or direction to where to go. Influential and impressive for the time? Sure. But in terms of fun factor today, it’s not as stellar as the other Shantae games. If you’re new to the series, you can probably skip this one. It’s more of a historical curiosity for die-hard fans!
4. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (2010)
This was the final Shantae game I finished! (I played them in a wacky order). Completing the Director’s Cut on Switch, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this decade old DSi original. Like the first game, it does show some age and outdated mechanics. The world map system is wonky and not really to scale, progression can be a little obtuse, and there are no maps at all in dungeons (that’s particularly tough for Hypno Baron’s tricky labryinth). But the game is still so fun, and that’s what counts!
The graphics have a lot of charm, even played on modern hardware. There are really only three labyrinths, but I found them all satisfying to conquer. Likewise, we’ve only got three animal transformations but they’re all put to excellent use in a variety of clever situations! Exploring underwater caverns as the mermaid was particular enjoyable (and beautiful). The “Barons” all make their first appearance here. Squid Baron is as hilarious and awesome as he is in future entries, and kept me smiling. Shantae herself is bursting with personality, as are all her friends. Risky’s Revenge is the shortest of the series (it only took me about 4 hours to complete, with roughly 70% of the items), a bit dated in some areas, but charms overall and is worth checking out for the price!
3. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (2016)
I played this game after Pirate’s Curse and Seven Sirens, and was surprised at how different some of the gameplay is! Gone is the map system, dungeons, and much of the Metroidvania spirit, eschewed in favor of more isolated platforming-centric levels. But the game holds its own! Shantae and the lovely supporting cast all shine, and the animal transformations are creative and a blast to use (albeit sometimes underutilized since they’re so numerous). There are several quality of life updates that make the game more accessible to newer players, like improved inventory management and a better hint system. Being the first designated main console release, the graphics are stunning and really pop off the screen. Each individual character’s idle animations are simply hypnotizing. The bosses are all pretty epic and entertaining, too!
There are a few things I wasn’t a fan of. You’re both encouraged (and required) to revisit areas multiple times, but the level design of each isn’t so strong that I was super thrilled to do so. And you can’t move backwards a screen once you go to the next! The “Ultimate Edition” has some additional modes where you can play as other characters or Shantae with new moves, but they all take place in the same levels as the main game. Seeing as the design there didn’t blow me away, the extra modes ended up being little more than briefly entertaining diversions to me. Overall, Half-Genie Hero is a very fun title with welcome modern conveniences, but just a bit underwhelming compared to my two favorite entries!
2. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (2014)
Generally the fan favorite when ranking the Shantae games! This was the second game I completed. Seeing Pirate’s Curse on sale on the Switch eShop and hearing all the acclaim is what led me try it out, even though I was a bit lukewarm on the original game. And my goodness, I got addicted fast! Shantae starts the game sans genie abilities and is forced to make do with magical pirate equipment, acquired while reluctantly teaming up with Risky Boots. It’s a great setup. While it may seem odd that Shantae can’t dance and transform at all, I ended really up enjoying the new mechanics. Each button is mapped to pirate relic ability, like a cannon double jump, a pistol to attack long distance, or sail cloth that lets you descent slowly. That made everything feel faster and more kinetic!
The map system and Metroidvania-elements are in delightful full swing here, even though the world is split into individual islands you traverse between. All of the side characters, including the villains, really came into their own in this entry and are peak charming. And I mean, who doesn’t love pirates?? (the pirate-themed atmosphere is one my favorite things about Donkey Kong Country 2, my all time personal best platformer). On the whole, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is very enjoyable, lengthy, challenging, and satisfying. This is a great starting place for newcomers to the series, and I highly recommend it to any Metroidvania fan out there!
1. Shantae and the Seven Sirens (2019)
I love Shantae and the Seven Sirens. LOVE IT. It’s honestly one of my favorite Metroidvania games, because it does everything right, and more importantly, so joyfully. It’s impossible not to be charmed playing this most recent Shantae entry. Booting up the game, you’re greeted by a gorgeous animated cutscene with a fun and whimsical song accompanying it! (side note: can we get a Shantae animated series? Get on this, Netflix!).
The new setting of the game is welcome and refreshing, and every character looks and is written better than ever. All of the new half-genies are a lot of fun, even if you only spend a limited time with them. The world map is back, and everything is beautifully interconnected rather than segmented, making Paradise Island really come alive and feel authentic. I had a blast exploring the entirety of the island, and it even had some deep lore!
Down to the smallest detail
Dungeons are back too, and they’re both numerous and tough. Bosses are ton of fun to battle-each fight is a unique challenge you to put the power learned in the labyrinth to the test. Speaking of which, animal transformations are still here, but executed with a single button press rather than a dance! I really appreciated the efficiency of it for platforming (don’t worry, Shantae can also dance, but to trigger other abilities). Plus, there’s a mechanic where vanquished enemies give you cards that when collected, grant new power-ups you can equip! It’s a similar system to Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. It works beautifully, and allows for a lot of customization.
One could argue the game is “too easy”, but there are options in your gameplay to make it harder. I generally a prefer a “welcoming to everyone” approach with optional challenge, and Seven Sirens certainly embodies that. All in all, it’s an utterly delightful experience from start to finish. Seven Sirens is my favorite Shantae game-I hope we get a sequel with a similar spirit!
Are you a Shantae fan? How would you go about ranking the Shantae games? Or what’s your favorite of the current five? Let me know in the comments below!