Ranking the Shantae games

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.

All five Shantae game cases for Switch, with Shantae Limited Run trading cards for Shantae and Risky's Revenge
I’m a little obsessed with the Shantae trading cards.

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.

Shantae Game Boy Color Limited Run re-release box, manual, cart, and trading cards
I’m so happy Limited Run did a re-release of the GBC cart. Prices for the original are insane on eBay!

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!

Shantae Game Boy Color screenshot from game opening
The re-release on Switch also has the “Game Boy Advance” enhanced mode that looks lovely!

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!

Shantae Risky's Revenge Limited Run Collector's Edition
I love the pins that came with my Collector’s Edition.

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!

Shantae Risky's Revenge screenshot of orange flower platforming
The art style really does still hold up. Gorgeous!

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!

Shantae Half-Genie Hero on running on Switch with Ultimate Edition case

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!

Screenshot of Shantae Half Genie Hero Squid Baron boss fight
I feel like it’s only a matter of time until Squid Baron gets his own game.

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!

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse running on Switch with LR steelbook
I am so very sad I wasn’t yet a Shantae fan when Limited Run did their Pirate’s Curse Collector’s Edition.

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!

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse title screen
The art design for all the characters is just top notch.

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!).

Shantae and the Seven Sirens screenshot of Tree Town
There are several new towns to discover in Seven Sirens!

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!

Shantae and the Seven Sirens Collector's Edition box, Switch case, steelbook, CD soundtrack, Game Boy cart, playing cards, and pink/green Switch joy cons

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.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens cutscene before boss fight

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!

9 thoughts on “Ranking the Shantae games”

  1. The original needs a remake so badly. It has so many interesting mechanics not seen since that you can’t appreciate with the controls and small screen (which is even smaller due to how detailed Shantae’s sprite is). Add in a few quality of life changes, and I think it could easily surpass most of the others.

    I really would love a return to the rhythm game for dance transformations if they all featured enhanced movesets, like more attacks and mobility options, while having the most important map mobility moves work like fusions. Not to mention a return of the fighting gear and day/night mechanic.

    But thank you for putting Seven Sirens as your current favorite. Pirate’s Curse is great but I’m a little burnt out on its universal love, and due to the funky release Seven Sirens doesn’t get enough attention.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on remaking the first game! With all the assets of the newer titles, I feel like WayForward could make it happen within a pretty short development time too. And it’d sell so well!

      Glad to see some more love for Seven Sirens! You’re absolutely right on the funky release-going mobile first, then launching during the start of the pandemic on consoles meant it was overlooked by quite a few. It’s seriously one of my favorite games! Hoping Shantae 6 is in the works right now with some of the gameplay throwbacks that you mentioned :).

  2. Joshua McJunkin

    I discovered Shantae in a bargain bin in a pawn shop. I remembered that Nintendo Power had called the game good, and picked it up. I’ve been hooked ever since. Which reminds me, I still need to beat Seven Sirens.

    I agree with your list, but suggest playing the games in order. The first three games have an interconnected story (although, you can skip the first one if you really want to).

    Shantae for Smash Bros! Or, WayForward has enough characters with the Shantae series and Mighty series for their own fighting game.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Great point about the first three games having a connected story and thus a good place to start! I played the games in such a bizarre order (1, 3, 5, 4, 2) that I honestly didn’t think of that. And Shantae would be an AMAZING pick for Smash Bros! We really haven’t seen much indie representation in Smash Ultimate. Between that, the fact that Shantae is so beloved by fans, and how awesome and creative her move set would be, I’d really love to see her make the roster!

  3. Excellent pairing of the colorful joycons to accompany respective entries in the Shantae series!

    Having Limited Run Games re-release the Game Boy Color original is a great step towards making the “on cart” experience slightly more affordable.

    I grabbed Half Genie Hero (I think) for $10 a year ago on the eShop. I’ll have to give it a go.

    Could be fun to also discuss favorite “Wayforward” games since they’re good people!

    Do you think Shantae could blend other genres in future games? What genres would you like to see? How close are we to a Shantae Kart racer?

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Thanks, Kamal! Shantae is such a colorful series that I couldn’t resist busting out all the joy cons :). I’m really hoping to see more “cart re-releases” in the future from LR and similar companies. At a certain point, modern consoles won’t play any physical media at all anymore, but LR could stay relevant by focusing their business on older releases for retro consoles like that!

      I love Wayforward too! Definitely want to do a “top 10 Metroidvania” games list in the near future (once my Mummy Demastered arrives from LR)-they’ll make several appearances there :).

      Great question about other genres with the series! I’d really enjoy an even more deep Metroidvania game (closer to the 10-20 hour mark), but would jump on any crossover-maybe a fast paced puzzler? A “rogue-lite” adventure game with an open map? Even something in the true 3D space?

      Let me know when you get around to Half-Genie Hero-it’s very light/fun gaming to relax with after a long day!

    2. Joshua McJunkin

      You want to discuss other WayForward games?

      A Boy and His Blob: cutest game ever! And this is coming from a 40 year old guy.

      Mighty Flip Force: an interesting puzzler with a good mechanic.
      Mighty Milky Way: another interesting puzzler with a good mechanic.

      Mighty Switch Force: not only an interesting puzzler with a good mechanic, but it was so good that it got sequels and spin-offs.

      Mighty No. 9: not a WayForward game. Thank God.

      The Mummy Demastered & Aliens Infestation: a pair of good licensed Metroidvanias.

      DuckTales Remastered: probably the best remaster ever. They even got the original voice of Scrooge to come out of retirement.

      That’s about the full list of what I have played. And as for a spin off game? Well, there are enough WayForward owned characters that they could do a fighting game.
      And a kart racer? Naa… Let’s have a Shantae and the Magic Carpet Race!

      1. Zach Lindemann

        Thanks for all the recs! I still haven’t played A Boy and His Blob but have always heard amazing things. Ditto for the “Mighty Force” games! I’m a huge fan of the Mummy Demastered (ordered the Limited Run special edition that looks like a SNES box and can’t wait to get it) and DuckTales Remastered, too. I was a little less enthralled with Aliens Infestation-I only recently played it and found the gameplay a bit too “sluggish” compared to Mummy and the Shantae series, but it’s still has impressive horror atmosphere and does the Aliens IP justice!

        And we need Shantae and the Magic Carpet Race right now! Brilliant idea 🙂

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