Now Playing June 2020


Shantae and the Seven Sirens – I wish I had more to say about this game. It’s good. Really good. Maybe not as good as Pirate’s Curse from a half decade ago, but Seven Sirens is a solid execution of the Metroidvania formula. It doesn’t have the best designed map, but there are a nice variety of powers to find and the game looks and plays wonderfully. But it is just a new Metroidvania; there really isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes all you want is a comfort food, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens delivers that in spades. It is a really good game, but not one I have a lot to say about.

Tales of Vesperia – Read about it here.

Jake Hunter: Ghost of the Dusk – A 3DS detective game. It has a bunch of smaller cases that I haven’t yet finished, but the game’s big case is done with. I liked it well enough. It is decently translated, with a few parts that seem a little ill-fitting but for the most part being well told. The game sets up an interesting mystery to center things around, but my one big complaint with it is that it becomes kind of obvious. There aren’t really any red herring or misdirections, making it play out a little more like a procedural than a mystery. It is pretty early when it is clear what the resolution of a lot of the major mysteries is pretty early on. Still, I mostly enjoyed my time with it, and will likely check in with it later ro finish up some of those other stories.


Final Fantasy II – Some progress made, same concerns that always put me off before are putting me off again. I don’t want to dig too deep into it right now, but I will say that the leveling mechanics of Final Fantasy 2 are more interesting than good.

Final Fantasy VII – I progressed through another decent sized chunk of this game. I have been too busy to give it a lot of time, but I pushed through some early areas after leaving Midgar. The game simultaneously opens up and loses steam at that point. The player is finally out of the giant, dingy, dystopian city and dumped into what appears to be a fairly normal jrpg world. You also get a better sense of the imperialist power of Shinra. Nobody outside of Midgar seems to like them, but other than a few places most have accepted their dominance. The game also chooses that time to give an info dump about Sephiroth. It makes sense; while he has been mentioned a few times, Sephiroth did not really come into the story until right before escaping Midgar. Now the rest of the party is demanding answers from Cloud, and he has to give them. So the game starts to dig into the backstory.

Yakuza 4 – I started this up and played the first few hours of it. It is such an improvement over Yakuza 3. It looks a lot better, it plays a lot better. However, nothing important changed; it is still Yakuza. The game kind of has it both ways in terms of starting slowly and getting right into it. As the game starts with the player playing as Shun Akiyama, it is not immediately clear how he is connected to events. Akiyama is one of my favorite characters in the series; he has a kind of louche charm that contrasts nicely with Kiryu’s more straightlaced acceptance. He is also a good choice to ease players into not controlling Kiryu. I hope the rest of the game holds up, though I’ve always thought of Yakuza 4 as a lesser game in the series.

SteamWorld Quest – Still progressing, although slowly. I like everything about this game from an aesthetic point of view. I like a lot of the story so far. I am still not really warming to the card based battle system, and I’m far enough in that I doubt I ever actually will. As with every card-based rpg battle system, SteamWorld Quest turns every battle into a maddening struggle against randomness. This game is not the worst in that respect, but I don’t see what the games gain from this system over just having a ‘normal’ battle system.


Okami – I might have some Switch time, and this game is just sitting there. If I have time, then it will get some play. I have beaten Okami once and gotten about halfway through it a couple more times, but maybe having it handheld will help me get to the end of it again.

More Final Fantasy – I hope to finish II and VII before too long. I am planning something of a series replay, inclusive of many of the spin-offs. With 1 and 15 recently beaten, as well as the ports of 8 and 12 in the not too distant past, I have already made significant progress. The Crystal Chronicles remake is coming out in August, but before then I have quite the list of games to get through.

Shantae: ½ Genie Hero

Wayforward does good work. They are the go to company for solid, if only rarely spectacular, licensed games as well as updates on classic games. They are the ones behind games like A Boy and his Blob, Contra 4, DuckTales Remastered and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. As good as those games, as well as a couple of handfuls of others across primarily the Wii, DS and 3DS, are Wayforward has always done their best work on their original titles. Those include the Mighty games – Mighty Switch Force, Mighty Milky Way, etc. – and the Shantae games. When Wayforward went to Kickstarter to fund the latest Shantae game, Shantae Half-Genie Hero, it seemed like the surest possible bet. While the game missed its projected release date by more than a year, the finished product turned out to be everything fans hoped it would be.


Shantae: ½ Genie Hero breaks no new ground. While its story doesn’t pick up from its predecessor Shantae and The Pirate’s Curse, the gameplay doesn’t stray far. The biggest difference is in our heroes abilities, with Shantae reverting to her dance triggered transformations rather than relying on skills like those of Risky Boots. The same transformations that she used in her first two games. Well, not exactly the same, but similar. Still, while Shantae is a riff on the same kind of game people have been playing for more than 25 years, everything about it is so well done that it just warms the heart.

First of all, the graphics and sound are excellent. It shares a general look with DuckTales Remastered, but it simply looks better. It is not the pixel art of previous games, but it is fluidly animated and is frankly one of the best looking 2D games I’ve ever seen. It still has that usual Shantae look, which includes a lot of cartoonish voluptuousness for better or worse, and Sequin Land has never looked so good. The game also has some great tunes, I don’t know how else to say it, they are just some awesome listening.


Gone is any sense of this game as a sort of Metroidvania, the game is strictly level based. Each level has two or so distinct areas and while each area has places to explore, the play out completely linearly. The stages are largely really well designed, each with distinct challenges. One takes place in the air during a flying carpet race. Another has Shantae lost in a spooky mansion. While they don’t really break any new ground, they are interesting and fun to play though. The linear nature makes for some awkward bit, when you must go back to stages to look for doodads and power-ups. It is tempting to run back to each stage after completing the next one and getting a new power-up, and the game encourages this by gating the unlocking of the next stage behind completing some tasks for the townsfolks. They are not onerous tasks and the time spent searching for whatever the citizen or Uncle Mimic needs can also be used to scrounge up extra hearts and collectibles. They are fun to explore, up to a point and by the end of the game it reaches the point where it stops being fun and starts being a little tedious.


Shantae controls as well as usual. Unlike the original GBC game, her hair actually feels like it has sufficient length to make a good weapon. I did have a little bit of a problem with the difficulty curve. The first stage, after the quick opening one, is likely to be the most difficult task in the game save for the final level. You haven’t really had a chance to get any extra hearts or power-ups at that point, so it is all about the player’s skill. After that, when the player gets more and more hearts and finds numerous healing items, the folds like tissue paper. Until the last stage, which is suitably challenging.


Most of my complaints here are nitpicks, reasons why Shantae: ½ Genie Hero is not the best game ever, merely an extremely good one. My expectations for this series grows with each game I play, and each time the new game exceeds them. I don’t really know is this game is better than the previous one, but at the very least it is as good. Shantae: ½ Genie Hero joins Shovel Knight as one of the best Kickstarter triumphs.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

This has been quite a year for 2D platformers, seeing the release of such titles as Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (technically 2.5D, but the play style is the same), 1001 Spikes, Shovel Knight and Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition (I know that one is not technically a new release, but close enough) among others. It has simple been a great year, with several more due over the next few weeks. Even though I was greatly anticipating Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, I am shocked about how good it is. I wanted it to be this good, but I really didn’t expect it. Wayforward’s original forays are almost always worth playing, but they also tend to be flawed. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is their original masterpiece.


I love Wayforward; they make good games. Most of their output is licensed titles of variable quality. There is an underlying level of competence to even the bad ones that makes any Wayforward game worth giving a look. Their Adventure Time games are pretty good and their superhero games, Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Thor, are solid beat-em-ups. They are good, but not great games. Then they have a handful of remakes and re-imaginings; which is largely their best output. Contra 4, A Boy and his Blob and Double Dragon Neon are all excellent games. But those are all built upon pre-existing works. They are refinements of existing templates. That is not meant to diminish them, again they are great games, but they feel in a small way like they are not Wayforward’s games.

Wayforward’s original titles haven’t been bad, only small. The original Shantae is a fine game, but it chafes against the limitations of its platform. The GBC is not a great system for action games. While Shantae looked good it was an uneven title. The difficulty is frontloaded and Shantae’s sprite, while great looking, is a little too big for the small screen. The loosely tied Mighty series of games a delightful, but they are also bite-sized. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was just short of being great. It is very, very good, but there are a just too many small problems. The game can be a chore to navigate and it, like the Mighty games, is just too darn short.


Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, though, irons out all those flaws. It is a meaty game, a good ten hours long the first time through and never tedious or repetitive. It finally becomes the true Metroidvania that the previous two games hinted at, though it still somewhat level based. The individual areas do not connect like the areas of Super Metroid, but it does nail that free roaming exploration feel. In practice it feels like Monster World 4, but with the ability to backtrack. It is just a finely tuned game. Shantae’s hair whipping attack always looked good, but this time it actually feels like the attack has enough range. The heroine has lost her transformation abilities, but the new pirate themed skills she acquires more than make up for it. The transformations were great, but the pirate skills are smoother. It is easier to flip between them. The whole game just feels perfectly honed.

It is impossible to talk about this game without mentioning the graphics. Many 2D games go for a stylized self-consciously retro look. Shovel Knight does its best to look like an NES, 1001 Spikes looks like something older. Anything that tries to look newer inevitably goes 3D. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is 2D, but it isn’t trying to look old, it simply looks great. It looks like a 16-bit game on steroids. It also uses the 3D capabilities of the 3DS to make the sprite layers look great. Everything just looks great. It also sounds pretty good as well.


This game is seriously the best case scenario I imagined when Wayforward announced that this game was coming. But it kept getting pushed back, the release date was constantly uncertain and they did a kickstarter for a new Shantae game in between the time this game was announced and when it released. I never really thought the game was in trouble or anything, but I expected it to be a little flawed. They seem to have taken the Nintendo philosophy with delays, that it is better to delay a game and fix it than release a flawed game on time. That is unusual, only Nintendo has my faith to pull it off, but Wayforward did it with this game. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the best possible game it could be.