Shantae: Risky's Revenge
I first heard of the Game Boy Color game Shantae from a video playthrough of it by a member of a message board I go to, and while I never played it personally, I wasn't alone in that respect (it's rare enough to go for over $150 used on Amazon), and I was still impressed by its charm and interesting game design. It was enough of a cult hit for the developer WayForward to work on a sequel, which they finally released for the DSi's download service last week. Risky's Revenge isn't quite as meaty as the first game, originally intended for multiple episodic releases, but it improves on its predecessor in almost every way.
I wouldn't usually call a handheld game gorgeous, but there are few other words that correctly describe the game's graphics. In recent years I've rediscovered an appreciation for 2D sprite art and animation that went dormant long ago when game consoles started pumping out 3D polygons, and the 16 bit-style visuals here are as impressive as they get. Bright, colorful, smoothly animated, it looks worlds better than the original while still retaining the style and charm it had in spades. It sounds nice too, with lots of tunes that strike a balance between nice orchestration and classic gaming sounds. The story is simple but enjoyable, peppered with funny characters and meta-humor that works more often than it doesn't.
The game itself is fun too. The Shantae style of gameplay is a bit of a hybrid, mixing Metroid-like exploration-friendly platforming with dungeons filled with enemies and puzzles that feel more like a side-scrolling The Legend of Zelda than anything else. I was disappointed that there were only two "real" dungeons in the game's quick five hour span, with other opportunities for such replaced with inferior alternatives; a tower with a time limit that requires you to battle your way through (combat not being the game's strong suit) and a tribute to classic scrolling shooters (interesting, but they don't end up doing enough with it). Still though, the standard flow of running, jumping, swatting enemies, transforming into animals, and searching every nook and cranny for special items to upgrade your equipment and skills is a lot of fun, and it all seems like the right amount of game for the price. Probably one of the few DSiWare items really worth seeking out.