By Mento 1 Comments
As I can't seem to stop creating new things this month, I'm in the process of creating a list of 3D platformers I've played in the past. I'm hoping to keep adding to it between now and Yooka-Laylee's release, because I'll be darned if it hasn't relit a fire inside me. I friggin' love that genre, for all its vast amount of risible licensed crap and scavenger hunting. Of course, I'm finding it fairly tough to distinguish the "proper" 3D platformers from closely-related sub-genres like open-world games and character action games. Mostly, I've been going by Wikipedia's list of 3D platformers in lieu of anything more authoritative (why is Uncharted on there?).
Anyway, let's scale back one dimension and talk about today's May Mastery game instead. I already broke the seal yesterday by getting a few hours in and discussing them, as I knew this one might take me a while. After all, it's the bigger and better sequel to a game released on a physical cart. Though, in retrospect, I wonder if that really means anything with regard to the volume of a game's content.
Shantae: Risky's Revenge
Actually, I may have overestimated the size of Shantae: Risky's Revenge last time. That's not to say it's too short; far from it. It feels exactly as long as it ought to be, and that's generally not an easy feat with games in the SpaceWhipper genre; because they tend to straddle the line between an action/platformer game and an RPG, the latter genre will demand longer runtimes to properly frame its incremental character progression than the former can reliably deliver while still maintaining a satisfactory player engagement level. My final playtime for Shantae: Risky's Revenge clocked in at five hours, and with three dungeons to explore in total (though one is really just a timed arena/challenge tower) and a lot of power-ups and treasures to find across the landscape once the right abilities had been unlocked there was plenty of content to keep me occupied. Still, five hours with 100% items on the first playthrough might sound a bit too short for some people. I dunno. It's one of the more subjective aspects of games to accurately critique. I'll fall back to what I said earlier about it being as long as it needed to be and just leave it at that.
As I predicted last time, Shantae eventually finds transformations that expand her exploratory repertoire. Her traversal skills, as it were. She can shift from a monkey (excellent climber), elephant (destroys rocks) and a mermaid (can swim underwater). Each form also has an additional power-up, expanding their utility: the monkey can now rocket across the screen from a wall; the elephant can stomp and create shockwaves, destroying nearby blocks and enemies; and the mermaid can shoot bubbles, which destroys certain blockades and leads into the game's gratuitous shoot 'em up sequence. The issue with these transformations is that Shantae needs to perform a belly dance to make it happen, and the length the dance determines which animal she turns into. This means that if you want to use the last transformation (the mermaid), you have to keep her dancing for several seconds before releasing the button, and it can become a little tiresome when you're frequently jumping in and out of the water while exploring.
But hey, talking of gratuitousness. I'm not sure why WayForward felt the need to exaggerate every female character's chest, especially when most of the game's sprites are working with something close to a 100x100 pixel window and finer detail is a precious commodity. It was... well, distracting is probably too Freudian a word for it, but it didn't seem particularly necessary? The character design is otherwise wonderful though, yet it was odd how the game went from its pixel-focused art design to hand-drawn cartoon portraits for cutscenes. From what I understand about games that use the pixel medium for its artwork is that it the medium often needs to be universal, because the idea is to suggest that the game is only available on a specific older platform and has to stick within certain limitations. (If you want a movie example, it'd be like watching a black and white movie - one that's a deliberate throwback, like The Artist - and have it suddenly randomly become colorful for a couple of scenes without it becoming a plot point like in Pleasantville.) At least, that was my interpretation before reading this screed from an artist previously dedicated to the pixel format who unfortunately feels that they must throw in the blocky towel, and goes into why artists choose to use pixels irrespective of any attempt to be "retro". This art juxtaposition is probably just overreacting on my part: the graphics that use limited pixel counts and the graphics that don't both look fine.
The music's great too. I mentioned that last time, right? Bears repeating. The vast majority of the game's music sticks to the game's Arabian theme and has sort of a bellydancer/snake-charmer feel to it, but each individual track also mixes things up by layering in something more thematic to the present stage and/or situation. So a more exciting encounter like a boss fight might employ yet another vaguely Arabian theme but also includes a higher tempo, louder instruments and a frantic edge to the proceedings. Jake Kaufman seems to do his best work when given a theme to work around; like "cheesy 1980s" for Double Dragon Neon. Compare this with the equally excellent but differently so Danny Baranowsky who just seems to create an endless amount of consistently great music that doesn't really have much in the way of thematic connections to whatever project he's working on. Just listen to the Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac and Crypt of the NecroDancer soundtracks all shuffled together and you'll recognize his signature style but be hard pressed to connect each track to its respective game, unless you're intimately familiar with two or more of them. Not a criticism, but simply an indicator of how the two musicians approach their material differently.
Anyway, I now feel suitably versed in the Shantae series to stick with it. Next up is Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, which only recently hit Steam. I'll probably hold out for a sale or something, as I'm sufficiently Shantae'd out for the time being.