Many of Apple Arcade’s offerings are bite-sized fare, with levels you can pick up in a spare moment and put down just as quickly if necessary. But Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a console-sized game (well, half of one), released months before it makes its way to Nintendo Switch, PC, and other platforms.
It doesn’t feel like a mobile game, because it isn’t one; it’s a platformer that has been ported to iOS devices. I wouldn’t even recommend attempting to play it without a bluetooth-connected controller. The touch controls aren’t bad, but multi-button platformers require precision that a touch device is just never going to provide.
Despite that caveat, it’s a fanciful adventure easily worth the cost of Apple Arcade admission, or your time if you’ve already purchased the subscription. Seven Sirens scratches my itch for a platformer that is just challenging enough to feel me to proud of my accomplishments without grinding me to a pulp, and sometimes that’s exactly the kind of game I want.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is the fifth game in the Shantae franchise, which tells the story of the half-human, half-genie Shantae in a series that began on Game Boy Color and have since moved to modern devices. Each game is a light, colorful take on the Metroidvania formula, complete with loads of platforming spilling across vivid, varied landscapes. In Seven Sirens, Shantae gains transformative powers to help her stick to walls as a newt, or drill through sand as a crab. These have obvious applications during traversal puzzles, but can also be cleverly combined during boss fights or used to find loads of secrets.
Seven Siren’s inclusion on Apple Arcade feels like a bit of a mystery. For starters, it’s only half of the game; I’m told at the start that the second half will be delivered as a free update some time in the future.
This is also a complicated entry point to the series if you’ve never played any Shantae games (or, like me, didn’t make time to play the last one, Half-Genie Hero), the game feels like it glosses over some history, immediately dumping Shantae into a new adventure with characters that speak like I should already know their backstory from the last four games.
And while many mobile games can’t waste time with table-setting, Seven Sirens starts with a slow burn. It’s maybe an hour before I’m deep in the game’s first big area, another 30 minutes to earn my first ability, but that might as well be a lifetime for a game competing for my attention on a device filled with endless distractions.
But once equipped, I played Seven Sirens until my battery was dead. Using my newt form to dash and stick to walls, I hungrily re-explored the game’s previous areas to reach new heights, then walloped a leafy, mossy boss-lady that filled the screen with humongous vines. There’s something about the eye-catching art style of Seven Sirens that feels perfectly at home on mobile devices, and I don’t mean that to be insulting.
I certainly wish Shantae and the Seven Sirens arrived on Apple Arcade all in one piece (who likes trying to remember where they were in a Metroidvania months later?), and the lack of workable touch controls certainly makes truly portable play challenging. But this charming platformer is the perfect kind of palette cleanser in a season of long, involved games, both for newcomers to the series and those who can’t wait for its eventual arrival on more conventional platforms.