Shantae debuted nearly twenty years ago, yet still feels like an overlooked classic that never got the attention it deserved. The game quickly got a fan following, as it was one of the last Game Boy Color games to release, and due to its limited run and high critical praise, became one of the most sought-after titles to ever hit a portable. All these years later, and Shantae has blown up into one of the genre’s finest, with successful sequels across nearly every platform. What was so special about this little platformer? With the re-release of the original on the Nintendo Switch, WayForward are ready for new fans to find out. How does this genie fare in her introductory act? Let’s find out.
In the first trek across Sequin Land, Shantae puts the players in the role of the title character who is a young genie with a lively personality. In this adventure, a mischievous pirate named Risky Boots is out to steal special stones that will grant her unlimited power. Shantae heads out to stop Risky, utilizing her magical powers and wickedly sharp hair. The original Shantae has one of those narratives that shaped the tone for the entire franchise, with a memorable main baddy and a protagonist that was hard to forget. Sure, this tale isn’t deep, but is pleasant and warm due to the care and polish applied to every pixel from WayForward. From minor characters to the dialogue sequences for the main story, the plot is lighter than I remembered (probably due to how much more we got in sequels), but the blueprint still feels perfectly functional and really shows how great of a debut everyone’s favorite genie made on such a small platform.
There are a lot of games that the original Shantae plays like. Some recall Monster World 4 due to how much Asha resembles Shantae, while others think of Metroid due to the game’s open layout. Either way, the game excels with its gameplay by encapsulating a bit of every title that preceded it by combining a number of ideas and managing to make them all work together in one single experience.
Shantae is a platformer at heart, and even if that is all it had to offer, would still be considered a great game. Shantae can jump and whip enemies with her hair, and all of which still feels effective and smooth, despite hardware limitations. Adding more depth, she can also obtain upgrades and new abilities, providing an edge as the game progresses in difficulty. Shantae also features the ability to perform dances and transform into animals, which allows players to find new paths in already explored areas, or defeat some foes that may have been previously unmatched. Again, it’s a lot to take in, but is so well paced that everything kind of feels seamless.
The levels or world if you will offer a lot to take advantage of the gameplay stylings, while still managing to feel like one whole locale, rather than several individual pieces that make up Sequin Land. A day/night system changes gimmickry slightly as well, and also gives more incentive for replay as some tasks can only be completed depending on which time you choose to play in. Yes, WayForward pushed the envelope with this title, and even though I still find it mostly perfect, my own experience with current titles did make it feel a little more dated this time around. The game is just a little slow, from text scrolling, to movement and so on. Yes, this is because of the Game Boy Color/Advanced, but I do think that this could have been slightly altered for this re-release, as that slowness may turn away those used to a bit more fluidity.
For longtime fans, this release has a lot of extras. For one, we have the Game Boy Advanced “enhanced” mode, unlocking new features that have not been seen in years, as well as an art gallery, save states, and your usual re-release fare. It’s a complete package of an already packed title, and may be one of the best retro releases to hit the platform in a good while that isn’t bundled with a lot of fluff. This is a celebration of the original, and it shows with all of the contents of how much WayForward appreciate their roots and now primary mascot all this time later.
Visually, Shantae is still mostly wonderful. The standard version is fine, but has a rougher look of sorts, with less detail when it comes to character models, and a bit clunkier animations. The GBA enhanced version basically resolves this, filling in some gaps while still feeling unique enough to warrant a second playthrough. No matter what version you choose, there is just something about the way the color pops or characters animate that oozes charm, and I can’t think of another release on the Game Boy Color that was third party that managed to look this good in such an effortless fashion.
As soon as I heard the title sequence, I instantly got nostalgic and got excited all over again. The music is still phenomenal, and makes this adventure feel even larger than what is already is. The addition of the sound effects prove to be more minor, yet still manage to capture the atmosphere well and make these lands even more enchanting.
Shantae is no longer a cult classic. It is a mainstream classic that has come from these humble beginnings to a fully realized franchise, and for those who got to experience the journey – this re-release should be centered in their digital or physical collections due to its importance. Shantae came late and still managed to set a bar for titles on platforms beyond its own time. That is such an accomplishment, and WayForward’s own legacy will forever be highlighted by this little gem that we get to now play through all over again. Has it aged? Sure, but so have other classics. What makes this one different is that it still feels mighty and bold, granting us the wish of a polished game that always managed to continue to deliver beyond the end credits.
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