Welcome, Guest!

Guest

Shantae (Game Boy Color)

Game Review

Shantae (Game Boy Color) Review

USA Mon, 08 Jun 2009 by Kaes Delgrego

Shantae Screenshot

A cult classic that seems much older than it is (and we mean that in a good way).

WayForward Technologies has established itself as a fan-favorite developer in a fairly short amount of time. Case in point: Sega's recent scramble over unapproved footage of a reportedly canceled game based on the Alien film franchise - a fairly unremarkable event when read out of context - quickly became newsworthy when it was discovered that the game was developed in part by WayForward.

While other highly respected developers such as Treasure and Blizzard have had historical appreciation from hardcore gamers, WayForward has only enjoyed relatively recent fan-favoritism. This leads one to wonder how and when they went from "another developer" to "ohh, those guys!" Generous press via a nepotistic IGN probably doesn't hurt (WayForward Creative Director Matt Bozon's brother is IGN Nintendo Editor Mark Bozon, himself having done freelance work for the developer). Also, the California-based company has had the keys handed to it from several classic franchises, namely Contra and A Boy and His Blob. But the main reason for WayForward's fan love dates back to the summer of 2002: they wooed critics and bedazzled a modest amount of gamers with an exquisite piece of software titled Shantae.

Shantae Screenshot

While its exterior might suggest a generic Game Boy Color side-scroller, Shantae has been built using the theories and practices of the golden age of gaming. It's subtle, to be sure, and some may interpret the game's unique style as frustrating or perhaps even outdated. But those who are able to appreciate the DNA of modern gaming's predecessors will find that Shantae is a valedictorian graduate of the old-school.

The game is best described as occupying the space between Castlevania II and Zelda II: you travel between towns and receive direction on where to go next, usually leading to a dungeon. The towns are where you'll buy items, upgrade your attacks, and get information from locals. It's threaded together by a fairly thin story which mainly serves as a goal-indicator: go here, talk to him, get this, etc.

The titular genie controls very smoothly, utilizing the bread-and-butter run/jump/attack control method. In addition to her standard head-whipping attack, you can purchase combat upgrades which allow Shantae to do more complex and powerful combos. And being a genie, she has access to defensive and offensive spells that will help her along the way. These include invincibility shields and long-range attacking storm clouds.

Shantae Screenshot

More impressively, however, is Shantae's ability to transform into various animals. The dungeons contain a "dance" that allows Shantae to turn into several different beasts. These altered forms give the player new abilities such as increased strength, speed, and flight. Any game can benefit greatly by offering the user a variety of differently-skilled characters / forms to control; Shantae unquestionably succeeds in this regard. There are also hidden power-ups available for the animal forms which increases their worth even more.

The graphics and sound are outstanding, especially when considering the hardware. Utilizing an engine used before in several WayForward GBC titles, Shantae features parallax scrolling and night-to-dark changes (also a subtle wink to Simon's Quest). The character animations are wonderfully pixelated chunks of goodness; Shantae's mesmerizing dances are particularly wonderful. The music sounds like a new chiptune album while not losing those nostalgic retro touches.

For all of this praise, Shantae is not without its issues. The biggest problem with the game is more of a problem with the system: the Game Boy Color's small screen does not leave much breathing room for our heroine. This is far from a debilitating issue and is mostly unnoticeable. Yet there will be instances where you will find yourself plummeting into spikes, fire, or bottomless pits due to the cropped playing field. This is frustrating to say the least. As a slight consolation, the shops in town offer "float muffins," a magic spell that, when equipped, will bounce Shantae out of a pit should she fall in one. But constantly re-applying a spell is both wasteful and tedious. The designers could have avoided this issue by simply using smaller objects, but in doing so would have lost much of the character of Shantae's humble yet charming sprites. It's safe to say that Wayforward made the right choice.

Shantae Screenshot

An attribute of the game that could arguably be considered a flaw is Shantae's guidance, or lack thereof. There's no objectives list to be referred to, no mission description flashing across the screen, no mark on a map of a destination to be reached. A NPC will casually mention an area, and then that area must be reached. Unless they pay close attention to dialogue, modern gamers will likely find themselves scratching their heads over what to do next. Meanwhile, the retro gamer will cheer the lack of hand-holding between areas.

And boy oh boy, those areas can be very far apart. Particularly without the abilities you gain throughout the adventure, it can take at least 15 minutes to go from one town to its nearest neighbor. Again, one can understand the average gamer's frustration or boredom when trudging through basic fields and defeating fairly tricky enemies a large percentage of the total playing time.

Mercifully, there exist collectable squids capable of activating warps that Shantae can use to instantly travel to a town. These are hidden (usually very well) throughout dungeons. Any wise player will quickly understand their value and search vigorously for them. This distinguishes Shantae from Rareware's so-called "collectathons": hidden items aren't simply a minor self-imposed challenge but rather a virtual necessity.

Shantae Screenshot

Yet these issues are forgivable when considering the game holistically: Shantae is widely and accurately regarded as a love-letter to the side-scrolling epic adventures of the NES. The abundance of travel can be interpreted as a nuanced enhancement to the experience: traversing long and relatively uneventful distances really adds to the "adventure" element and evokes classics such as Blaster Master, Faxanadu and the original Metroid.

Like any great cult classic, finding a copy of Shantae is likely to be a quest in and of itself. At the time of this writing, the cheapest used copy on eBay was priced at 70 dollars. And bad news for the pirates: Wayforward packed so much power into the humble GBC cartridge that it fails to run well on most emulators.

Conclusion

While time can often be overly generous to the reputation of cult classics, some may find that the actual product doesn't live up to the hype. Indeed, there will be those who give in to the worshipping of Shantae only to find a game that isn't for them. Modern gamers beware: Shantae is something of an acquired taste. This is a game best enjoyed by those who are truly retro gamers; and no, not the guy who likes Tetris DS and downloaded Super Mario Bros. 3 from the Virtual Console but only played the first few levels. We're talking about people who are familiar with Mr. Gimmick! and can't wait for the next episode of Little Miss Gamer. Shantae does proper justice to the golden era of gaming. For those of us enrolled in the old-school, there's no higher compliment that can be paid to a modern game.

User Comments

6033

1. VALERHU United States 08 Jun 2009, 14:22 BST

didnt see a 9/10 coming..

nice review though :)

794

2. Damo United Kingdom 08 Jun 2009, 14:27 BST

Excellent review. Shame this never got released in the EU. :(

9071

3. Lee_is_Still_Gaming United States 08 Jun 2009, 14:44 BST

Thanks for the shout out to Little Miss Gamer. She's still a relative unknown on the internet compared to other popular internet shows, but she's really starting to come on strong recently. It's a very unique review and retrospective show and now episodes are starting to come out biweekly!

A little bird told me that a brand new episode is coming out in the next few days at
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/pbc/lmg

Her official site is at http://www.littlemissgamer.com

Thanks again for the shout out!

3410

4. hamispink United States 08 Jun 2009, 15:46 BST

I will take this opportunity to advertise. there are two shows on youtube called awesome video games and video games awesome.
they are hilarious takes on classic and new nintendo games. based on the nes and the wii respectively for each show.
I just want everyone to watch the show because I am sure that you will all love it :)

3541

5. Objection_Blaster United States 08 Jun 2009, 15:56 BST

It was weird reading the review because it would mention considerable flaws, like depth perception, lack of guidance, lots of backtracking/boring traveling and then, and this sounds harsh, seemed to make excuses for the game. One is that hardcore gamers will like the challenge of figuring things out themselves and the feeling of adventure when covering large amounts of land. That second statement felt very opinionated, more so than usual in a review. For instance, a game doesn't feel adventurous to me just because I'm traveling a long distance. The word would be "boring" or even "uneventful." Now I realize this is still a good game but I just wanted to share my thoughts on the review. I had been wondering when it'd go up with all the WayForward talk.

5145

6. BlueFlameBat United States 08 Jun 2009, 16:23 BST

Damn that game is hard. The hit detection is a little off and I'm stuck not knowing what to do.

8650

7. kaes United States 08 Jun 2009, 18:48 BST

@Lee is Still Gaming: It's my pleasure! I've had a bit of a nerd crush on Little Miss Gamer ever since I saw "High Compatibility." :)

@Objection_Blaster: Thanks for the constructive criticism. I haven't done many traditional reviews, so I am definitely very open to and appreciative of your comments.

You're absolutely right that some may interpret the long traveling as boring or uneventful, but I tried to present things in context as much as possible. I'm fairly certain that it was WayForward's intention to build the game the way they did, including (and perhaps especially) those sections.

An appropriate metaphor might be found in the Kill Bill films. They serve as obvious homages to 1970's spaghetti westerns and martial arts films. Many of the so-called classics of that era might not succeed if they were released today: they'd be seen as silly and outdated (obviously). Yet at the time, they shaped the industry (in part) into what it is today. Furthermore, if Quentin Tarantino had made Kill Bill as a serious and homage-less story, it'd probably be way cheesy and a little stupid. But understanding it as an homage allows the viewer to understand more of what's going on.

That's not to say that mistakes can always be forgiven as "intentional features," but rather that a game (or film, album, book, etc.) must be understood in context. As I tried to make clear, Shantae is definitely not for everyone. But for those who like that style of gaming, it's a dream come true. And after all, someone who despises RPGs won't be able to enjoy a 10 out of 10 stars Final Fantasy title.

But either way, thanks for the feedback! I hope to hear more in the future. :)

8764

8. Sabrewing United States 08 Jun 2009, 19:28 BST

You guys forgot to mention how Shantae actually receives a bit of an "upgrade" when played on a Game Boy Advance -- a richer color palette, as well as access to some unique items. _

8012

9. LEGEND_MARIOID United Kingdom 08 Jun 2009, 20:18 BST

Isn't there a ware type game being produces on this?

1340

10. Corbs United States 08 Jun 2009, 20:26 BST

Awesome game. I still drag this one out from time to time and play through it. Hope we see a new Shantae game at some point. :)

3541

11. Objection_Blaster United States 08 Jun 2009, 20:44 BST

@kaes- No problem. Glad you appreciated it and props to you for being a Quentin Taratino fan! ;)

1340

12. Corbs United States 08 Jun 2009, 21:25 BST

While I think the feedback was understandable, what people have to remember is that when you review a game that's tilted more towards the hardcore audience, it tends to be difficult to differentiate yourself from it and try to objectively review said title. I too find myself changing many of my reviews when I'm reviewing a title that has a special place in my heart. It's then that you have to start trying to view the game from an "every gamer" perspective and that's not always easy to do. It's not so much about making excuses for a game as trying to substantiate the score you're ultimately going to give it and make people understand why, despite your criticisms leveled at it from an average gamer perspective.

So my philosophy is to try to do both with that type of review. Toss out enough tidbits for the hardcore audience that the game most likely appeals to and then also write up enough standard elements to make those who might not be familiar with the game understand it's positive and negative aspects. It's a tough balance, but one you'll get used to soon enough.

8830

13. slapshot82 United States 08 Jun 2009, 21:59 BST

Nice review and its just killing me that ive never gotten my hands on thes game. Great to see a review on it and a honest review on a hardcore game.

5236

14. RadioShadow United Kingdom 08 Jun 2009, 23:19 BST

Looks like one worth playing.

EDIT: This doesn't work on Visual Boy Advance? Oh.

1095

15. JJ1 United States 09 Jun 2009, 00:30 BST

Wasn't there supposed to be a sequel comming to Wiiware?

5648

16. EdEN United States 09 Jun 2009, 03:59 BST

WayForward needs to either do a full blown remake on Wiiware, on DSiware or both.

Also, we have to remember that in the next few months Nintendo will, eventually, make a VC available for DSi for Gameboy and Gameboy Color games and maybe even select GBA games. Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Wonderswan, Wonderswan and the Lynx are all options as well.

4638

17. Ricardo91 United States 09 Jun 2009, 06:15 BST

@Kaes. You a new member? I haven't seen you before...

Great review! I need to track this game down. I remember seeing a few ads for it in NP and Pocket Games, but didn't pick it up cuz it looked too girly, and my interest was shifting to the Gamecube and GBA. I'm getting sick and tired of waiting for the Wiiware version too.

Edit: that's wierd. why did kaes's name automatically appear in boldface?

8870

18. Kim_Jong-Il Australia 09 Jun 2009, 06:21 BST

@ Ricardo
He's new to WWW, but he's been on Joystiq for like a bajillion years. Also you'd be better off tracking down a ROM and an emulator (Preferrably Lameboy on DS); cartridges cost over $100.

And I was a bit surprised when I saw that you'd written this Kaes, partly because you're new here, and partly because you're not Corbie.

Also, this game is DEFINITELY for the hardcore. It was ridiculously difficult!

8299

19. Turbo_Genesis_64 United States 09 Jun 2009, 09:20 BST

They need to come out with the Virtual Portable download service and makes this one of the first releases!

8650

20. kaes United States 09 Jun 2009, 15:14 BST

@Ricardo91 & @Kim Jong-Il: Yes sirs, I previously wrote for Modojo and then the Joystiq network's DS / Wii Fanboy. But those sites were sadly eaten by the economy / new Joystiq formatting (nintendo.joystiq.com). Either way, I'm very happy to be here!

And again, thank you all so much for the kind words. It really makes my day. :)

3257

21. SpaceBooger United States 27 Jun 2009, 17:05 BST

I just got a copy of this game (cart only) today at a flea market for $5.
Now I just have to figure out how to erase the old save data to start my own.

1094

22. StarDust United States 27 Jun 2009, 21:07 BST

hehehe, she is cute :*

6644

23. KyubiStewie United States 15 Aug 2009, 16:04 BST

@SpaceBooger Select a file, then press select to erase it.

9343

24. MetalMario United States 20 Sep 2009, 16:51 BST

I am enrolled in the old school!

6709

25. Capt_N United States 20 Feb 2010, 01:50 GMT

Gotta get this sometime.

I love old-school games.

14062

26. Monix2598 United States 27 Mar 2010, 17:43 GMT

Looks like i am going to be getting the DSiWare riskys revenge game.

18112

27. Sakura_Moonlight2421 United States 16 Oct 2010, 08:07 BST

I wish they would release this on Virtual Console~!!!!!

Leave A Comment

Please login to post a comment.