Shantae Review

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Game Title: Shantae
Developer: WayForward Pocket Team
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Type: Virtual Console (Game Boy Color)
Download: 70 Blocks
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download

Not long ago, I reviewed Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for the PS Vita.  Shantae is a franchise for handheld owners.  It, after all, began on handhelds.  The original Shantae released on the Game Boy Color and its sequel initially released as an exclusive for the Nintendo DS before being ported over to consoles later.  Even the third game was mostly developed as a Nintendo 3DS title, although being multiplatform with the Wii U.

Because of this, it is fitting to do more content on a primarily handheld series that was made to be played on the go.  I had initially been tempted by all of the PS4 Shantae sales that hit PSN in the past couple weeks, but being the handheld gamer I am, my 2DS has been filled to the brim with Shantae, Shantae, and more Shantae.

Now, we are going to continue our Shantae coverage by going back to the early 2000s.  Here is my review of the Game Boy Color game available on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, Shantae!

Story

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Being a platforming game on the Game Boy Color, I fully expected the first game of the series to have no story in it whatsoever.  I was surprised to find out that there was actually quite a lot of story thrown in here.

In Shantae, you play as a girl with the same name as the title.  Shantae is a half-human, half-genie, employed by the small fishing town of Scuttle Town as their Genie Guardian.  As the game begins, a female pirate named Risky Boots drops a cannonball on Shantae’s home (in a style that reminds me heavily of how the Pigs Anchor Red’s home in the Angry Birds movie) and steals an invention from the town.

Shantae leaps into action, both in service of the town and angry about her home being destroyed.  She proceeds to pursue Risky through the nearby temples as she attempts to prevent the pirate from claiming magical artifacts to take over the world.

The story I wouldn’t call mind-blowing, but it gets the job done and adds a bit of character to each individual NPC you meet.  This was a pretty big feat for a Game Boy Color game.

Gameplay

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Shantae hasn’t changed much in the past 14 years.  Just like Half-Genie Hero, Shantae is a side-scrolling platformer with exploration elements thrown into the mix.  As you play through the game, you will be exploring towns and dungeons through a large 2D map, along with solving puzzles and fighting enemies as you explore.  If Half-Genie Hero didn’t have the Flying Level Select, there’d be little difference in how the two games operate.

Progression goes in the form of finding each of the 4 main labyrinth dungeons, going through them, and finding the next.  Finding them is done by finding new towns and spawning story events with NPCs so you will know where to go for your next story objective.  While you can roam around and find the labyrinths on your own, story scenes are required for actually opening them.  In this way, the game keeps you from missing key story content.

The other element is exploration.  As you go through each labyrinth, you will gain new transformations (all of which are redone in Half-Genie Hero and a showing of how much fan-service WayForward put into that newer title) that make traversing new areas possible.  In each labyrinth, its transformation will be required to find keys and the boss room.  In the explore-able world, these transformations will open new areas to find collectibles, like Hearts to increase your maximum health, Warp Squids for learning teleportation spells, among other optional unlockable content.

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Speaking of exploration, let’s talk about the one, infuriating element of the game.  Story scenes tell you where to go next, but at the same time, they don’t tell you where to go.  Once you finish a labyrinth, an NPC will tell you a location, like Oasis Town.  But they don’t tell you where Oasis Town is.  I had just finished a dungeon at the right side of the map when given that info, so I assumed I needed to go further to the right to find Oasis Town, but I in fact, needed to backtrack all the way back to the beginning of the game and go left.  It took me about 20-30 minutes of exploring to figure that out.  And that was only the first time they do that to you.

In short, there is no sense of direction.  You have to figure out where you actually need to go yourself.  And that leads to my second criticism with the game.  There are optional collectibles in each dungeon and around each dungeon that you must hunt for and find to learn teleportation spells for each town.  If you don’t find these or go out of your way to find them, you have to backtrack on foot, which takes a lot of time.  Does the game tell you about these spells?  No, it does not.  Not until you actually unlock one.  I had no idea they were a thing until I looked up a guide because I got hopelessly lost, looking for Oasis Town.  For a game with a lot of dialogue and hints for the time, it doesn’t implement critical information very well.

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Now as far as actual difficulty, the game isn’t really that hard for an older platformer.  Navigating dungeons is pretty simple.  You solve simple puzzles to find keys, use those keys to open doors, find the next key, find that dungeon’s transformation, use said transformation to reach hidden rooms, and eventually find the boss room and defeat the boss.  Even the Boss Patterns are easy to follow.  Any veteran of platformers shouldn’t be hit too hard by the difficulty of the game.  It’s just the backtracking and lack of direction that will throw you off.

As far as length goes, it is quite lengthy for an older platformer.  I mostly played without a guide, and only did what was necessary to complete the game’s story.  With that in mind, I spent around 8 hours on the game.  Since this is a VC title and relatively cheap, that’s a really nice turnaround time that you’re getting back.

Controls

This is a Game Boy Color game, so don’t expect a plethora of extensive controls.  With that in mind, though, there are a few control swap-ups that Nintendo did when they threw this onto the Virtual Console.

The D-Pad / Circle Pad is used to move around in each area.  A is used for jumping, and B is used for attacking.  The Start button is used for entering Dance Mode for transformations, but the Y button can also do this.  I personally prefer using Y for it.  And that’s it.  Not a bad control scheme, but also not a great one.  It works, though.

Presentation

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Visually, this game looks really nice.  Shantae was definitely one of the prettiest games to grace the Game Boy Color.  The 2D artwork and renders were pretty smooth and there was a lot of animation to each model thrown in.  It’s one of those games that you look at and think that it was a game that really tested the GBC’s limitations, and looks quite colorful and nice on the 3DS.

Music sounds like it was taken out of the NES era, but doesn’t sound generic.  Just as Half-Genie Hero’s soundtrack fit the Genie/Mysitcal theme, the music here does as well.  It might even moreso here because of that NES-style MIDI-like soundtrack.  There’s nothing like Dance Through the Danger, but it’s enjoyable.

Performance, I have no problems here, as you’d expect coming from the era this game was made in.  Frame-Rate, Load Times.  Everything runs great.

Summary

Shantae was the beginning of a very unique handheld-focused series.  The original release is not without its flaws.  The game’s lack of direction and extensive backtracking can leave you very frustrated.  If you can bare using a guide, though, it’s a fun little platformer that fans of Half-Genie Hero may want to check out. 

8/10

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