If ever there was a troubled game in need of a return, that award would go to Shantae. The original Shantae game was potentially planned as an SNES release before the developers settled on making it for the Game Boy Color. After years of searching for a publisher (likely due to the high cost of the needed cartridge), Capcom finally jumped in to save the day for WayForward…only to wait 8 months after the game was completed to actually release it. It was made a bit worse for WayForward considering the Game Boy Advance was released in this time, and thus, the Game Boy Color game was largely ignored. Just so you know, original copies of the Game Boy Color game regularly cost up to thousands of dollars. Fortunately, WayForward has decided to bring the game to Nintendo Switch where it can be enjoyed by a much larger audience today. While it shows its age, Shantae on Switch is a fun delight through an early 2000s platformer.
In Shantae you play as, well, Shantae, who has to stop the evil pirate queen Risky Boots from laying siege to Scuttle Town. You’re successful but not before Risky manages to swipe a steam engine built by Mimic (a resident of Scuttle Town) and sails off into the sunset. Panicked, Mimic explains that Risky could use the engine to create a terrible weapon that would enable her to rule the seas, so Shantae sets out to collect the elemental stones needed to power it before Risky gets to them first.
One of the things about Shantae is how much of the franchise’s DNA is right there from the start. If you’ve played more recent entries in the series, you’ll be surprised to discover that the characters, the gameplay, and the humor are all intact. In fact, some enemies even use the exact same attack styles from that original game 19 years later. I never played the original Shantae on Game Boy Color, I discovered the Shantae series many years later, but that original DNA feeling in Shantae is an absolute treat. In many ways, Shantae feels ahead of its time. I played a ton of Game Boy Color games back in the day, and even after all this time, you can tell that Shantae was really pushing the hardware to its fullest potential. There are a lot of clever elements to the game’s design that make this 2002 game feel like a more recent game. From the change in perspective when visiting a town to some of the enemy movements, it feels like WayForward was making a game ahead of its time.
As far as presentation is concerned, Shantae looks quite nice for a game that is 19 years old. WayForward really took advantage of the Game Boy Color hardware, and this Nintendo Switch port really shows that off with vibrant visuals and great character designs. The original version of Shantae allowed for some enhancements when played on a Game Boy Advance, and thankfully, players have the option to select between the two versions on Switch. There’s also an art gallery and an option to use save states, which are incredibly helpful considering the following below.
Shantae is a hard game to play, not because of the actual difficulty of the game, but because of the incredibly small screen you see. Shantae’s sprites look excellent, but the tradeoff is that they’re really large and tend to make the camera feel too zoomed in as a result. There were many times where a platform was completely missed because it demanded a blind jump somewhere off camera. Even worse was when an enemy we couldn’t see got in a cheap hit or two before they suddenly materialized on-screen with little warning. I understand this was because of the Game Boy Color’s limited screen size, but after all these years, it feels like a really cheap trick to have in the game.
Even though the difficulty may be annoying, the worst part to me was navigation. There isn’t an in-game map AT ALL. This means that you’re expected to rely solely on your memory to figure out how to get around. If you’re trying to figure out whether you’ve fully explored an area or are just wondering where to go next, the only solution is to pretty much wander all over the world until you’ve found something interesting or triggered some in-game event. It’s frustrating that an in-game map was not included in the game. After all, Shantae is a Metroidvania game, which demands knowing where you are and where you have been.
In the end, is Shantae worth picking up on Nintendo Switch? Yes and no. It’s wonderful to be able to go back to the original game that started it all and save yourself a few dollars from having to buy a thousand dollar Game Boy Color cartridge. The franchise’s DNA is right here, and you’ll feel quite comfortable with the game quite quickly. For current fans of the series that never played the original, I absolutely recommend buying it on Switch. However, those that have never played an entry in the Shantae series have four other games that do a much better job showcasing Shantae.
Developer: WayForward (original game), Dimitris Giannakis (Switch port)
Publisher: WayForward, Limited Run Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 22nd April 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Shantae was provided by the publisher.