With all the other games in the franchise released for the Switch and after almost 20 years since its original release for the Game Boy Color in 2002, the franchise’s first entry, Shantae, has finally arrived at the Nintendo hybrid. Despite having won few sales originally, the renowned, rare and surprising title of the colorful notebook proves to be a robust 2D platform game, mixing difficulty, gameplay and magic in a genius way.
Nowadays, a legitimate Shantae cartridge for the Game Boy Color has become one of the most sought after treasures by collectors around the world, due to its late release and low circulation. However, due to the great reviews the game received, the growing mystique behind the game made it a lost gem in the collector’s library.
With the relaunch on Switch, it will be for many the first opportunity – after the unseen version for the Virtual Console of 3DS – to play a legitimate version of the first adventure of the mid-genius, since it is a port for the new platform. The changes promoted by WayForward were just an option of extras with conceptual images, sprites and maps available in the initial menu, in addition to the option to also play the version with graphical improvements for GBA, all in a system almost identical to that of NES / SNES Online.
Shantae’s story begins with a demonstration of her peaceful life as a guardian of the small fishing port of Scuttle Town. Suddenly, a pirate boat, commanded by Risky Boots, attacks the place and steals one of the most advanced technologies available: the Steam Engine. Without knowing much of what it was about, but concerned with the local population, Shantae sets out in search of Risky to recover the steam engine and prevent the world from falling into a calamity caused by the evil use of the tool.
In the game universe, Shantae remembers several times that she is not yet a complete genius, but that she still has jumps above the ordinary, besides being able to inflict damage with his tied purple hair and possess the power of magic dances. All of this can be further enhanced with the purchase of limited-use accessory items, ranging from protection from falling off cliffs and enemies to walking clouds that electrocute your enemies.
Every scenario available in the game world is connected, with each environment being a continuous screen, as in an open world. So, just knowing how to jump and resist damage when exploring environments, in addition to having the right unlockable skills, as certain parts of the map are inaccessible until you have acquired the necessary skills. In this way, the world gradually unlocks, giving a solid sense of progression.
The game also features a very basic cycle of day and night, which provides changes in that environment, such as different enemies, fireflies in new locations and even different cities, such as the Caravana Zumbi. It is impressive how the mechanics go without difficulties, since current games still suffer to adapt similar mechanics.
While exploring the cities, the gameplay changes, with the camera placed behind Shantae and rotating between different stores or directing us to speak to one of the inhabitants. There is always a room to save the game, a bath room to recover your lost hearts, the home of Squid Mother and some minigames that provide bonuses in the form of items or coins. Small parts of the story are spent exploring some of these houses, where we meet the secondary characters of the plot, but nothing very special.
For the Steam Engine to work properly, Risky Boots goes after the elemental stones, hidden in four different mazes. It is in these moments that the game shows its typical elements of metroidvania, with rooms full of puzzles, secret passages, locked doors and enemies. It is quite problematic, however, that there is no possibility to consult the map of any of them while playing, which makes the challenge doubly greater, having to rely on their spatial memory and a little guesswork to find the route certain.
In each maze, a genie is released who teaches Shantae new dances, allowing her to transform into a monkey, an elephant, a spider or a harpy throughout the game, each with its own gameplay characteristics. The end of each labyrinth is protected by a boss, guardian of the elemental stone, who, although not very difficult, gives new dynamics to the combat system.
To activate each transformation, press X to activate the rhythm mode and, when the musical eighth notes are colored, press a directional pad, A or B at a time, at the time of the beat. Initially, it is a bit complicated to understand the system, but after unlocking the associated powers and having to repeat them several times, it becomes more natural, even if there is still a feeling that it could be simpler.
When transforming into a monkey, it is possible to climb walls and jump higher; the elephant is able to destroy barriers and do a lot of damage, despite jumping very badly; the spider manages to scale some sections in the background; the harpy has the ability to fly. As the game continues, the use of combinations of these animals becomes increasingly important and, as a bonus, provides Shantae with much more variety of exploration. Towards the end of the game, it is also possible to find and unlock talismans that will allow you to attack even while being transformed, although very few references to them are made during the entire plot.
It is important to note that Shantae is not an easy game; their attacks are often weak and enemies attack a lot, with much greater damage than yours, even when they are not visible on the screen. With all lives taken, we return to the last save point, which is very frustrating, given that they are between each labyrinth and a city, a path that usually has long stretches of exploration. Even more frustrating is when you die to the boss of a maze, as it will still be necessary to go through all the upper rooms until you reach the boss’s room again.
This is where the emulation system similar to that of NES / SNES Online, new to this relaunch, works very well, making it possible to create save states at any time and return from that point – the difficult thing is to remember to do this always. While playing, however, I encountered a problem caused by this system, which caused my entire game to have visual bugs when loading a saved section during a loading screen . Fortunately, it was enough to restart the game for everything to return to normal. In addition, there is the option to play the game with different graphic filters, simulating the appearance of an LCD screen, in the original way or with optimizations.
The extras added to the home menu screen really add little to the experience. Of course, for fans of the character to be able to see it still in sketches and sketches is interesting, but it is not something that the player will consult more than once, becoming quite forgettable compared to the rest of the game. The highlight goes to the maps, but unfortunately they are impossible to consult during the game, unless you take a screenshot of the image and consult it through the Switch Photos application.
In addition, a problematic discomfort is perceived when controlling the character for the first time, when the gameplay seems a little strange, to say the least. The movement is initially very slow and very truncated, with the option of running being indispensable in all sections, and the style of the platform puzzles makes it essential to use a D-Pad, unless you are cold-blooded to die several times times due to the lack of precision of Joy-Con commands.
Shantae’s look is extremely lively, and each level is very detailed and varied. There are even some peculiarly clever effects included, such as when Shantae is walking in a dark area or after collecting one of the elemental stones. WayForward used interesting solutions that made your game not age so quickly. The sprites are large and clear and it is amazing how many details were included with so few pixels available.
The soundtrack, composed by Jake Kaufman, is really impressive, both docked and handheld, and I found myself whistling the main theme several times even when I wasn’t playing. Each environment has its own trail that, although not exactly themed with the location, works very well.
The release of Shantae for the Switch is the definitive way to play this underrated gem, with a few extras to add to the experience.