Gamers love a good deal; it’s even better when the product is amazing. Fortunately, the recent resurgence of emulation based gaming and digital rereleases has made it considerably cheap to relive nostalgia and experience games that were initially overlooked. Released very late in the Game Boy Color’s life cycle, Wayforward’s Shantae was a testament to a company pulling out all the stops, delivering an old school gaming treat that was loved by all; unfortunately, it was not bought by all because of the aging hardware, and was heralded as a sought out collector’s item. With the Nintendo 3DS virtual console release, however, gamers can enjoy a remarkable platformer that was years ahead of its time.
The story follows resident half-genie Shantae as she protects Scuttle Town; however, the town’s peace is disrupted by Risky, a savage pirate adamant about stealing newly discovered steam powered technology, as well as ancient magical stones. Following pleas for help, Shantae goes on a dangerous adventure to thwart the pirate’s plans once and for all. Throughout the journey, players will have a simple, yet upgradeable, whip attack as well as an assortment of items to counter the threats of incoming enemies in an open world environment. The main draw in this game is the variety of dances players can perform; by utilizing rhythm game commands, Shantae can transform into a host of different creatures to help her navigate the tricky traverse as well as perform other things, like warp to another town on the map.
The biggest surprise I encountered while playing this game was wondering if this was a Game Boy Advance title; it’s that technologically sophisticated. Things like an open world, real time day and night mechanics --where enemies are stronger in the field at night but more unlockables are present--, and multiple hub towns were almost unheard of throughout the original Game Boy’s heyday. The fact that Wayforward could jam so much content in a little cartridge still amazes me to this day. The finely crafted story and huge amount of side quests easily puts this game in the 8-10 hour territory, a remarkable achievement for that handheld’s library. The graphics look top-notch as well, with the colorful Eastern influences being crisply displayed on the 3DS’s top screen; it looks just as good as an early Game Boy Advance title. The fact that this also included pseudo-rhythm elements was great as well; while it could have been implemented in a more organic way --players dance to an impromptu rhythm and are simultaneously vulnerable to enemy attack, which is a problem on later levels--, it was a nice attempt. The characterization for the protagonists and supporting cast is quirky, with the main character being a sweet is spunky heroine, with her foil being a ruthless and scheming pirate; it works out nicely.
If there was one qualm I had throughout the experience, it would probably be that there are a few instances of cheap deaths; while there really is no consequences for losing lives, instant death due to spikes or bottomless pits is a little problem; this is mitigated a tad due to the 3DS’ restore point feature, but it’s still pretty challenging with it. The game is reminiscent of the Mega Man series, so the level design is brutal, and dungeons can only be played through in one sitting, so if one loses all their lives, it’s back to the beginning of the stage. Additionally, while upgradeable, fighting enemies with the (hair!) whip attack is somewhat unpredictable and frustrating. Other than that, however, the game’s difficulty is balanced enough that seasoned gamers will be in for a treat; it doesn’t pull any punches.
A technical marvel, as well as a great platformer, it’s no wonder Shantae has been lauded by many for over a decade. With its slick presentation, great implementation of the original hardware, and advance storyline, it’s a must buy for those wanting a piece of gaming heaven, as well as those who don’t want to shell out upwards of a hundred bucks for a physical copy.
Included in the article is a third-party review of the sequel, "Shantae: Risky's Revenge", available to download for DSi and 3DS now.