Review – Shantae (Switch)
A lot of people know that the Shantae franchise began with a title released for the Game Boy Color in the last days of its relevance in the market, but very few people actually got to play it back in the day. A legit Shantae cartridge ended up becoming one of the most sought-after retro gaming treasures one could own. Knowing that their franchise is well established enough in this day and age, WayForward has finally decided to port/remaster the original Game Boy game for the Switch. Now you can finally own a legit version of it without resorting to emulation.
This version of Shantae is pretty much an upscaled emulation of the original ROM. There’s nothing new added to the original code, but has your typical improvements seen in other retro collections, such as savestates and different screen ratios. The developers also included both the version running on original Game Boy Color hardware, as well as the “improved” version also included in the original GBC cartridge, taking advantage of the GBA’s specs to deliver slightly improved visuals.
That’s fine. I don’t think Shantae deserved a remake anyway. Sure, this is a GBC game, meaning that is severely limited in what it can offer in terms of size, scope, and gameplay. But this is a perfect way to play an underrated gem with a few quality of life perks. Not to mention that I doubt Nintendo will ever release a Game Boy service the same way they did with the NES and SNES libraries.
Well then, about the game itself. Shantae is a traditional 2D platformer with some slight metroidvania elements, as well as an open-ended level structure. The game is about going from town to town, talking to people, gathering items, then partaking in challenging platforming sections and an occasional dungeon to explore. In a way, this game reminded me a bit of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, especially when exploring said dungeons. It’s a substantially large game for Game Boy Color standards, also allowing you to explore other areas whenever you please. Sure, you’ll probably die in one or two hits, but you CAN explore them regardless.
Jake Kaufman composed Shantae‘s soundtrack, and, as expected, it’s downright amazing. I’ve been humming some of the game’s tunes for the past few days nonstop. What he has managed to achieve with such a limited soundchip is nothing short of spectacular.
The scope and free roaming structure aren’t the only things that impressed me when playing Shantae. This game is gorgeous, even for today’s standards. Shantae’s sprite is superbly well-animated, and each level is detailed and varied. There are even some smart effects included in here, such as Shantae’s sprite becoming darker at night or when she is walking in a shadowy area. WayForward used smart workarounds to make their game look way better than your average GBC game. Sadly, the small screen size and large character sprites mean that you’ll have to resort to leaps of faith every now and then, but platforming puzzles are few and far between. Exploration is the name of the game.
While Shantae is an impressive game for GBC standards, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t aged. You can clearly see that when you analyze its gameplay. Sure, its level design and progression system are excellent, but controlling Shantae feels a bit weird, to say the least. Her movement is a bit wonky, the collision detection is faulty, and the reach of her main hair whip attack feels completely random. Sometimes it feels like your attacks connect with an enemy far away from you, while some attacks don’t connect even when they’re pretty much share the same pixels as your character. Can you get used to it? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you won’t die often due to some of Shantae‘s questionable gameplay decisions.
Some of Shantae‘s gameplay and design choices don’t exactly hold up, but I’m somewhat glad WayForward decided to re-release the game the exact way it first came to the world a whopping nineteen years ago. This is still an impressive achievement for a Game Boy Color, be it due to its visuals or level design, and it’s still really fun to play on the Switch in 2021. Not to mention that you won’t need to spend four figures on a mint copy in order to finally own it!
Shantae looks absolutely outstanding for a Game Boy Color game and it still looks quite good on the Switch’s screen.
Between the wonky movement and janky collision detection, Shantae‘s gameplay feels quite dated. It doesn’t mean you can’t put up with some of its issues, but you’ll die quite a lot due to some of its questionable choices.
Jake Kaufman did a jaw-dropping job with such a limited soundchip. Tons of tunes included in this soundtrack will stick with you long after you stop playing the game.
Fun Factor: 7.0
Some of its questionable gameplay design choices don’t exactly hold up, but Shantae is worth taking a look regardless. This is mostly due to how groundbreaking and hardware-defying it was for a game released on the Game Boy Color.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Shantae is available now on Switch and Game Boy Color. But good luck finding a copy of that game for a reasonable price.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Shantae was provided by the publisher.