Though Shantae has gone on to become an indie gaming icon, her origins were much dicier. The original Shantae was potentially planned as a SNES or PC release before it finally settled on the Game Boy Color. Production went well, but the game required an expensive cartridge which caused many publishers to balk at the idea of backing it. After a couple years of searching, Capcom finally swooped in to save the day for WayForward, but the company sat on the release for about eight months after it had gone gold. In that window, the Game Boy Advance enjoyed a successful debut, which made the eventual release of a brand-new IP on Game Boy Color a rather unappealing concept to most consumers.
Of course, Shantae eventually got the attention she deserves, but not before her inaugural release fell into relative obscurity. Original copies of the first-run cartridge can cost up to thousands of dollars these days, but it became substantially more accessible when it came to the 3DS Virtual Console a few years ago. Now, WayForward has opted to re-release Shantae yet again for the Switch, finally bringing the entire Shantae saga to one place. Shantae is a fun game in its own right and a fascinating period piece, though it feels undoubtedly like a lesser experience when compared to its successors.
The narrative picks up with the evil pirate queen Risky Boots laying siege to Scuttle Town, and it’s up to Shantae—the resident Guardian (half…)Genie—to repel Risky’s crew of Tinkerbats. She successfully does so, but not before Risky manages to swipe a steam engine built by Mimic (who evidently isn’t Shantae’s uncle here) 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.
It’s a rather simple setup and overall tells a good story, though it must be noted that the writing feels considerably more awkward and the sense of humor that the series is now known for is mostly absent here. Shantae’s sassy personality feels a lot more toned down and characters just generally have a much flatter presence to them. You can’t expect too much, of course, as this is a GBC game from 2002, but the gap in quality is noticeable when compared to the later entries. At its worst, however, the storytelling is simply an inoffensive and unremarkable component that doesn’t much inspire strong feelings one way or the other.
As one of the last Game Boy Color games ever released, Shantae was famous for pushing the limits of its platform and providing one its most ambitious adventures. The basic gameplay takes the shape of a Metroidvania, with a small handful of dungeons scattered around its interconnected map acting as major anchor points where you progress the story and gain new abilities. Much like their equivalents in later games, these dungeons provide many of the standout moments, as they present a smart mixture of platforming, puzzle solving and combat gauntlets.
Although there aren’t any upgrades to hair whip speed or damage, the consumable weapons—like the rotating pike ball—you can pick up from the shops add a decent bit of additional depth to the rather simplistic combat. Beyond that, the animal upgrades you unlock as you go through the dungeons add some welcome traversal options to Shantae’s arsenal. None of these massively change up the game, but they almost always give you a good reason to backtrack to previous areas to grab collectibles you may have missed.
Level design, however, leaves something to be desired both in and out of the dungeons. A big part of this is due to the limited screen size that the Game Boy Color had to offer. Shantae’s sprite looks excellent, but the tradeoff is that it’s rather large and tends to make the camera feel too zoomed in as a result. We had one too many times where a platform was missed because it demanded a blind jump somewhere off camera, or an enemy we couldn’t see got in a cheap hit before they suddenly materialized onscreen with little warning.
Then there’s the issue of navigation, which proves to be quite the headache if you don’t play Shantae in extended sessions. There isn’t an in-game map at all, meaning that you’re expected to rely solely on your memory or on fan-made maps you can find online. If you’re trying to discern whether you’ve fully explored an area, or you’re even just wondering where to go next, the only solution is pretty much an ongoing trial and error of trying every avenue you can think of until you’ve found something interesting. Some may enjoy this more opaque kind of design, but it generally comes off as being needlessly backwards when you find yourself lost yet again and have no effective means of setting yourself straight.
From a presentation perspective, Shantae of course manages to impress given the humble state of the hardware it released on. The 8-bit spritework remains consistently expressive and impressively animated, and there are even things like simplistic lighting changes that showcase a smart mastery of the hardware on WayForward’s part. Music is a little bit tinny and it loops quicker than we’d like, but it’s still fun to hear the early, primitive versions of some tracks that later went on to become series’ staples. This is, of course, the least visually impressive Shantae to date, but we’d suggest that viewing it as a sort of ‘demake’ of later releases helps one look past the shortcomings.
For this re-release there isn’t much in the way of exciting new content or additions, but all the expected features are here. You can choose to play in either the original or GBA-enhanced versions, and both these options have a variety of screen filters available for you to tweak the appearance. Beyond that, save state support has been worked in to make saving a hassle-free process, and you can even use it to cheese some of the tougher sections if you want. Beyond that, there’s also a small gallery where you can view some of the original concept art and marketing material, which can serve as a fun extra for the super fans of the series.
We feel it’s important to note that you should look at Shantae with some managed expectations, as this is a rather disappointing title by modern standards. It’s no stretch to say that the later releases improved in every conceivable way upon the foundation this release first laid, and it can subsequently feel like a dramatic step back in many regards. This certainly isn’t a bad game by any means, but it is an inescapably dated one. As a result it’s a rather tough sell when you can pick up Risky’s Revenge for the same price and get a much better experience, or pay a little more and get a substantially better experience with the other three games.
Shantae is a product of its time, which can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, this old Game Boy Color game displays an ambition and quality that outpaced many other games of its time and it easily stands as one of the best releases for that retro platform. On the other hand, it is still a game from 2002, and showcases many of the game design shortcomings one would expect from that time. It’s not a bad game by any means, then, but this is easily a game that we can only really recommend to longtime fans who are curious where Shantae got her start. If you don’t fall into that camp, we’d recommend you pick up one of the later releases and maybe come back to this one later on.
The dungeons were more interesting and complex in this game than they were in any of the sequels, IMO. The increased sense of difficulty and scope of the overworld makes it one of the most satisfying to play through, as well.
It's rough around the edges, but it's also one of the best games on that platform.
Whilst I agree that it hasn't aged too well, there's still an enjoyable game in there without a doubt.
The main problem I have with it is the screen crunch.
The original Shantae is deserving of a modernised remake really.
@Ralizah I really wish they sprang to remake this one. Definitely would've been extra work, but getting this game in the new art style with a map, a little extra content, plus all the QoL stuff from later entries and it could've been a slam dunk.
I wanted to like this game more, but I think it's easily the weakest entry in the series now.
I wonder if standards for 2D exploration games have increased since the days of the 3DS version, since NintendoLife gave this game a 8/10 previously.
Hopefully next time it becomes a Collection when they port it again.
Having played the original, I'm of the same opinion of the reviewer
Yeah, I've wanted a remake of this in the HGH engine for years. It'd be glorious, especially if they kept the same sense of challenge that has all but disappeared from more recent entries.
Half-Genie Hero will likely always be my least favorite entry. Horrible level design, even more of a lack of personality and humor than in the original, mind-numbingly easy, etc. I regard it the way a lot of Paper Mario fans regard Sticker Star. At least the free (if you kickstarted it) DLC improves the experience significantly. It's still fundamentally unsatisfying, but the bonus campaigns are almost all universally better than what was provided in the base game.
If I had to rank them, I think I'd opt for:
1) Pirate's Curse
2) Shantae GBC
3) Seven Sirens
4) Risky's Revenge
5) Half-Genie Hero
Seven Sirens had the potential to be the best game in the series, but a lack of balancing with the way it doles out healing items really hurt it, IMO.
@EarthboundBenjy A different reviewer probably reviewed the 3DS VC release. It's going to differ from person to person. Some people struggle to get past the old game jankiness, whereas others really love it.
Are they judging this game by modern standards I wonder? Doesn't seem fair for a Game Boy title.
Lots of lame retro wannabes get 7s and 8s but this real classic gets a 6?
I'll wait for a 50% sale before buying It...
It's my least favorite of the Shantae games, but they had to start somewhere.
My favorite is still Pirate's Curse, followed by Sirens.
I actually really enjoyed what I’ve played of this on 3DS. My only Shantae game so far but in the first few dungeons there’s enough challenge and charm in there for my tastes. Might be a pretty obtuse game and the screen size is rather squished but for the time, I thought it was excellent. Definitely one for me to go back and revisit.
"It doesn't cost hundreds to play it anymore!" doesn't make much sense as this has been available on 3DS for a while. I know you mention this in the review, but it doesn't make the subtitle any more accurate.
@Heavyarms55 not that I agree with the final score, but classic games can have flaws sometimes that you can't overlook.
@nessisonett I'm super excited for my GBC copy to come in. I'm not usually one to handicap myself by playing on inferior hardware for no reason, but it's an experience I've always wanted to have. I've even been shopping for some of those old worm lights to plug into my GBC.
Gonna rock it like it's 2002!
@switchvogel Out of interest which 8 bit games do you think have withstood the test of time? I played Shantae for the first time in 2015 and thought it held up very well. I enjoyed it much more than Risky's Revenge or Pirates Curse.
Wouldn't it make more sense for a new player to start with this one and then move onto the sequels? Playing the newer games first would make it harder to come back to the original. Anyway, I've never played a Shantae game and I'm a Game Boy enthusiast, so I will be buying this at some point.
Physical release with all Shantae games included - yes please
"It doesn't cost hundreds to play it anymore!"
I mean, it's been on the 3DS Virtual Console for a good while now...
Side note, they silently cancelled the 3DS version of Risky's Revenge: Director's Cut, didn't they? Man, I was looking forward to seeing Shantae switch between foreground and background in two areas in the game and nowhere else. Yeah, starting to realize why they never finished it, especially when the original DSiWare is still available on the 3DS eShop.
@Ralizah There are a few games that I own on original hardware out of some unexplainable need. Fire Emblem 4 being the prime example!
Also, this article is another reminder that this site is sitting on the tagline ‘Shantae you stay’.
Saying a game that came out almost 20 years ago has outdated level design is... I don’t have words for that. I get it, it doesn’t have modern considerations to UX, but come on, this was the first game in the series. It was a game that really put Wayforward out there, to which they could then start considering what they could do better.
I guess it’s like going back to late 90’s/early 00’s movies and saying the set design is outdated rather than the CG they were using at the time.
Graphically it's one of the best GBC games, but I never liked the stage design. Gameplay-wise it was never that good imo. But hey, that's just me. I have played games from that era and earlier with much better stage design.
Yeah, this game could definitely use a remake. Or they at least could have added maps. The other day I played until I got the ability to turn into the monkey. But then I just wandered around that dungeon lost, and I haven’t yet gone back to it. I do plan to finish it though, since this is the only Shantae I haven’t beaten.
Re: the lack of a map — yeah that was my only real bugbear when I played this on 3DS, apart from that it had a lot of charm, and I was planning on playing the whole series at some point
No map system?
You guys better not play Zelda 2, Ghoonies 2 or Faxanadu for the NES. It would drive you crazy
Can't fully agree with the tone and the final grade of this review, although I respect if, of course.
I played Shantae for the first time in the 3DS Virtual Console a couple years ago, and absolutely loved it, no rose-tinted glasses.
True, graphically the series has been improved, yet Risky's Revenge (which I played on Wii U this year and liked less, I might add) looks heavily pixelated and shows its DSi origin.
It's also true that the absence of a map makes you run through all the country many times (after all, it turns out to be a circle).
But for the rest, it's fun, looks gorgeous, it's beautifully animated (and Shantae belly dances are rather sexy), the music is catchy and also has minigames, something at least Risky's Revenge doesn't have.
If you are a fan of the series, don't miss it. If not, you could do worse than starting here.
@Moroboshi876 It won't happen, given the social climate, but I'd love to see the dancing minigame from Shantae GBC return at some point, hopefully in improved form. Seven Sirens has a dancing minigame of sorts, but it's not nearly as fun.
I really agree with this.
The only Shantae game that has the same refined dungeons is Pirate's Curse.
Half Genie Hero is totally different (and not in a good way), while Seven Sirens only have one good dungeon and to actually had fun I had to keep myself from not upgrading my hearts and not use any Magic (until the vert Last Battle, at least). The Gameplay is that broken.
Is good game but I don’t think it’s worth getting if you already have a way to play this. That’s just me.
@Ulanda, I beat Zelda 2 many times when I was just a preteen. Sorry, but that’s an outdated concept and games like this should come with a map. Wandering around aimlessly trying to find one room I missed just isn’t fun anymore.
Ordered physical from limited run way back in October. Despatched over 2 weeks ago and no tracking info yet. Seems like they lost it
I mean, come on, it's a GBC game and the first in this wonderful series. Judging it by today's standards isn't really fair to this game.
It's a faithful port with some neat extras and for the first time we have all Shantae games on console.
@Peteykins Xtreme Sports for GBC is also shockingly good
@Ralizah Fully agreed. The original might still be my favorite in the series to be honest, though I did really enjoy Seven Sirens.
This is the only Shantae game I haven't played. Considering that I enjoyed all the others quite a bit, including HGH, I don't see much reason to bother going to one that doesn't have the series' modern conveniences. Nice to have for collectors of all kinds though.
Happy to have the whole series physically on Switch.
Makes me eager to see what else MVG is working on.
@Whitestrider I agree. But I don't think classic games should be judged by modern standards any more than retro style modern games should get a pass for lazy design because they want to be retro. I think things should be judged on their appropriate context. For a Game Boy Color title, this game was really impressive in a lot of ways.
@MrGrim I played Zelda 2 as well, but to say that games NEED a map function is ridiculous to me, because everyone can make a map for themselves, like back in the good old days. This is how I finished Metroid. Map functions make people just lazy, just like all those tutorials in modern games.
Honestly this game could had just been bundle with Pirate's Curse and Risky's Revenge as one trilogy collection for $15. It was a guilty pleasure to had to buy this as a separate physical game for the Switch.
@Dualmask If you enjoyed the rest of the series I'd be surprised if you didn't like this one too. This review is pretty harsh IMO.
@kickerofelves that's the thing, I'm sure I would like it well enough, but I don't see a reason to bother with a dated game when I've already played the better ones. It's kind of like buying Super Mario Bros. 1 for the first time after playing SMB3 to death. Might be somewhat worth the experience, but not really.
@kickerofelves Honestly not many come to mind, I think the 16-bit gen was way better. Off the top of my head, though I'd say SMB3, Mega Man 2-6, Kirby's Adventure.
Personally, I don't think it's fair to give old games a pass for antiquated concepts just because they were made in a different time. If a game isn't fun to play today, then it isn't fun to play and it'll be scored accordingly.
I think it's delusional how some people act like they have to treat older games with the utmost respect, as if there's some obligation to pretend like stuff that used to be popular has always aged well. I'm not saying things can't age well, but many don't stand the test of time.
I don't like the screen size in games like this so I won't be buying it. I am glad they have the whole series on Switch though.
I am just baffled that this costs as much as it does (about double that of the 3DS version?!) and that somebody somewhere thought a glorified GBC ROM dump on a Switch cartridge was a capital idea (it really should have been on the same cartridge as Risky's Revenge rather then preying on diehard fans with separate expensive physical editions).
Such a price for a remake would have been more reasonable. Either way, I'm looking forward to checking it out again. It's still a very impressive game by GBC standards.
@Chrayfish oh no! Hope it gets to you soon. Mine came in two weeks ago from limited run. I don’t like how it comes in a box say “limited run games” all on the outside.
@Thwomp_Stomper after 30 days I can request they resend from their remaining stock. I'd ordered Shantae GBC as well as Risky's Revenge and also having the same issue with my order of Scott Pilgrim. I've ordered so many times off of them before without issue so really hoping they can sort it for me.
@Heavyarms55 Why would most gamers care if it "was" impressive? I want to know if I'm going to be impressed today. This isn't the Criterion Collection. NL isn't trying to evaluate games from a historically and culturally-sensitive perspective — there are other sites for that. I just want to play.
Outdated level design
Well, duh... you're expecting a modern quality level design from a twenty year old game?
@Bass_X0 It's still a con. Most of us use these reviews to decide whether to buy a fun game or not, not sip a glass of cognac while musing over the historical significance of the title in its proper setting.
@nimnio Now that made me laugh.
The 3DS version is using Nintendo's software, the Switch version comes with an emulator done by a hobbyist programmer which really shouldn't mean anything but he even talks about making that GB emulator as a "first-time experience" and that he "had to figure things out along the way."
I know I would not pay premium price for someone's coughed-up GBC emulator vs. Nintendo's $4.99 version.
This version obnoxiously adds a limited run games splash screen. It's not exactly the kind of thing I want to see from such an expensive release.
Finally the "GBA enhanced" option is implemented in such a lazy way, the developers didn't seem to care that making the colors super bright doesn't add anything to the game, any programmer worth their salt would have made it possible to use GBA mode without altering the colors. This information is available online for free.
This is lazy, if you wanted Shantae on Switch you got it in the simplest, most expensive way possible.
Okay. Can we then also agree that 1970s Star Wars is dated and therefore crappy, and only the recent Star Wars movies are good because they are modern?
No? No one?
@Bass_X0 Clearly, since we've had like 50 revisions of the film, didn't the Disney+ version add like an extra second to the Greedo scene, or like a line or something.
Surprised by the low score. This one is still my favorite... but may have more to do with nostalgia.
I always enjoyed this original entry the best, probably because of the simplicity of it. They definitely added a lot to the later games to make them more complex but this just has that nice Game Boy feel.
@nimnio It's not sensitive anything. It's called accurate evaluation.
@Heavyarms55 Sure, accurate evaluation. It's 2021, so it should be compared to other games in 2021. Accurate.
@AlienX The Greedo shot first part? That was in since the Special Editions back in the late 90's. Did they add more on top of that?
I've always been a bit puzzled as to why this game in particular has always stuck to Nintendo consoles. I'm the last person to complain about exclusives, but Shantae's been pretty consistent with going onto Playstation and Steam since Half-Genie Hero. It's certainly rough, but I can see a market for some bigger enthusiasts wanting to play the original title.
Looking to grab this for myself. It's definitely a gem, and I actually think overall it's one of the stronger entries. Add this and Seven Sirens to the list, and I'll finally have played the whole series!
My least favorite Shantae. I'd have preferred it be an unlockable bonus on one of the superior sequels, but this'll do when it's half off
@masterLEON @AlienX Maclunkey!
Yeah I remember not having a map to be a real killer when playing this on 3DS. But still, wonderful for it's time in terms of visuals and even platforming (looking at majority of GBC & GBA titles I remember playing)
I don't get the complaints that this game shouldn't be judged by today's standards. Of course it should! It is a new release for a modern console in 2021! It is a lot easier to understand what a game's score means if all games are treated the same rather than judged against when they were originally released. People who are familiar with this game already don't need a review to aid their decision and people who have never played it benefit from a rose tinted specs free view.
If Pong were to be released as a standalone game on Switch should it get an automatic 10 for being the pinnacle of gaming at the time of its original release?
@SwitchVogel While it being true that not all games have "aged well", I do think consideration of the technical limitations and what the developers were still able to achieve is important.
Many older games may not wow us with their (lack of) technical marvel, but I don't think it makes them any lesser. They often succeed in engaging the player in other ways.
This was the first Shantae game so maybe try looking at it that way instead of comparing to games made much later.
@AlienX Actually he has ported many emulators and other projects to a lot of different consoles and is a quite known programmer in the homebrew community. He probably is not less skilled than the people that developed the GB virtual console at Nintendo.
@EarthboundBenjy That was a straight Virtual Console release rather than an enhanced re-release like this, so the 3DS review was adjusted to the standard of GBC games at the time (for example, most GBC games didn't have the ability to include the kind of detailed map this game would've needed), hence the higher score.
In this version, if they could include an alternate version with enhanced graphics and add save support, they could've also added a map and maybe a couple other QoL additions or fixes, although an expanded screen might've been a little too much to ask.
It's the same reason they don't usually fault NES games released on VC and NSO for things like lousy graphics or the inability to save your game for anything other than RPGs.
@masterLEON No, nothing's been added to the Greedo scene since the Special Edition, but a scene in "Solo: A Star Wars Story" implies that the original version of the scene is what is now canon as well as providing a justification for Han shooting first.
@BulbasaurusRex Ah, I gotta watch the rest of it then. I've only seen the 2nd half because it was playing at work, LOL
@AndreaF96 I will agree with the VC developers not necessarily being more skilled but there is something to note: porting software is a completely different skill to writing an emulator practically from scratch.
I just don't know enough about the release to give more comments on it. I'm still skeptical after seeing his video.
There is also the factor of pushing more time on a commercial product than one would for homebrew but I personally can't relate.
@BulbasaurusRex @masterLEON hey, if y'all google "maclunkey" you'll find the Disney+ version does add a line.
Rather than these one-offs, we need a Game Boy line Switch Online App! Nintendo get on it please!
@AlienX Actually porting emulators is not just about recompiling the code for another target. Usually a lot of code needs to be rewritten to change api calls or to support different instruction sets. Porting emulators with dynarec is difficult for this very reason. The guy is definitely a very skilled programmer: fore the OG XBox he implemented a pagination system that allowed emulators that he ported to play roms that were larger than the amount of ram of the XBox. I didn't play the shantae game but the fact that he is a homebrew developer does not mean that he is not capable of pulling this off.
@AndreaF96 I never said it was. I've looked at this guy's work, I know he's a seasoned programmer, it is because I've seen how other talented developers operate that I can't fathom how he: wrote a GB emu from scratch, got it to a professional level (savestates, clean audio/video) and did this all (supposedly) in just one month?
If it were endrift, liji32, or near then I'd understand, but a guy who made a VM implementation? And is known for porting ?
I don't know how familiar you are with the scene but mGBA which has had GBC support for five years now, still has issues with audio, video and savestates. The developer is incredibly talented and singlehandedly improved GBA emulation overall, even has an active patreon for this project so you know it's definitely more than just a hobby.
By the way mGBA is written in C, it's super portable any potato will run it. This is what I meant with porting being a different skillset, you can port mGBA to any decent platform you want without having to change a byte of code. (In case we're not on the same page, I'm talking code of the emulator core, not device-specific handling, such as video rendering or device i/o.)
I'm not denying he accomplished this, I'm questioning it based on the reasons already stated. I've looked at Lantus' repo and the doom port doesn't seem to have the commits present for his work on the port so it's hard to tell how much new code went into it and what type of code it is.
Wow....I'm used to seeing reviews that are completely unfair and silly but this one really stands out. 6/10...on a game that is possibly the most impressive Gameboy game ever made. It's an actual fully realized Metroidvania world that is a joy to explore. It has tight controls, interesting combat, huge variety of gameplay with the animal transformations, a great story, and unbelievably good game performance. This is one of the super rare occasions that I'd give a 9/10 or even a perfect 10. I'm so tired of seeing clueless reviewers that have no concept of "GAME CONTEXT". The era in which it was released, the hardware limitations of that era, the sort of gaming concepts that were either brand new or non existent at the time. You have a job that others dream of, reviewing games for a living. This is a nearly perfect game and yet you don't seem to grasp that. You really shouldn't be allowed to work as a game reviewer, someone could miss out on this brilliant game because you apparently have no understanding of what makes a game any good. It's been a long time since I've came upon a review that has irritated me as much as this.
For the majority of readers, none of those things matter. Maybe Pong was a 10/10 game when it was released, but people are looking for purchase advice for the present day. Compared to other 2022 games, or even other Shantae games, 6/10 is a reasonable score.
Things have changed a bit in 20 years, and like Pong, Shantae is probably no longer a 10/10 game for most people.
I can see why people would think this game hasn’t aged well to today’s standards, but I feel there’s a certain standard to expect when playing gameboy games. Obviously you shouldn’t expect the quality of Hollow Knight or Celeste when you go back in time like this, but I just started playing this game last week, completely blind and having never played a Shantae game before, and I’m really impressed! Like stated in the article, they’ve done some pretty innovative things for a gameboy game at the time. I actually like the music, the level design is great, challenge is decent, gameplay is smooth, and I like how you navigate the towns from the different perspective. I would have expected this game to get a higher score than the internet have it.
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