4cr Plays – Shantae (GBC)
Did you hear the great news? The original Shantae has been released for the 3DS Virtual Console! What?! You’re not rushing to buy this great game, now available digitally for your convenience? Maybe this review will get you in the mood for some platforming.
Shantae was developed by WayForward and released by CAPCOM during the last days of the GameBoy Color, a year after the GameBoy Advance was launched. CAPCOM, knowing that releasing a game for the GBC when the GBA was about to become king would be a hard sell, devised and interesting plan: any retailer that wanted a copy of Resident Evil Gaiden for the GBC (during the Resident Evil boom) would also need to order a copy of Shantae. This allowed CAPCOM to place the game at several retailers, but Shantae still ended up being available in short supply and became a cult classic thanks to its gameplay and big colorful sprites that pushed the GameBoy Color to its limits. Eleven years later, Shantae is now available for the Virtual Console on the 3DS for everyone to enjoy, and it definitely has stood the test of time. I had been waiting for a long time for this to happen, and having Shantae on Nintendo’s latest portable made my summer.
Our heroine Shantae is a half-genie who works as the Guardian for Scuttle town, a small fishing village in Sequin Land. All appears well, and the villagers are happy to have a genie as keeper of the peace but there is a problem. Seems that Shantae has not told the Mayor of Scuttle Town and all it’s villagers that she’s only a half-genie! When Shantae is debating if she should come clean and tell the major the truth, a pirate gang lead by the “sexy-but-evil” Risky Boots decides to attack Scuttle Town in search of a steam engine prototype developed by Mimic, crazy scientist/relic hunter/old guy. Shantae decides to go after Risky Boots to recover the steam engine, but soon discovers there is more to her adventure.
As you can tell from the videos and the screens, Shantae is a gorgeous GameBoy Color game that used every trick the system had to offer and then some. The game even features a night/day cycle that changes the way things look and also makes enemies stronger which can spell doom for Shantae if you’re not careful! Her journey will have you searching all over for the four magical stones that Risky Boots wants to power up the steam engine and conquer Sequin Land. The game’s treatment of Sequin Land itself is also very interesting, especially considering when it was released – the whole game is a single level. You can continue walking to the right in Sequin Land, and you will eventually find yourself back at the start. While there are some barriers in place to keep you from going everywhere, they can easily be overcome after you obtain one of four transformation skills.
Shantae loves to dance, and she’s very good at it! Hitting Select (or Y on the 3DS) will make her dance, and you can hit A, B, or any of the four directions in the D-Pad while in tune with the music to have her perform a specific dance step, but just dancing won’t do a thing. Sequin Land features four large dungeons and you must free the genie in each of the dungeons so that she can teach you a magical dance to transform into one of four animals! First up is the Monkey Dance which transforms Shante into a Monkey! This primate can climb walls, jump extra high, quickly run around and is smaller than Shantae which makes it easier to avoid some enemies and their attacks. Each of the dungeons has puzzles that put your new dance to the test so that you can get the hang of things and learn what you can do while transformed so that you can then apply this to the Sequin Land overworld to carry on with your quest.
When Shantae isn’t dancing, or transforming into one of the available animals, she can run, jump and whip her hair forward to damage enemies. This is her basic attack that is reliable and strong enough to defeat smaller enemies, but larger enemies, or those that you encounter at night, will need more than a single attack to be defeated. And this is where the items that can be bought at the Item Shop available in each of the towns in Sequin Land come into play. Stores share some of the same stock, but some items can only be found in a specific town, so stocking up when you get a chance is critical. Items can be bought with the gems that enemies drop when defeated, or that can be found inside of jars in dungeons. The smaller the gem, the lower its value, and you can only carry 999 gems total.
Due to this limitation the game does suffer a bit at the start. Buying items is not necessary to progress in the game, but they help make it easier to defeat enemies since being stronger, shooting fireballs or having a potion or two to recover your health are always a plus. At the beginning of the game, you end up farming for gems to have a decent stock of items during the first few hours, but then things get better once you’re able to play the Dance mini-game (think DDR with the D-Pad and buttons) to get enough gems for the pricier items and equipment that unlock powerful attacks for Shantae. When you eventually reach the Gecko minigame (shown in the video above) you can either lose big or win big (as many as 400-500 at once!) and almost completely resolve any money problems you might still be having.
This is all good and well for when you’re near the respective town that has either particular minigame, but what can you do when you’re at another town, and you need gems? Here is where squid comes into play! Each town you visit has a “Momma” squid that has lost her four babies, and she asks that you find them, and in return she’ll teach you something special. The squid can be found in the dungeons and bringing four of them to a Momma squid in any of the towns will allow you to learn the teleport dance to move back to that town in a flash. The teleport dance can make it easier to go from town to town, but you have to be careful when you pick where to leave the squid you find because you won’t be able to find all of them during your regular dungeon runs since some require you to come back later once you have a particular dance to turn into one of the four animals.
Overall, Shantae is one of the best games from WayForward, and now everyone can finally enjoy it on 3DS or 2DS without having to pay $50-999 for a copy of the game on the collector market. Shantae offers about 10-12 hours of content before it is over, all for only $4.99. Aside from having to grind for gems early in the game, it is very enjoyable. Be advised that the game is NES hard, which is just how I like them, but take that into consideration if that level of difficulty isn’t your thing.