Shantae
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy Color
  • Developer:
    • WayForward
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    • US 06/02/2002
Score: 80%

This review was published on 05/14/2010.

Shantae is a game released for the Game Boy Color during a time when everyone had already moved on to the Game Boy Advance. It's puzzling as to why this occurred, as this sort of thing tends to hurt the chances of your game selling. And it did. That's a shame, really, as there aren't many games out there quite like this one. Trust me, I've looked. Therefore, I think it is imperative that you carefully read through my run-down of the game before you decide it to be another shoddy title for the Game Boy Color. You never know: this could very well be worth your time. If anything, I can at least guarantee that you will learn something here.

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Looks can be deceiving, and such a statement can readily be applied to Shantae. Upon initial inspection, it will look like nothing more than a 2-D platformer with an Arabian theme. This is especially true for the introductory level; it plays like a straight-forward, action platformer. However, it is important to play past this stage, for the game's true nature will only be revealed once you've cleared said stage. To be bluntly honest, this first stage isn't very good, and is easily the worst part of the game. I'm not sure what the game developers were thinking, putting such a shoddy level right at the beginning, but believe me when I say that it's worth the trouble to get through it. You won't be disappointed.

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A game like Shantae is difficult to categorize into a single genre, as it combines elements from many. For one, after completing the less-than-stellar intro stage, an expansive world opens up to you, similar to what you'd expect from a Metroid game. There are towns, which contain shops that allow you to engage in the same sort of commerce you'd expect from an RPG. Your mission takes you to a number of dungeons, where you do the usual Zelda thing of solving puzzles to earn keys that allow you through locked doors. At this point, I'd consider a quest like this incomplete if it didn't have abilities that you earn throughout the game that let you gain access to new areas. Shantae has that covered, too. If I had to really put my finger on it, I'd say Shantae is what Zelda II on the NES should have been; a Zelda game done in a 2-D platformer fashion. You could say that Metroid has already accomplished that, but I feel that Metroid's exploration is a bit different from the dungeon-to-dungeon design of Zelda, of which Shantae more closely resembles.

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While there aren't many towns, there are enough to hold your attention. Your exploration of the towns is presented in an interesting behind-the-back perspective, where you get to speak to random townsfolk passing by or enter any one of the town's buildings. It is imperative to enter every town once or twice to speak to the prerequisite NPC that advances the plot (don't worry, these NPCs are always in special buildings that are easy to spot), but you'll be entering these towns far more often for other reasons. I mean, aside from using them to restore your health and save your game. What I'm talking about is twofold; the shops and mini-game... places. I'm not sure what to call the latter, but they're places that allow you to play short mini-games to get a chance at earning some extra money. These are fun, and beat grinding on enemies any day. And unlike the Zelda series, the shops offer plenty of items to blow your cash on: equipment that adds new combat skills to your repertoire, offensive items that can be used to easily dispatch your foes, supportive items that grant you things like temporary invincibility or double attack power, and lastly, restorative items to heal you. You'll never find yourself in a situation where you have more money than you know what to do with, so to speak.

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The crux of the game revolves around those transformation abilities you obtain in each dungeon, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. If you're wondering how that works, then let me enlighten you: it involves dancing. That's right; the developers went well out of their way to sexualize this heroine, with some decidedly naughty dance moves. Shantae's dance is actually very similar to the Ocarina (or any instrument) in the Zelda series, in that you press different directions and buttons to perform dance moves, and doing the correct combination will access one of the animal transformations. We're talking about things like nimble monkeys that can climb walls, spiders that stick to certain surfaces, elephants that can crush stones, and a harpy that enables you to fly anywhere you please.

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What about side-quests, you ask? Well, much like Zelda, there are a number of optional things you can collect that will further augment your capabilities. For instance, you can learn a dance to teleport to each town if you collect "Warp Squids," little blue squids that are hidden in each dungeon, and bring them to the respective town. There's also a number of fireflies hidden throughout the game, which can only be acquired at night (indeed, there's a day and night system in this game), and these will teach you a secretive dance that produces quite a powerful effect. Then there are the "Heart Holders," I don't think I need to tell you that these permanently extend your maximum health meter.

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I can't end this review in good conscience without pointing out a few of Shantae's downfalls. For one, this game oddly employs the lives system, in which dying expends your stock of extra lives, and once you hit zero, it's Game Over. If this were an ordinary platformer, I wouldn't label this as a problem, but this is a Zelda or Metroid type game we're on about here, so I feel that such a thing is out of place in this game. Secondly, there is a complete and total lack of a map system. You will not find a single map in this game, anywhere, in any shape or form. This is quite a bad thing for a game of this sort, obviously, since it's all about exploring your environment. At the very least, they should have provided maps for the dungeons, like in almost every Zelda game ever released. Alas, they did not. Thirdly, I found it bothersome that a lot of enemies tend to spawn directly on top of or right next to you in the early stages of the game. Whenever this occurs, you'll most assuredly be injured. It's something you can't readily avoid or anticipate, so it strikes me as poor design. Thankfully, this never happens in dungeons and pretty much stops happening altogether in the latter areas of the game. The last thing I have to complain about is more of a minor gripe; Shantae's controls are rather sluggish and not very responsive. I don't consider these things to be bad enough to render the game unplayable, but they do blemish it a bit.

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I currently find Shantae to be a one-of-a-kind game, even though it's not really doing anything that can't easily be done by other competent game developers. The fact remains that there are very few game developers out there willing to design a game like this, for reasons that are not known to me. It's a solid title for the Game Boy Color and will last you a bit longer than most games on the handheld. I definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoy Metroid and Zelda games, and you wouldn't mind playing a mixture of the two.

Word Count: 1,295

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