My journey through the Shantae series has finally taken me to where it all started for the half-genie hero. It’s the last missing piece of my digital collection of the series for my Nintendo Switch, and I’ve had to wait that long because it’s only now become available on that console.
Shantae for the Switch is a re-release of the original game of what would become one of the most beloved indie video game series out there. The game was originally released in 2002 for the Game Boy Color and later made available on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2013. It was developed by WayForward and published by Capcom and became somewhat of an underdog story. The game was released a year after the Game Boy Advance and thus flew under the radar. It sold out of its original print (which has become the holy grail for Shantae collectors) but never did a second print. Despite it selling poorly, Shantae showed a lot of potential and was revered enough that the series eventually continued. There have now been five games in the series, including the following sequels:
See where it all began, including Shantae’s catchphrase.
Shantae is the guardian genie of Scuttle Town, a fishing port in Sequin Land. She races off to action when the town is under attack by the pirate Risky Boots and her crew of tinkerbats. The town’s relic hunter, Mimic, had been working on a device known as the steam engine when Risky’s crew came and stole it from him. She wants to use the steam engine to create a weapon for world domination. There are four elemental stones that power the steam engine, and it’s up to Shantae to track down the stones and retrieve them before Risky does.
Take action against Risky Boots and her tinkerbat minions.
I played the Game Boy Advance version of the game for the better color palette and the ability to use the tinkerbat dance (though you can also play the original Game Boy Color version for a slightly more authentic experience). Having played all the other Shantae games, I found this one to be particularly challenging, perhaps more so if I hadn’t had the benefit of save states. I had to take into account the limitations of the hardware this game was designed for. For example, it appeared that the attack range of Shantae’s hair whip was shorter than the other games, which makes sense considering the lack of real estate on the screen.
I found that the range slightly improves if you attack while in a crouching position. You also can’t increase Shantae’s hair whip speed like you can with the other games, and you can only temporarily increase the hair’s attack power using mints bought in the game. Unless you get familiar with using the various items, talismans, or fighter’s gear, there will be some enemies that take seemingly forever to beat with the hair whip.
Choose from the Game Boy Color or the enhanced Game Boy Advance versions.
Let’s also talk about the leaps of faith in the game, hoo boy! Especially in the waterfall level. There are instances where you have to jump down without knowing what’s directly below you. I had a few hilarious instances of taking big jumps and just barely missing the floating log as I fell to my doom each time. Many expletives were said!
— Telos09 (@Telos09) April 21, 2021
The save states helped me avoid some headaches here. One tip of advice is to jump directly down as there will usually be something to break your fall and avoid the pit. Not much can be done about it considering the game was originally designed for the Game Boy Color’s small display.
The dance transformation mechanic is also different. When you start your dance, you need to perform a sequence of arrows and buttons in rhythm with her dance. If you don’t time it right the sequence starts over. What makes this especially challenging is if you’re trying to perform this in the vicinity of enemies. Unlike in Risky’s Revenge and Half-Genie Hero, the world around you doesn’t freeze to a halt, so you run the risk of being attacked mid-dance. You have to accomplish different feats to learn some of these dances. The transformation dances can be learned each time you find a labyrinth guardian. You can take on the form of a monkey, elephant, spider, and harpy (also tinkerbat in the Game Boy Advance version, which can be purchased in Bandit Town. It combines the abilities of monkey, elephant, and spider in one).
There are also dances for traveling across Sequin Land to specific locations. You first have to collect baby warp squids and bring them to their mother (there’s one located in each town). You need to present four of them to each mother to learn the dance for their respective town. If you’re a completionist, there are also 12 fireflies for you to find throughout the game that will allow you to learn the healing dance (and don’t forget to collect all the heart holders). This brings me to the next thing…
Watch your fall!
One thing that stands out to me in this game is the day/night mechanism. This is unique to the first Shantae game and doesn’t appear in any of the sequels. The time of day will change as you play along, and there’s no real way to track when it will happen, unlike in a game such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But similar to Breath of the Wild, the time of day matters depending on where you are. For example, there’s a level where giant enemy slugs appear only during daylight, and they hide into their shells at night. Nighttime is also the only time you can find fireflies, as they will disappear during the day. Even the towns have some rules of their own: Rottytops’ traveling caravan moves around at random but can only be seen at night. There is the Gecko Chamber in Oasis Town where you can gamble for gems but is only accessible during the day (pro tip: if you want to farm gems fast, the Gecko Chamber is your best bet, pun intended. Let your opponent get close to the top of the pole, and then use those save states until you reach the top for maximum earnings). If you want to dance for gems in Scuttle Town, you have to go there at night.
Speaking of Rottytops, I have to say I enjoyed her mini-game. When you first encounter Rotty, you have to beat her in a race in exchange for her help. This race is notorious among the fandom because there’s little margin for error. If you don’t time your slide or jump just right, you almost certainly will lose the race and have to do it again. Oh, the laughs I had whenever I jumped into a tree! I still laugh looking back on it. Took me seven tries to finally beat it. Here’s a clip of the first try, with a Twitter thread of the other tries.
Oh my god. pic.twitter.com/Uk2Cg6zrBd
— Telos09 (@Telos09) April 22, 2021
Earlier I mentioned items, talismans, and fighter’s gear. These are all power-ups you can acquire throughout the game. There are items you can purchase in the game’s item shop, such as candy that lets you transport out of a labyrinth, cream that lets you walk through enemies unscathed, and muffins that protect you from falling into pits. There are also the familiar mainstays of the series for magic attacks: pike balls, fireballs, and storm puffs. The talismans you collect during the game allow you to attack while in animal form.
I found the harpy form’s attack to be the strongest of the bunch, followed by the elephant. Then there’s the fighter’s gear, which consists of boot, sash, cuff, and tiara. Each piece adds an attack to your arsenal, including a somersault kick and a powerful twirling dash. I didn’t use these that much, but the tiara’s attack is very handy for finishing off labyrinth bosses quickly. They are all expensive to acquire so make sure to stock up on gems before shopping for them at Water Town.
Take advantage of the many items available at the shop to boost your attacks, your life energy, and more.
Another major observation was the lack of a map. Even though this isn’t the only Shantae game without maps (see Half-Genie Hero), this one is more challenging without a map due to it being a true Metroidvania, whereas Half-Genie Hero was more linear and didn’t have labyrinths the way the other games do. Thankfully the good people at WayForward recognized this and included pictures of Sequin Land and the various labyrinth maps in the Extras when you first start the game.
I made it a point to screenshot them on my Switch and went back frequently to them when I got lost. And get lost I did quite a bit, including one time in Spider Forest where I forgot I was in a hidden area before I eventually found my way out. While my past experience with the series prepared me in general for the gameplay, there was an adjustment period before I got fully comfortable with it.
Pound your enemies into submission with the elephant dash, among other available transformations.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the game graphics-wise considering it’s 8-bit. There were occasional bugs where Shantae’s color scheme would change unintendedly but nothing that affected the gameplay. But I did get a kick out of the sprites. The developers did a great job of making all the characters expressive. All the little details, like Shantae’s wink when dancing, or her shock or anger or shyness, all that was there on display.
The sprites in the game are very cute. Reminds me a lot of the DuckTales game for the NES (another game WayForward did for Capcom when it was remastered and released in 2013). I especially liked the expressions of Shantae when sliding (a big Shantae fan on Twitter made a compilation video of all the slides I captured which you can see here).
— Ayoungspirit #ShantaeAndTheSevenSirens (@Ayoungspirit1) May 29, 2021
Make sure to also check out all the cool concept artwork and the aforementioned maps in the Extras, found on the game’s main menu.
This is the only Shantae game without voices, but that didn’t negatively impact the experience. Maybe I just find everything about Shantae cute but even the sound she makes in the game when hit was adorable to me. Similar to the sound when you’re in animal form in any of the other games and get hit. The sound effects were fine. I really enjoyed the music, which was composed by the one and only Jake Kaufman.
The soundtrack is excellent and that’s a credit to Kaufman’s creativity given the limitations of an 8-bit game. It was really cool hearing the origins of all the tracks I had heard in the sequels of the series. The familiar melody of Risky Boots, Burning Town, Harbor Town (which ended up becoming Bolo’s theme later), Water Town (Sky’s theme later on), the Shop theme, and more. There were also memorable tracks unique to the game such as Conversations and Labyrinths 2. I just love it.
“Oh look, somebody I have totally never met before…”
Much the way I felt about playing Risky’s Revenge recently, being able to play the original Shantae game made me appreciate how far the series has come since its humble beginnings. I can see why it was such a cult hit and an underappreciated gem for its time. Shantae is not a perfect game by any means, and I can only imagine how frustrating it was at times for the people who played without the benefit of save states. One of my followers even suggested this was the Dark Souls of Shantae games. Perhaps without the save states, I agree. Otherwise, Pirate’s Curse is still my pick for hardest in the series (if not for a convenient bug at Pirate Master’s Palace I probably wouldn’t have reached the top and completed that game).
Yeah I couldn’t get past that section😂
I avoided it with a glitch that (luckily for me) didn’t get patched when PC was ported to the Switch pic.twitter.com/TIvXb4uFlw
— Telos09 (@Telos09) November 17, 2020
Regardless of the difficulty, I had a blast playing it, much like every game in the series. I never got bored, even at those moments when I waited for day to change to night so I could find a firefly. On top of the usual challenging aspects of a Shantae game, this one required more pixel-perfect precision when approaching enemies and pits. Once you get the hang of it, you’re solid. Took me about 20 hours to beat and that was with help from guides and tips online, but I also made it a point to pace myself and savor the experience. Also spent a decent chunk of time playing the mini-games for gems. It should typically take 9-12 hours to finish but your mileage may vary.
I have now fully played and completed all five Shantae games, and I love each and every one of them. I appreciate how every game in the Shantae series feels unique and not like a re-skin of the previous game while having all the familiar comforts throughout the series (characters and music, for example). It’s a testament to WayForward that even their most basic game in the series was a lot of fun to play, and it’s an experience I’ll always remember fondly.
I cannot stress enough how much I adore the sprites in this game. Shantae is not amused, Bolo!
Before I wrap up, I want to give a special shoutout to all the wonderful Shantae fans on Twitter who followed along with me as I was playing the game. They were very supportive and helpful, no surprise considering some have long been familiar with the original game. It really is a great community and I’m proud to be among them. Being able to experience three different Shantae games in the past year has been really something else. I can never get enough Shantae and that’s why I hope there is one more bit of good news left for our favorite half-genie (and if you’ve been paying attention to me then you know what I’m referring to).
If you love Metroidvanias, you love Game Boy games, or you’re simply curious about getting into the Shantae series, I highly recommend you pick up this classic. Shantae is available now digitally for the Nintendo Switch eShop as well as the 3DS Virtual Shop. The Switch version includes the Game Boy Advance enhancements. Now you can play every Shantae game on one console. It’s a great time to be a Switch gamer and Shantae fan. I can’t wait to see what WayForward has in store for the series’ 20th anniversary next year. Until then, play Shantae!
Game Over! The lovely yet sinister pirate queen Risky Boots invites you to try your luck again.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Shantae for the Nintendo Switch provided by WayForward.