Game Boy Color
Genre: Action RPG Platformer
When I look back on games that I’ve played throughout the years, one thing that is sorely lacking, oftentimes, is a female protagonist (something which actually made my younger sister considerably less interested in videogames, I discovered recently). Hearing this, I decided to set out to find a good game with a female protagonist, preferably one I hadn’t played through, to review. This cut out two retro games that had immediately come to mind, the original Phantasy Star, and the Metroid series. I’d played through Tomb Raider, which was my next thought. At the suggestion of The3rdPlayer, I decided to check out Shantae – an Arabian Nights themed platformer, involving a Bedlah babe half-genie who goes around whipping badguys with her hair.
While I went into this expecting a platformer, I was pleasantly surprised to find this shared a lot of similarities with sidescrolling action RPGs of the 80’s, such as Zelda II. The game itself involves enormous levels that span laterally just as often as horizontally. Towards the end of the game, when you can travel in a variety of fashions, it turns out that horizontal travel is an endless loop (which makes sense, given that the game takes place on an island). Unlike it’s spiritual predecessors of the 1980’s, Shantae was developed in the U.S., and suffers from no weird translation issues.
Created by Matt Bozon, the character and ideas for this game were first conceived by his now-wife in the mid to late 90’s. The game didn’t end up getting released until 2002, and was one of the very last titles to be released for the Game Boy Color, nearly a year after the Game Boy Advance was released. The reason for the tardiness of the games release was due to having trouble finding a publisher. Capcom stepped up to the plate, though only 25,000 copies or so of the game were released, making physical copies of this game quite hard to come by.
Though he wanted the game published and released, the game creator wasn’t expecting much. He put it into words better than I could when he described Shantae as “too sexy to be a kid’s brand, and too girly for a male gamer brand” – it was caught in a small niche, which was still not prevalant as of 2002, though the game series has thankfully grown since it’s initial release, garnering a respectable following and a few sequels.
Other than Shantae herself, most of the named characters are women, including your rival, the pirate Risky Boots. Uncle Mimic, an old inventor, and Bolo, a dimwitted sparring partner, are the only named male characters. While it was apparently unintentional, men take a bit of a backseat in this series, letting Shantae save the day.
The game begins with a shot of Shantae in her lighthouse tower just outside of Scuttle Town, located on Sequin Land. She’s a half-genie – the daughter of a powerful guardian genie, and while magically gifted, only starts with an unnatural control over her hair. She’s quirky, naive and energetic, and is displeased when she hears cannon fire coming from the water straight towards her lighthouse and dock as Risky Boots and her crew of Tinkerbats come to impose an obligatory don’t-murder-us tax on the town.
Other than whipping your hair back and forth, running and jumping, one of the game mechanics of Shantae is belly dancing. Pressing select causes her to start busting a move, and while initially this is little more than an amusing time waster, you eventually learn to transform into different animal forms by rescuing other half-genies throughout other stages. Each one is, of course, adorable, and includes things like a monkey form or an elephant form. The transformation have different advantages, and allows for travel to areas you weren’t previously able to reach. You can also purchase items with gems found off of enemies, though the price-to-drop ratio is a bit steep.
For the Game Boy Color, the graphics were top notch. I was seriously surprised – though the game did have a few issues, including being a bit dark on an actual Game Boy Color, improvements were apparent when the game was used in a Game Boy Advance, and even encouraged by the fact that playing on a Game Boy Advance unlocked some additional content. Though it can get a bit repetitive (it was the Game Boy Color, after all), the music was fitting for the game. It was nothing to write home about, but certainly not something you’d need to mute to get through.
The gameplay of Shantae is hard. It took me a long time to get used to this game, and realized that they even threw in a few things to make it more needlessly difficult than it already was: a day and night cycle, for example, would make enemies have twice as many hit points at night. While you could just run past a lot of the badguys, it made for an annoying mechanic that was tacked onto the game.
This game is reminiscent of a lot of good, difficult platforming adventure games of yesteryear. I think it’s what Wayforward Technologies was trying to go for, and I think they pulled it off well. Though gamer maturity was a little lacking when it was first released, I haven’t found many people who scoff at the game series when they hear about it nowadays. The original game could use a bit more polish, and has been released in emulation for the 3DS. Sequels were released on the DSiware, iOS, Wii-U and Steam.