Being a half-genie guardian can be tough! You gotta shake those hips to get things done, put up with boisterous pirates and their thieving Tinkerbats, and transform into stinky, dirty, elephants! All the while having to put up with a limited color pallet in an 8-bit world! I mean, how’s a girl supposed to maintain her glistening purple locks?! You wanna talk dead ends, wait until you see this aliasing!
Well, our pixelated heroine may be hesitant to reminisce about the good ole days, but Wayforward has brought us all the way back to the roots of one of their most beloved franchises with the rerelease of the original Shantae on the Gameboy Color! Complete in all of its handheld glory. After years of top notch modern sequels however, does the OG title still stand the test of time?
Although I came to the series relatively late, around the release of the fourth entry Half-Genie Hero, the Shantae games quickly became an obsession. I played through each available game at the time, soaking in their charm, fawning over their exquisite design, and pining over each and every one as I finished them, because I wanted more!
Then over the years as these destined to be digital games started appearing in physical form, I lapped them up wherever I could. Except for one, the original Shantae. It’s kind of the Holy Grail for those who love the franchise. Not because it’s lauded as being the best of the series or anything, but because apparently after its release on the Gameboy Color in 2002, it became quite the collectors item. And, unless you were willing to drop the cost of a current gen console for a single game, it was pretty much out of reach. That is, until 2021. When Wayforward, in their infinite generosity, gave us fans what we all wanted, a rerelease of this coveted entry!
Not only that, but they teamed up with Limited Run Games to bring us an officially licensed reproduction Gameboy Color cartridge! Needless to say, I wasn’t NOT going to get it. So, here we are, the void in my collection has been filled, and I can finally dive into the origins of one of my favorite gaming franchises in recent memory.
In a lot of ways, the original Shantae is just as polished as each of its sequels, and that’s actually saying a lot considering it was released on something like the Gameboy Color. Which by nature, means the game was limited by the console’s capabilities. That said, not once did it feel like the game suffered from those limitations. The 8 bit processor was usurped with clever programming, the limited color palette was stretched by talented artists and designers, and the game downright felt exactly like what you would expect from a modern Shantae game! Short of a few niggly things.
For example, the controls didn’t feel quite as tight and responsive as you would want them to be. And because the game still relied on quick reflexes and occasional tricky platforming, that meant it was a bit more challenging, with the unfortunate potential for frustrating deaths. The loose controls blend into other aspects of the game as well, like some of the mini-games and even your transformations, which require precise timing to pull off. The transformations especially hurt since you need to use them a lot for traversing throughout the game! Nothing I couldn’t get used to over time, but it was a tad demotivating.
With that in mind, for every gripe I had with Shantae, there were five other things that reaffirmed my love for this franchise. The humor was still there, as well as all of the staple characters, the music was fantastic, although a bit more chunky than I’m used to, and the metroidvania style gameplay satisfied in all the right ways!
It’s honestly difficult to choose something that I would change for the better in the original Shantae, which could be true for many of the classic games we go back to. Especially those that have had decades worth of sequels. Mostly because many of the things that gave me problems have been addressed in the later titles, in one way or another. If I were to choose one thing that would have made my experience infinitely better however, it would have to be the inclusion of a map that could be easily referenced while I played. Many times I would get lost, or forget where something was, or didn’t realize I could go to a portion of the map, because I had no point of reference. This typically meant I would be wandering around reorienting myself for extended periods of time, instead of actually accomplishing something! Oh, and you don’t want to believe how much I missed the one button push transformations!!
One thing I kind of wish that the later entries in the series did more of however, would be more of those mini-games! There weren’t many in the original Shantae, but what was there was surprisingly entertaining. They were great distractions from your main objective and gave you fun ways to gain money! Especially the dancing/rhythm mini-game. I can only imagine how amazing a DDR style Shantae game would be! Oh and there was something about the over-the-shoulder view while you were exploring the towns. I thought that was so incredibly charming and would love to see Wayforward revisit the style some day.
It probably goes without saying, but I would wholeheartedly recommend you check out the original Shantae! It may have shown its age here and there, but it also shows you that Wayforward had gaming gold in their hands from the get go. It has everything you could love about a 2D metroidvania style platformer, with all of the goofiness that the Shantae series has become known for. I think if you’re a fan of the series, or just classic 2D action platformers, then I don’t think you can go wrong.
If you’re interested in checking out the original Shantae, you can find it right now on the Nintendo Switch!