Shantae was a platformer originally released for the Game Boy Color in 2002 which has now found its way onto the 3DS e-shop for download. Developed by WayForward Technologies the game see you take the role of Shantae, a half genie who must stop the villainous pirate, Risky Boots (yes, that’s her name). This a great chance to take a look at the old platforming games of yesteryear.
The game starts off when Scuttle Town, which Shantae has taken it upon herself to defend, is attacked by a crew of pirates led by Risky Boots, who are out to steal a prototype steam engine created by an inventor called Mimic. The pirates make their escape and it’s up to Shantae to track them down before they can it working and weaponise it. The game clearly doesn’t take story too seriously, and it doesn’t take long to get into action thankfully. The goal is collect four magic stones that Risky is after to power the steam engine. These stones are locked away in four dungeons. In order to open the dungeons Shantae has the speak to an NPC in a nearby town.
Shantae’s powers come from her dancing. In each dungeon she learns a special dance which will let her transform into different animals, including a monkey, an elephant, a spider, and for some reason a harpy. Each form has different abilities and weakness. For example, being a monkey lets Shantae wall jump and cling to vertical surfaces, but she cannot attack in this form.
When you enter dancing mode you have to use the D-pad and the A and B buttons in simple rhythms to change forms. Dancing does not pause the game so it is very easy to be interrupted if enemies are still around.
Shantae can upgrade herself in other ways, such as using purchased items. These can offer a limit number of ranged attacks or healing items along with some other goodies. She can also increase her health by finding special hearts that are hidden in the different sections.
Each dungeon has a unique set of puzzles which Shantae must solve in order to navigate her way through. Moving through the dungeons also requires you to find keys and open doors, so while they may appear open you will find you must backtrack to the find the path containing the key before taking the other routes. They also have an ending boss, usually taking the form of a giant monster which requires you to hit a weak spot. In good fashion the bosses require you to use whatever animal transformation Shantae earned in the dungeon to avoid attacks or damage the boss. The final boss also provided surprisingly memorable and cool.
The game has plenty of challenge. Enemies come in spades and even though you start out with three hearts you will be attacked a lot. That said, the puzzles don’t take a tremendous amount of effort to solve. The hardest part of the dungeon is simply finding your way around and avoiding spike pits.
The world in Shantae is all connected rather than being in separate levels. After leaving Scuttle Town you can head either left or right, jumping over obstacles and battling enemies by whipping her hair. There are also secrets to discover in all the different overworld sections which can be reached once she’s acquired certain powers. It’s by no means open world however, as progressing requires you to obtain new abilities.
This leads onto the frustrations I had with the game, which was the backtracking. In many cases I don’t mind too much of this. In Metroidvania games the power ups you acquire mean that backtracking doesn’t take a great deal of time once you’ve already explored an area. To do a comparison, in a side scrolling Metroid game falling into lava damages your health, but it doesn’t kill you instantly. Once you get the gravity suit you don’t have to worry about it any more. In Shantae if you fall into a pit you die instantly and you get sent back to the start of the section. This is case no matter how much you upgrade Shantae.
Eventually, she acquires ways of bypassing the long treks by finding squids. Once you find four you can take them to a warp squid hut in each town and learn a dance that teleports you to that town. However, you have to find four for each town, and most are found in dungeons. This means that fast travelling feels very limited and comes too late.
In linear platformers this is not a problem because once you complete a level you can put it behind you. In Shantae save spots are few and far between and if you get a game over you don’t just return to the start of the section, but you go back to the last save point you used. What I’m ultimately saying is you should get used to seeing the same areas a lot.
To move onto something more positive, I did enjoy the colourful nature of the levels and characters. The game has that carefree old school platform feeling to it. Each dungeon and most of the surface sections have their own unique style. The world even has a day and night cycle, which does cause some enemies to change their tactics in battle. Sadly, the music does not share the same diversity, with all the surface areas sharing the same few tracks, though they do change with the day and night cycle.
Enemy variety is staggering. Each section has its own unique enemies with different methods of attack, including moles you jump into the air with spears to black slime creatures who dart across the screen. The downside of this is that each section only has two or three different enemies, sometimes even just one. This results in some sections feeling repetitive, especially when you to go through them multiple times.
Shantae is a challenging, old school platformer with plenty of charm, but with a few frustrations including from some of its design decisions. It has a whiff that old Nintendo Hard about it. For the price of $4.99/£4.49 it’s a good addition to the collection of old timey games available for the 3DS. Anyone looking for a good 2D platformer should take a look at this. You can visit the official WayForward website for more information.
(Images provided by http://www.wayforward.com/shantae/)