Shantae – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by WayForward and Limited Run Games, with publishing handled by WayForward, the first Shantae title that was released on the GameBoy Color in 2002 has come to the Nintendo Switch. Shantae is an 8-bit Metroidvania style action platformer with crisp visuals, a delightful soundtrack and a special GBA enhanced mode included. Shantae is available digitally exclusively on Nintendo Switch, a link to the game will be at the bottom of this review.  

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank WayForward for providing the copy of Shantae that was used for this article. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting off with the plot for Shantae.

Story – the plot of this title focuses on the titular half-genie heroine, Shantae. Shantae is the guardian of her home, Scuttle Town, which has been attacked by the pirate queen Risky Boots. After the attack, the half-genie learns from Uncle Mimic that the pirates stole his prototype for a steam engine. Now, Shantae must travel Sequin Land in search of four elemental stones, which have the capability to create a terrible weapon if they were to fall into the hands of Risky Boots and her pirate crew.

Gameplay – Shantae is a side-scrolling Metroidvania style platformer set in the fictional world of Sequin Land, with a variety of areas that the player can travel between. The main objective is to navigate hazards, defeat monsters and complete puzzles to obtain the four elemental stones. Shantae can use a range of actions to aid her in achieving her goal, including using her hair as a whip and magic items to defeat enemies.

To stop the pirate queen, Shantae will explore many different areas of the games world from a forest to an underground cave and themed dungeon zones. The dungeons have the traditional platform adventure setup, where there are several interconnected rooms that have challenges to complete, enemies to fight and treasures to collect. Each of the labyrinths, has its own unique layout and concept based upon the area that it resides adding more depth to the overall experience.

This is the tough part of the game, since all the labyrinths are unique, you need to look at each puzzle and enemy encounter differently. The challenges can be very tough and may take several attempts to get through, but there is a way to ease the pain a little. Hidden throughout the game are heart containers, picking these special items up will grant Shantae an extra hit, perfect for the really tough boss fights which all have their own weaknesses and gimmicks to deal with.

There is also a new feature added for this release, the use of save states. At any point, you can pause the game and save/load a new state to return to a preset point in the game of your choosing. This feature can be very useful as you can die quite a lot from pitfalls, sudden enemy spawns and death traps scattered throughout. If you don’t like save states, you can find a character called the Save Man, who will record your progress and allow you to continue from them if you run out of lives.

Take care however, as defeat by the hands of your enemies may lead to a lot of lost progress upon continuing. So be sure to stock up on gems by breaking jars and slaying monsters, since you can buy items from shops to use when needed, including healing items, weapons and even a couple of new tricks for Shantae to learn. Experimentation and exploration is encouraged, since there is much to discover, just be sure to take extra precautions when it gets dark, since monsters are stronger at night.

During the course of the game, the player visits several towns scattered across Sequin Land. Each town shares common features, such as the save room where progress can be recorded, a bath house to recover lost health and a shop to purchase items with gems picked up during the adventure. There are also special interactions and activities that can be accessed in towns, including a rhythm action dance mini game in Scuttle town that can earn a lot of gems if successful.

When in the towns, Shantae can speak to people that live there who will provide hints for different things, give advice on how to proceed or just general information. These interactions can be fun and break up the gameplay in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive, NPC characters will only interact when you want them to and only a few are essential to progress the story. However, to flesh the game world out and get some important tips, players should chat to the townsfolk often.

The exploration and platforming is a lot of fun, but it does have its challenges. Unfortunately due to the screen size of the original Gameboy Color, the field of view for the player is zoomed in quite a lot. This makes it very difficult when trying to climb up and down different areas, as one false move can lead to a swift death by falling into bottomless pits. Another minor gripe that I have with the gameplay is the game is the physics.

When trying to run, jump and climb in the different zones of the game, Shantae has very little control in the air, meaning it can be very easy to go too far or come up short making the character feel very stiff. This small flaw with the game isn’t a major problem, but it can get a little frustrating when moving around dungeons or vertical movement focused areas. Sadly there isn’t a map feature that can be used to know where you are going, but creative use of save states can be helpful.

This release also features the trademark skill that the half-genie is known for, dance magic. A special rhythm based system where Shantae performs specific movements to access a selection of magic spells, including the incredibly useful animal transformation magic. The dance magic must be unlocked by fulfilling specific requirements, such as clearing puzzles, collecting specific objects and helping other guardian genies along the way.

To activate dance magic, you must initiate a dance sequence which is shown as a music note and four stars, pressing the corresponding dance inputs on the first beat. This can take some time to get used to as the timing needs to be very specific, not hitting the button on the correct beat will cause nothing to happen. The timing for dance magic is very important and once a spell is learned, practicing it a few times is strongly advised as they may be handy during boss battles.

Now, there is so much more I could talk about, but I feel that the wonder of this game should be experienced firsthand, including all of the secrets that it holds. So I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the difficulty.

Difficulty – Shantae has a set difficulty setting throughout the game without any way to alter the challenge. This isnt an issue however, as there are systems set in place to make the game a little more approachable for everyone. First is the save states built into the game, allowing players to make quick saves at any point which can help in difficult sections. The second is the generous continues that give players a fresh set of lives after a game over, although this is at the cost of progress.

Controls – the control layout has been remapped specifically for this version, with all important actions mapped to the face buttons and movement set to the left side of the controller. These changes make the game comfortable to play in both docked and handheld modes, with smooth inputs when using the Joy-Cons and pro controller for the most part. There is one minor issue, the timing of button presses can be a little inconsistent when using items and during rhythm sections, but it can be adapted to quickly.

Presentation – since Shantae was originally a GameBoy Color title, the game uses simple 8-bit sprites and a limited color palette which is used to maximum effect. There is also a special GBA enhanced mode, which provides an enhanced range of color and brighter visuals in game. The sound consists of chiptune compositions throughout, pushing the hardware of the time to its limit to great effect. The overall package has a nostalgic charm to it and the bonus gallery of artwork/sprites is a great bonus.

Final Thoughts –I didn’t have a chance to play Shantae before this, so I jumped at the chance to play this version of the game and I am happy I was able to. This game is an excellent but challenging platform adventure, with the charming cast of characters that have appeared in each title since. The only issues I encountered during my time playing were the field of view hiding death traps and the slight inconsistencies with input timing. However, the overall quality of this release is fantastic and I can happily recommend this release to everyone.  

In the end, I give Shantae a final score of 4/5. This is an excellent side-scrolling platform adventure, with all of the features that made the Shantae series a hit with fans. The inclusion of the GBA enhancements is an excellent touch, and the content that is on offer is well worth the low price point being asked for. This version is available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, a link to the game will be available below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

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