Format reviewed: Game Boy Color
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Submitted by: Craig Hawkins
Only two possibilities present themselves when pondering how a Brit came about procuring a copy of Shantae. You either imported what ostensibly appears to be a girly platformer that flew under the radar when released in 2002 after the GBC had been sent to the handheld retirement home by its Advanced little brother, or you spent £50+ on a second-hand copy on eBay. Either instance clearly makes you a winner at life, any other surely makes you a cheat.
There are many more reasons why you should own a copy, though. One being how Shantae pushes its host to its limits, offering a visual treat that you'd think beyond its eight bits. Opulent backgrounds and rich effects frame large sprites of fantastical character design. Visually appealing regardless of hardware, many emulators choke on it.
Moreover, it plays like a greatest hits of NES games. Mario's platforming is prominent, as are Zelda's adventuring and dungeoneering, Metroid's exploration and backtracking and Castlevania II's day/night shift – all cloaked in an Arabian Nights sensibility, which among other things lends it a wicked soundtrack and more hankering for Aladdin.
Our eponymous heroine is a slightly underdressed half-genie girl, her basic mode of attack to lash adversaries dead with her long purple hair. Impressive in itself, what it translates to in terms of animation is the optical illusion of her delivering a Scottish Kiss to the forehead of anyone who aggravates her. Which is nice.
Shopping in town rewards you with upgrades including Street Fighter II-style moves as Shantae's long and far-reaching quest to defeat Risky Boots and her pirates unfurls. In dungeons Shantae learns magic dances that transform her into creatures. Monkey dance rules, naturally. Others change her into an elephant, spider and harpy, each form able to reach previously inaccessible areas.
Your GBC hasn't lived a full life till it has felt the contours of a Shantae cartridge in its slot and the majesty on its screen. With the troubled sequel still a reality, and developer WayForward's stock rising thanks to Contra 4 and the WiiWare re-imagining of A Boy & His Blob, this cult classic is destined to become a legend.