Shantae Review: A Game Boy Color Classic Comes to Nintendo Switch

Shantae just might be one of the video game industry's most unlikely success stories. Released on the Game Boy Color at the end of the system's lifespan, the game debuted to strong reviews, but failed to gain much attention in the wake of the Game Boy Advance's release. However, the folks at WayForward have continued to support the character with new games over the last 19 years, and that original Game Boy Color game? It's now a hot collector's item worth quite a bit on the secondary market. Fortunately, fans of the series can now find it at an affordable price on Nintendo Switch.

The game stars Shantae, a half-genie that must step up and become the hero of Sequin Land when the pirate Risky Boots launches an attack. Risky has hijacked a steam engine, and is looking to steal four legendary relics she can use to upgrade it. The game is a sidescrolling platformer in the Metroidvania style; as Shantae unlocks abilities, it opens up new areas of the world for her to explore. This time around, the character learns new dance moves on her journey, which allow her to transform into various animals.

One of the most striking things about Shantae is how much of the franchise's DNA is right there from the start. If you've played more recent entries in the series, you'll be surprised to discover that the characters, the gameplay, and the humor are all intact. In fact, some enemies even use the same attack styles from that original game 19 years later. I discovered the Shantae series long after the first release, so getting to see that evolution was a real treat.

In many ways, Shantae feels ahead of its time. It's easy to see how the Game Boy Color game did so well with reviewers, because it really pushed the hardware to its fullest potential. There are a lot of clever elements to the game's design that make it feel like a more recent game. From the change in perspective when visiting a town, to some of the enemy movements, it feels like WayForward was using the system in a way few other third-party developers did.

Shantae Switch
(Photo: WayForward)

That's not to say the game isn't showing its age a bit, as Shantae's difficulty can be a bit steep. The save points are mostly forgiving, and the game isn't cruel or cheap, but the experience is just a bit dated compared to more recent titles in the series, with the lack of a map being one example. The Metroidvania genre always requires a bit of backtracking, so not being able to look back at specific rooms can be a bit of a pain. In terms of forward progress, this isn't much of an issue; it's not too difficult to figure out where to go. However, when it comes to remembering where to find Baby Warp Squids once you have the corresponding power-up, it can be frustrating.

As far as presentation is concerned, Shantae is a very good-looking game for its age. WayForward really took advantage of the Game Boy Color hardware, with vibrant visuals and great character designs. The original version allowed for some enhancements when played on Game Boy Advance, and players can select between the two versions on Switch. There's also an art gallery, and an option to use save states.

With Shantae's release on Nintendo Switch, the entirety of the series is now available on a single platform for the very first time. It's rare that something like that happens, and some newcomers might even be tempted to start the series from its humble beginnings. However, I find it hard to recommend that route. While Shantae is a good game, it's showing its age in some areas. I highly encourage players to start things off with a more recent entry, such as last year's excellent Shantae and the Seven Sirens. While the Shantae games do have some plot points that carry through the series, fans really don't need to know the backstory to appreciate the gameplay.

After 19 years, Shantae remains an enjoyable adventure, and it's fun to see how the series has progressed. For current fans of the series that never played the original, I absolutely recommend buying it on Switch. However, those that have never played an entry in the series have four other games that will do a much better job showcasing Shantae's strengths. Check those out first and come back to this one.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Shantae is currently available on Nintendo Switch, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance. A retail code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model Nintendo Switch.