Thanks to Wayforward for the review code
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 04/22/2021
In this port of the rare GBC platforming gem, you take control of Shantae in her first adventure, to save Sequin Land from Risky Boots after she sets her sights on a dangerous Steam Engine!
Being an emulated port of the original GBC game, rather than being a remaster, remake or part of a collection, this version of Shantae runs in a new emulator created by Limited Run Games, contained in a fancy intro menu that reminds me a lot of the Digital Eclipse compilations.
In this menu, you have only a few options to choose from, which include booting up either the GBC version or the GBA enhanced edition, and going to an “extras” gallery that leads to a pretty neat selection of concept sketches and original artwork from the 2002 GBC release. It’s a pretty basic menu, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the concept art included at all!
When it comes to the actual emulations themselves, both modes look outstanding, with no blur filters in sight: The pixels in both modes look excellent and all three display options do a great job of showing off the game: from a 4:3 option for TV play, an LCD option that does a decent job of emulating the GBC screen, to a pixel perfect option for handheld play!
The only gripe I have with these options is the lack of a border, since I feel it would have been pretty neat to have a GBC border of sorts surrounding the game, or at least a frame akin to Super Game Boy.
When it comes to the actual game itself, Shantae still holds up super well, with this release maintaining the high quality animation frames and effects to outstanding accuracy: while the 3DS VC version did a super good job in that aspect too, I can’t help but feel it somehow pops a bit more in this emulation, especially when regards to the GBA version on offer here.
You see, on the 3DS VC, you couldn’t do the GBA bonuses whatsoever since it was emulated in GBC style. But with this port including both GBC and GBA versions, that means the GBA mode’s unique bright display is reproduced pretty faithfully, and in this mode, I find Shantae to look the best it has ever been.
Seriously! Throughout the review you’ll spot images I took myself from this GBA mode, and they combined with the pristine pixel scaling make Shantae look absolutely outstanding, to the point I argue it even outshines other GB ports to Switch in that regard. The GBA colors really shine and is arguably the only way to play the game in this compilation, since the GBC version doesn’t really other much advantages by itself.
Shantae is a metroidvania adventure game, not unlike the other entries in the franchise, with this game starting the titular franchise with a lot of aspects. Once you pick your preferred version of the game (Each one with their own batch of save states and save files), you begin the adventure, and after an initial bit in Scuttle Town, you’re off into the main world, where you have to find four dungeons in order to stop Risky from using the Steam Engine.
The game plays pretty typically, with a jump and attack button. Oddly enough though, despite the game boy using the classic A and B style for jumping and attacking, this port uses a backwards style that focuses on mapping attack to Y and jump to B, with Attack also being A: there’s no in-game way to change it to the proper method, which is pretty silly, though thankfully you can at least remap via the system settings if this bugs you as much as it did for me. Considering how NSO NES titles manage to retain the proper A/B style and most ports let you freely remap to your liking, it’s pretty irritating that there’s just no way to edit the controls at all in-game. Thankfully, your dance move is mapped to a pretty reasonable X button, rather than the select of the original GBC, which would have been very awkward to do on the switch.
During your explorations, you’ll notice a day and night cycle taking place, and not unlike Castlevania II, the night makes enemies a lot tougher and more aggressive, which can make already dangerous enemies even harder to deal with and take out. This combined with a surprising amount of instant death hazards make this the hardest Shantae of them all, and it’s not a surprise considering the old school feeling in general.
While other Shantae games would send you back to the title screen/last save if you game overed, here in Shantae GBC you use a life system, and thus have a limited amount of them, with four to start with. Dying sends you back to the last screen transition you went through, meaning if you’re in a huge room and die near the end, you will have to redo it, just like a lot of classic games in this genre. Unlike future games however, falling into pits doesn’t just take away some health, instead it outright kills you, meaning that instant death ordeals like that are a rapid fire way to getting sent back to your last save, so you’ll have to be super careful to survive the dungeons and keep any goodies you collect in a session.
Unfortunately, while there are save states available to help remedy and even completely eliminate this worry, I couldn’t seem to have the best of luck with the in-game saving, having some weird glitches with it: On 3DS VC, I would always be able to consistently get my game saved at the save points, and be able to quit and continue as normal. Yet some odd times while playing this game and making it to a save point, I would save, see the save confirmation message, and close out of the game. When I would return to my in-game save, it ended up being the last one I made from the session before, as if my current session I saved and quit with never even happened.
Several times I had gone on lengthy treks and grinded for gems, only to save and quit, but for said save to not actually work and thus I had to redo all that backtracing and grinding, much to my infuriation. I ended up having to save multiple times in a row and even quitting via the in-game menu and reloading my save just to ensure I actually had it retained. Of course if you rely on states this is a non-issue, but if you’re a purist like me who sticks to in-game saves, this will drive you completely bonkers and I have no idea why this ends up happening, and I hope it’s patched soon. Nothing would be worse than finishing a dungeon and saving only for the save to actually fail and thus you have to redo the entirety of a dungeon run.
Regardless of that issue, the game itself is still super fun, with lots of enjoyable upgrades to purchase with gems, secret fireflies and warp squids to find, and extra health upgrades, among other goodies. Whether you’re doing traditional exploring, partaking in a dance minigame, or racing a friend to get their help, the game has a good amount of variety that’ll keep you very engaged throughout the adventure!
The GBA mode is easily the highlight of this port even for people like me who played on 3DS VC already, since you’ll be able to experience the gorgeous visual enhancements along with the Tinkerbat transformation. Considering how godly this game looks in the bright GBA mode, it’s an absolute must play for any fan of the franchise or metroidvanias, and the fun in-depth dungeons and satisfying feeling of discovering secrets as a harpy, spider or the other animal forms is still one that I don’t feel the other Shantae games with transformations manage to offer to this day.
In conclusion, Shantae is an excellent port, starting off a promising new line of GBC ports to Switch. While there were minor gripes with the inability to remap controls or borders, and the saving issues I had are pretty concerning, the port is otherwise outstanding, and makes me absolutely hungry to see other GBC classics launch in this emulator: especially if the pixel scaling continues to be just as outstanding!
As for the game itself, it’s also still an excellent first installment in the franchise. While the difficulty is a lot higher than the other games due to the weird life system, and a lot of the secrets may be more cryptic than the other metroidvania Shantae games, it’s still a very great metroidvania in its own right, serving as not only a sendoff to the GB era as a whole, but the genesis for an excellent series of games with some successors that arguably manage to fall below the heights set by this game, nearly twenty years later.
I give Shantae a 8 out of 10.