Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection Review – Nintendo Switch

You’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” – Ronald Weasley on Ghosts n’ Goblins: Resurrection (probably)

If you grew up playing video games in the ’80s or ’90s, chances are you had some exposure to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series: a side-scrolling platformer known for its notoriously brutal difficulty, unforgiving gameplay, and protagonist Arthur who strips down to his boxers to rescue his beloved princess. What started as an arcade game (no doubt designed to chew through unsuspecting children’s quarters) eventually gained enough popularity to garner entries on almost every gaming platform ever made, as well as numerous spin-off games (including the much-beloved Gargoyle’s Quest/Demon’s Crest).

Above: the original arcade release, Ghosts ‘n Goblins on NES, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on SNES, and Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins on PSP.

Well, for those masochists out there that played the previous games and didn’t drown in a pool of their own tears, or crumble under the sheer weight of their own shame, the series has been Resurrected and finds its way onto Nintendo Switch with a brand new entry: Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection.

PLOT/PREMISE

Do you play a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for the plot? Of course not. Though they still added one anyway. Like a storybook, the game quite literally unfolds in a scroll to reveal Arthur and Princess Guinevere enjoying stroll on a grassy knoll (as royalty are oft to do), when the helpless Princess is picked up and carried away by demonic forces. Princesses have a tendency to get into situations like this, because why else would our heroic protagonist venture through so many treacherous circumstances if not for love? It’s cliché, and almost identical to all the previous games, but this doesn’t really detract from the game in any way.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox
Don’t you hate when demons steal your princess before you can even put some clothes on?

In order to save the Princess, you’re required to navigate through numerous hazard-filled levels, scattered with demonic forces who will stop at nothing to break Arthur’s armour and see him humiliated in his boxer shorts. It’s a simple premise that newcomers will find easily approachable and does not stray far from the original formula, which will please series veterans.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Map
The first few levels in the game, which kindly allow you to choose how you’re going to die.

GAMEPLAY

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Capcom has done just that: changed very little in Resurrection. Gameplay is what you would expect from the series, with multiple challenging levels combining tricky platforming with punishing enemy placement, and massive boss fights that will have you almost throwing your controllers in frustration. Arthur can take multiple hits as his armour dismantles, however powerups are plentiful and seem strategically-placed alongside checkpoints to help you with some of the more difficult segments.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Red Arremer
Yep, the infamous Red Arremer is back too, and still as annoying as ever.

Combat is a crucial aspect of Ghosts ‘n Goblins – you are given access to 8 different weapons which are dropped at random by enemies or found in chests throughout the level. Some have significant reach like the lance, while others hit closer but deal heavy damage like the hammer, as a result you will have to choose the best weapon for your situation. You’re also locked into attacking in only four directions adding to the retro feel of the game. Though this combat might feel archaic in any other brand new game, it seems fitting for Resurrection, as the gameplay feels just as it did decades ago.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Lance
Arthur’s signature lance attack, the starting weapon in the game.

Some neat additions have been included in Resurrection, most notably its adjustable difficulty. The player can choose difficulty (Page -> Squire -> Knight -> Legend) at the beginning of a level and on the fly. After dying you’ll be prompted whether you’d like to swap to an easier difficulty. It’s nice to have the option, even if I ignored it the entire time for risk of damaging my own pride.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Fire Fox
Seriously considered turning down the difficulty for this area. But I powered on!

Levels are now scattered with Umbral Bees, which appear like floating spirits that can be collected on contact. Some of these are in very precarious locations, or require quite a bit of skill to collect. These can be spent on a literal skill tree, which will unlock attacks, passive and active abilities that can be used during gameplay. Equipping these to your Magic Waistband will unleash devastating attacks to decimate enemies on-screen, or my personal favourite which duplicates Arthur and any of his attacks.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Lightning Skill
One of the first special abilities, which launches lightning across the screen.

If you’d rather not suffer alone, you can now die alongside a friend! The addition of a co-op mode lets player two join in as one of spirits, each of which have unique abilities that can aid Arthur in his quest. It’s a simple addition, but if you’ve got somebody willing to assist, it might just give you that extra leg-up you need to overcome a tricky level.

VISUALS/DESIGN

Without a doubt the most unique aspects of the game are its visuals and artistic direction. The entire game, menus, environments, enemies and bosses are all designed as if they belong in a picture book. It can be a bit jarring for those who have played previous Ghouls ‘n Ghosts games and will likely polarise many players. While I found it to be a bit odd at first, the aesthetic soon grew on me and I eventually found it to be not only quite attractive on the small Switch screen, but very fitting considering the level design moves across like an animated scroll.

Ghosts and Goblins Resurrection PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Xbox Headless Boss
The picture book-style visuals are especially noticeable during the game’s boss fights.

Where the previous games in the series have been either pixel art or quite simplistic 3D designs, the new art style of Resurrection seems to offer a refreshing take on existing characters/enemies and adds a level of detail not seen in the series.

SOUNDTRACK

If you’ve played the previous games, you’re probably more than familiar with many other songs you’ll hear in Resurrection. You’ll probably also have slight PTSD hearing them too. What’s brilliant about the soundtrack to Resurrection is how it incorporates the original chiptunes. In paying homage to many of the original songs, the actual chiptunes play at the same time alongside orchestral rearrangements of the songs. It’s almost as if you took a medieval band and a baroque orchestra and you gave them a Gameboy and said, “play this futuristic instrument.”

Most of the themes loop regularly, and you’ll hear them repeat constantly with each death, but I never found them to be grating. The composers have made music for some notable Capcom titles, including Marvel vs. Capcom, Devil May Cry and Monster Hunter. Overall it’s a short but sweet soundtrack coming in at 35 minutes, but cleverly blends chiptunes into vastly-different musical styles.

CONCLUSION

Visuals and minor changes aside, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection brings back classic retro gameplay that feels just as if it could have been released 20 – 30 years ago. Though this may not appeal to some, it’s a game that is fuelled by nostalgia and will certainly please existing fans of the series. In introducing difficulty levels that can be changed on the fly, Resurrection makes the series more approachable for those who aren’t skilled at platformers or become easily frustrated by failure.

So why should you play it?

  • You like challenging games (or are a masochist).
  • Looking for a game that can be enjoyed in short bursts.
  • You’d prefer simple, arcade-style gameplay over complex games.
  • You’ve previously played and enjoyed any of the other Ghosts ‘n Goblins titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • If you become easily-frustrated by failure.
  • You’re not a fan of retro games.
  • Not good at platformers? This is not the game for you.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition Review (PC)

A pilgrimage back to an iconic modern beat ’em up.

The year is 2010. A simpler time.

Books are overrated and don’t have enough pictures, so you’re flipping through a graphic novel:
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.
You’re at the cinema, purchasing overpriced popcorn to eat during a new movie starring an awkward Michael Cera:
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.
You get home and turn on your Xbox 360 and log onto Xbox Live, and what’s on the home screen?
…it’s Scott Pilgrim.

It was the series of graphic novels that for a brief moment in time seemed to spawn a phenomenon, and then after a year or so in the limelight almost vanished completely. The series is less about teenager Scott Pilgrim and more about his struggles against his newfound love’s Seven Evil Exes, who he must defeat in order to date her. It’s a quirky plot packed full of silly humour and pop-culture references, and became popular enough not only to justify a movie, but a tie-in videogame, and now 10 years later an enhanced version of that same game! But is it worth revisiting?

One ex to rule them all.

If you’ve played the original game, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Complete Edition, as not much has changed. It’s a port of the original game with all added DLC, along with some minor additions and quality-of-life changes, available on PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch/PC and… Google Stadia (I feel dirty typing that). For those that haven’t played it, it’s a retro-style beat ’em with simple controls, gorgeous pixel art, and a banger of a soundtrack. But is it worth playing considering it’s pretty much the same game?

Gameplay

In typical beat ’em up style, the gameplay is very simple: choose from a roster of characters from the series, fight swarms of enemies through seven distinct levels, and defeat one of the evil exes at the end of each level. It’s a game that’s easy to pick up and play, either through single player, local co-op, or now in Complete Edition through online co-op (which is how I played majority of the game). There’s not really much that stands out about its gameplay – characters have slightly different play styles, can be levelled up to unlock new attacks and abilities, and by spending in-game currency you can purchase food and other items to improve the characters’ stats.

Can’t put your feet up on the train seats, but fighting is perfectly fine.

Combat initially can be quite a challenge (especially if you’re a rookie to the genre like myself), as enemies easily stun-lock and swarm you without giving you a chance to fight back. Bosses are the same, but follow more of a pattern that allows you to predict and dodge their attacks. Thankfully over the course of the game you’ll have access to shops, weapons and abilities that allow you to dispatch enemies more efficiently, but it took me the majority of the game before I truly had a hang of the combat. If you have the option, I’d recommend playing the game with a friend. Not only is it significantly more fun and less gruelling than single player mode, but you also have the ability to revive allies on screen by mashing a button over their lifeless corpse.

Oh, and on the topic of lifeless corpses, at the end of every level you’re rewarded with a scene of Scott and Ramona making out (much to the disgust of their friends). And sometimes on the top of a pile of lifeless corpses is just the most romantic place.

Gross. The kissing, not the corpses.

Visuals and Style

Its style is hands down the best aspect of the game. The pixel art is vibrant and detailed, with heavy character outlines and intricate backgrounds. In reflecting the style of art from the graphic novels, the game achieves an eye-catching visual aesthetic that works incredibly well and makes the characters, enemies, and environments all stand out against each other. Although sometimes the screen can become quite busy, you’ll rarely lose track of your character thanks to this design.

Each level also has a distinct design themed around the evil ex and their hideout, with matching enemies many of which have very amusing outfits and attacks. You’ll fight through the snowy streets of downtown Toronto, defend against katana-wielding ninjas in a flaming teppanyaki restaurant, and of course fight a giant robot boss on top of a skyscraper. Many times throughout the game I found myself stopping to admire the designs of not only the levels, but some of the animations which are incredibly detailed and impressive (see below).

There are also many visual homages to other series/games, and plenty of pop culture references. For example in one of the later stages a boss battle starts with a Guitar Hero sequence. You can also purchase an Energy Tank to restore your health, and the logo looks like it’s directly ripped from Mega Man. The overworld too is a nice touch, as its retro design is clearly a throwback to the SNES classic, Super Mario World.

The overworld, or should I say, Super Mario Overworld.

Audio and Soundtrack

There’s no way I could write this review without mentioning the killer soundtrack that features in the Scott Pilgrim game. As you fight through the game’s levels and boss battles you’ll notice an intense, fast-paced blend of chiptunes and pop/rock with heaps of catchy licks. That’s thanks to New York-based chiptune rock band: Anamanaguchi. Like other bands in the Nintendcore genre of music (yep, that’s a thing) they use hardware like a Gameboy and NES to play alongside guitar, bass and drums. It’s a sound that seems to fit perfectly in the setting of the Scott Pilgrim game, and a creative way to modernise chiptunes.

To celebrate the launch of Complete Edition, the band even played the entire soundtrack live!
You can find it here: Anamanaguchi – Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game Soundtrack

What else?

In addition to the main gameplay which can be completed by yourself or with a friend, there are four other game modes. First is a boss rush mode in which you face off against every single boss in a row to challenge yourself – I found this was an easy way to revisit some of the cool moments from each boss. There are also three minigames that were introduced as part of the original game’s DLC:

Survival Horror – an endless fight against constantly-spawning zombie enemies.
Battle Royale – no, it’s not 1 v 100. It’s basically PvP and has you fighting against each other in a small arena.
Dodgeball – no weapons this time, your only attack is throwing a small ball at your opponents. Just like real life.

The DLC characters, Knives and Wallace, from the original game are also made available from the start, and there’s an added secret character that unlocks once you beat the game with the four main characters. Though unless you’re a completionist I probably wouldn’t bother with this.

So why should I play it?

  • You haven’t played the original game.
  • Cool pixel art always catches your eye.
  • You’re wanting a simple game to play with friends.
  • Chiptunes and game soundtracks are your jam.

But why shouldn’t I play it?

  • There’s nobody else for you to play the game with. 😦
  • You’ve already played the original game to completion.
  • Lengthy games are more your thing, as this can be finished in a couple hours.
  • You don’t want to download the Ubisoft PC client (if playing on PC).

A download code was provided for the purpose of this review, which was played on PC.

The Legend of Zelda Turns 35

On February 21st 1986, a brand new game called The Legend of Zelda was released in Japan for the Family Computer Disk System. More than a year later, the game was released outside of Japan for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and became the first home console game to include an internal battery for saving data directly to the cartridge. The game’s directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, both relatively new to creating games, unlikely realised at the time the lasting impact they would leave on the videogame industry.

Two budding young game developers: Shigeru Miyamoto (left) and Takashi Tezuka (right). (Source: Super Mario World interview, 1990)

Now thirty-five years on, the series truly has become a legend. With 19 main entries to the series spanning decades of home and portable consoles, multiple spin-off games, an animated TV series, novels and manga, and even a live-action Netflix series (which has reportedly been cancelled). Certainly Zelda has become one of the most widely-celebrated video game series of all time, and more recently the legend continues with the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for Nintendo Switch, and the continuing development of Breath of the Wild 2.

It’s a series that has definitely had a profound impact on me; the first game I ever played and completed was Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy. Without this series I don’t think I ever would have been quite so passionate about games, and I’m sure the same goes for many of you reading this.

So what are some of your favourite memories of The Legend of Zelda? I’d love to hear from you!

Here are some of mine:

Please leave some of your favourite Zelda memories below, or reach out to me on social media.