Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Shantae - Thoughts
It was hard putting my finger on what exactly I didn't like about Shantae. Since the original Game Boy Color cart is ludicrously expensive, I downloaded the game on my 3DS when it hit the Virtual Console store and only got around to finishing it recently. I played it in chunks that were months apart mainly because the game repeatedly failed to grab me; I kept trying to convince myself to keep playing, that it wasn't a wasted purchase. Finally, after trudging through it, I can conclude that while Shantae looks absolutely stunning, what lurks beneath its polished exterior is a game that excels at nothing.
My main gripe is that Shantae doesn't feel good to play. The half-genie's attack is short and ineffectual, forcing her to pause and stand in place as she whips her hair, freezing the combat and any reaction you might make. This wouldn't be too problematic if enemies took 1-2 hits to defeat, but every single baddie has a ton of health, especially when the sun goes down and their vitality is doubled. You'll soon learn that the best strategy is to simply flee from the lengthy encounters, which becomes frustrating since the cramped GBC screen means you have to react fast to avoid damage. I eventually felt comfortable with the game when I had accumulated five heart containers, merely because I could tank my way through any area at full speed.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can buy a wide range of items to help you tackle your foes, but I found equipping and using these to be more of a hassle than simply leaping over the fleshy obstacles. Avoiding so many enemies also meant that I lacked the funds to purchase attack upgrades (as I was spending all my money on health potions and spinning balls), so I have no idea if those would've helped or not—I didn't want to grind on enemies to find out either (900 gems? Getouttahere!) The only enemies I couldn't skip were the bosses, and they were more or less a mixed bag: some were too easy, some were too hard, none of them really memorable.
To its credit, Shantae looks phenomenal. WayForward (to me) is synonymous with "excellent animation, iffy gameplay" and Shantae is undoubtedly the poster child for their ludography. Jammed in here are elaborately animated sprites, a variety of amazing dances, the aforementioned day & night cycles for every area, and more colorful enemies than you can shake a stick at. The care and attention put into the presentation makes the gameplay that much more disappointing, because you feel the game should play better than it does.
Besides the kinetic parts of Shantae, the design also comes into doubt frequently too. Shantae can pick up animal transformations in each of the game's four dungeons, which is a neat spin on the classic Zelda formula, except that they take abundantly long to switch between. I like the idea behind dancing to transform, but if I knocked Link's Awakening for its cumbersome item-swapping, Shantae receives the same complaint tenfold. The dungeons themselves aren't that interesting either, punishing you with frequent dead ends and containing highly repetitive puzzles that as soon as you've solved once, you've solved a hundred times. Warping between towns is also locked behind hidden collectibles which cripples exploration, since you're pushed to finish the dungeons before exploring each new area—a "better" solution to this would be to have the town warps unlock when you arrive, and use the collectibles towards upgrading your attacks.
I'm not averse to trying out the other titles in the series—in fact, I'm interested in seeing what Shantae's sequels expand on. But the first entry honestly feels like a rough draft, containing too many glaring errors (poor combat, so-so puzzles, terrible world hopping) in spite of its careful construction. The half-genie hero is a lovable character and I think I can understand her appeal, but this is a far cry from being one of the Game Boy's premier platformers. Thus far, you've failed to impress me Shantae.
Images obtained from: youtube.com, utah3ds.com, engadget.com