Shantae is a series that exudes playfulness and charm. It’s one that looks great in motion through its vibrant and animated visual styles, lighthearted and fun narratives, and catchy music. Therefore, it’s almost no surprise that these smooth animations, endearing characters, and great tunes have been there from the very beginning. Except now, you don’t need to drop a few hundred dollars to be able to see that for yourself thanks to the Shantae re-release on the Nintendo Switch.
I like the look of a lot of Game Boy Color games, to be sure. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Ages look wonderful. Metal Gear Solid has some sharp animations. Still, I know the system is bound by some pretty strict limitations. Even so, Shantae seems to be pushing harder them than any other game I’ve played on the handheld.
Its look alone was impressive. Locations pop with loving details, from the stylized clouds to the soft, lush grass beneath your feet. Torn cloth flaps under the bridge at the start of the game. When cannonballs blast open sections of bridge, the rope supports spring into the air as the impact rips the boards away. The game’s locations and character shift hues as day turns to night, moonlight and the dawning sun are subtly shifting their color scheme. It’s such small stuff, but it feels like the artists put so much care into giving this place a look you can almost feel or touch.
Shantae’s characters are equally impressive, especially our heroine. The way her ponytail and her bangs bob as she moves, the way she gently shifts while standing in place, and the smooth blinking animation really give her this sense of constant motion and energy. You learn so much about her upbeat character just from how she shifts around on the screen. Many other major characters carry that same expressiveness, from Risky Boots’ laugh to the way Mimic’s hands flail in frustration.
Our heroine’s attacks also look just as good , possibly because combat in general is entertaining as well. The way she puts her whole body into her hair whip, wheeling her shoulders back and then launching her head forward, really gives a sense of impact. (Which is nice when you’re beating folks to death with your hair.) Her other animal changes and attack animations show that same level of care and attention to the full motion of the movement and its flow, creating these animations that I started doing just so I could admire how good they looked.
I realize that smooth animations and detailed locations aren’t something that’s unique to Shantae, nor is having the character’s idle animations tell a bit about them. It’s that I haven’t see this much on the Game Boy Color, and certainly not to the degree with which this game pulls them off. Especially when you get into town and see Shantae’s full, large character model, as well as how it moves when she runs off into the distance to enter a building.
The game continually offers these sights, motions, and small details that made me pause to just take them in. Plus, it never hurts to take a few minutes to listen to the background music that helps add so much charm as well. The amount of character that went into designing the world and its inhabitants breathe so much life into the setting, so even when you’re exploring typical video game locales like forests or deserts, they seem to have so much personality based on the bizarre living creatures that flit around them.
What you can see most of all in the Shantae Switch port is, despite the limitations of the Game Boy Color, the vision of the developers for its charming character and world. Yes, the more modern games look fantastic with their unique character designs and striking locations, but you can see the beginnings of all of that right here as well, with a plucky game that is doing everything it can to see what this console is capable of.
You can also get a little peek even deeper into the series’ beginnings through the game’s art gallery, which features lots of pictures of concepts and ideas that would shape the game. You can see characters coming together, locations in development, and many other things that will give you a new appreciation for getting all of this stuff to work in the limited screen size and pixels of the system. There was only so much you could do on the console, so seeing the art for how its was designed, and then witnessing those same concepts in motion, gives you a newfound appreciation for what the developers pulled off with this game.
Shantae is no less charming than the games that came after it despite the limitations of the console it came out on, which shows on the Switch. Its cheerful, detailed visuals give its place a sense of realistic movement and a look that feels like you could almost touch it. The characters express life and personality in their every movement, their every motion making them feel memorable and fun. It squeezes so many great visuals and animations into the handheld’s cartridge, creating an experience where you can see a strong start to the series’ charming look and style.
Shantae is available now on the Nintendo Switch. It is also available on the Game Boy Color.