While the march of technology has allowed the pioneering of new and amazing games, some have decided they prefer gaming in a 2D world. And that’s more or less what the Shantae cult franchise has done, mixing Metroidvania style exploration with Mario-esque platforming. And now, for its first game for consoles, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to.
While the game’s overall aesthetic, especially the “Oriental” aspects of Shantae’s world, can be excessively cheesy, it’s nothing if not well animated. The 2D animation and 3D levels blend rather seamlessly to create a smoothly integrated whole. It’s supported by occasional voice work and a score that’s heavy on the catchy disco and dance tunes, giving the whole thing a decidedly ’90s feel, but with a distinct upgrade in sound and graphics.
While fans of the franchise will feel right at home, newcomers will likely enjoy how the game slowly shifts from Mario-esque platformer to Metroidvania-style game where as you earn new powers, you return to past levels and solve the environmental puzzles hidden in them. Shantae can change into different animals and creatures using her magic dances, ranging from a mouse who can sneak into cracks to an elephant who can bash through walls, and you’ll have to use your powers in clever ways to solve some of the puzzles. Perhaps a little too clever.
Shantae, as a platformer and exploration based game, is generally pretty solid and a lot of fun, but there is one retro aspect of the game that probably shouldn’t have made it to the final cut. Unlocking new levels involves fetch quests where you have to find useless items, trade them for other useless items, and so on until you get the item you actually want. This would be a minor annoyance except as the game goes on, finding all this stuff becomes more and more elaborate, and involves more and more backtracking. Adding to the problem is this game is unusually bad at explaining itself, assuming you just know all the conventions of platformers. While fiddling with the world is part of the fun of any exploration-based game, an in-depth tutorial would be helpful for new players.
That said, though, the game itself plays wonderfully. The platforming is tight and responsive, and you’re never asked to pull off some Mega Man-esque impossible jump, while still having some challenging timing sections. That said, it’s pretty tough in the early going, so take some time once you open a few levels and find some powerups.
Despite the backtracking and puzzles, Shantae isn’t overly long. If you just play the bare minimum, it’ll take you six hours or so, but hardcore completionists will find it being more like ten.
At $20, retro gamers, in particular, will find a lot to love here. The game is deep, the mechanics are tight, and it’s fun to toy with the new powers you unlock as you go through. That said, a few frustrating moments and the unwelcome return of fetch quests to unlock areas might be a bit of a drawback unless you’re willing to consult the internet.