Finally, Shantae's Back on Game Boy

Finally, Shantae's Back on Game Boy

Well, kind of. Anyway, the new game is looking sharp.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

The Shantae series has come a long way from its humble origins. I played a demo of the upcoming don't-call-it-a-reboot (it's a reboot) Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero here at E3 in a real booth and everything; something that would have seemed impossible a decade ago, when the property seemed doomed to fade in obscurity.

Shantae got its start as a Game Boy Color game in 2002. Think back and you'll remember that (1) the Game Boy Color had been swiftly abandoned by that point in favor of the Advance, which had debuted the year before, and (2) hardly anyone cared about 2D platformers, especially (3) not 2D platformers on Game Boy Color. The game's initial print run was its only print run, and it was tiny, hence the game's steep price these days. Eventually, word spread that it was a thoughtful, smartly designed game that hearkened back to the best of the NES, a sort of capstone for true 8-bit games.

It's hard to say, based on the 1/2 Genie Hero E3 demo, whether or not the new game (powered by a successful Kickstarter campaign) does much to build on or advance the state of the series. Certainly it looks a lot more spectacular than the Game Boy Color version did, or any other entry in the series for that matter. It's a true high-definition project, with nicely animated 2D sprites navigating a 3D polygonal world that does a better job of looking practically hand-drawn than just about any similar 2.5D game I've ever seen. The texturing on Shantae's new world looks painterly and soft, and the game has a visual unity you rarely find.

In terms of play mechanics, though, it's very much in line with the original game. Shantae can perform dances that allow her to transform into other creatures (a spider-woman and a monkey, in the demo) to reach new areas. These transformations work exactly as they did in the older Shantae games. And the demo itself takes place in a burning city that's come under attack by a pirate ship in the distance, culminating with a boss battle against some sort of giant contraption.

It's all very familiar beats, to the point of fanservice, and I'll be curious to see if the game breaks new ground beyond the introductory sequence. It handles with the same crispness as previous Shantae titles, with the heroine using her ponytail to smack bad guys, and the games' trademark juvenile sense of humor remains intact (the demo boss is called the P.O.O.P.T.O.O.T., if that tells you anything). So, more Shantae, looking better than ever, playing as well as ever. The game does take advantage of its expanded resolution to create wider-ranging threats, which took a bit of adjusting to — but not in a bad way. Hopefully, the game will continue to play up the higher resolution throughout to create challenges never before seen in the series.

To promote the game at E3, a brave staffer has been walking around the booth dressed as Shantae. Apparently she's not a hired model, just a company employee who has no fear about walking around in a harem costume at E3. I've always kept to a "no booth girls photos" policy throughout my years of attending E3. But just this once, I decided to make an exception. I had my trusty Game Boy Camera on hand, so it seemed fitting for "Shantae" to enjoy one last outing on the console where it all began.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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