Willow Smith may have hit the music charts with a song about whipping her hair back and forth, but I hasten to point out that a certain half-genie has been doing that for years. 11 in fact.
For WayForward’s spritely Guardian Genie was a trendsetter herself back in the day, despite arriving on Game Boy Color shortly after the handheld’s successor was conjuring up a storm. We discover the hair-whipping femme fatale tasked with protecting Scuttle Town, although when the fishing port falls under the attack of the marauding Risky Boots she soon finds herself forced away from the otherwise idyllic setting. Old Uncle Mimic’s prototype steam engine is stolen, and having failed to defend them the townspeople look to Shantae to get it back.
Largely regarded as a fan favourite – let alone a rarity due to the limited production run the game’s 32MB cart saw – what follows is a memorable technicolour excursion across Sequin Land. Whilst early on your move set is limited to hair-whipping, later on, it soon opens up when you gain access to magical belly dances that see WayForward’s heroine turn herself into a monkey, elephant, or spider, among others.
Environments are intricately layered delivering sublime visuals that were far ahead of their time, with a day-to-night cycle that alternates everything beautifully to keep it feeling fresh. Interconnected locations see you wandering screen-to-screen to your next goal, and the sense of scale was unlike anything experienced before within the genre.
Hubs such as Scuttle Town add to this, being attractions in themselves. Changing perspective, each building presents its own activity for the player: head to the Dancing Parlor to bust moves in a rhythm-based minigame, return baby Warp Squids to their mother to receive a reward, or spend some time in the bathhouse to revive your aching muscles.
Sadly it’s the control input that can detract, not being quite as responsive as needed for the player to safely navigate their way through what soon become enormously taxing platform challenges.
But what can be celebrated is Shantae, at last, seeing a digital release, and therefore becoming available to those unable to experience one of the finest games from the often overlooked Game Boy Color era. For that, we can be grateful and wholeheartedly look forward to the game’s threequel Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.