Shantae for the Gameboy Color is an interesting beast. Not only is it one of the most rare games of all time, but it is also one of the best designed games overall. However, when you look at it, you might not see something that what many designers may have overlooked. Shantae is good, yes, but would you guess that the majority of its gameplay is taken directly from one of the most panned games of the time, Simon’s Quest?
One of the major features of Shantae is the Day/Night system, a system that Simon’s Quest used inadequately. In that game, the transitions were overly slow; it arbitrarily increased difficulty in certain sections, and led to a lot of waiting around in order to be able to use features of towns. In Shantae, the transition occurs during gameplay, changes music and screen tone, and, perhaps the biggest improvement, does not decrease interactivity of towns. Shantae does what Simon’s Quest needed for its day/night system to be usable, not good. This is because the whole concept was a very good idea, just poorly executed in CV2.
This is an excellent opportunity to bring up towns themselves in Shantae, as well. In Simon’s Quest, the townsfolk were cryptic liars who would give you completely irrelevant information relating to the task at hand. In Shantae, the townspeople clue you in on what to do, not just in progression, but also to get money, how to use money, and other things that, if the player explores later on, going off of what the NPC told them, will lead to a reward for the player’s exploration, incentivizing not only exploration in the overworld, but also frequent speaking to the townsfolk. This is what Simon’s Quest needed in its towns in order to fix much of its conveyance issues. Speaking of conveyance…
Another thing that Shantae does flawlessly is the conveyance on where to go. Funnily enough, Shantae could be a spiritual successor to Simon’s Quest with its overworld alone, as it’s laid out in an almost identical manner when compared to how they laid it out in Simon’s Quest. However, in Shantae, they fixed this problem by making the different areas that didn’t matter to the main game useful to the player in other ways, by giving them items and different pathways to travels. Of course, if you hit a dead end in both games, you would have to backtrack quite a bit to return to the main path, but in Shantae, it never works against the player, as usually this gives the player time to grind money while backtracking, allowing them to buy potions and other useful items from the shops, which are exponentially better than the random sellers of necessary-to-complete-the-game-goods in random towns. However, this all isn’t what makes Shantae’s conveyance a gem. What conveys where to go so well, however, is the story.
The dialogue written for Shantae is probably some of the funniest and most cleverly written games I’ve ever had the fortune of reading and playing through. The game likes to sexualize the women in the game, even the protagonist, but it never feels unnecessary in Shantae, because of how the characters themselves deal with it. The characters never just accept the sexism, and instead scorn any man whom breaks down because of, the villain, Risky Boots’ charming looks. This helps to make the character designs feel like just part of the culture of the world the player is experiencing instead of being unnecessary sex appeals. However, I digress. Because the dialogue is so well written in Shantae, you’ll always be eager to read what the characters say next, and this is how the game tells you where to go so flawlessly. All progression is player-controlled, like in any good game, because the story only slips in where to go, but doesn’t force the player to go there immediately. This is how it makes the player want to proceed through the story, though. It makes the player want to see more of these characters, and this is how you add conveyance to a game that has this sort of world and story.
Of course, the biggest difference between the two games is the music. There couldn’t be two more different sound tracks if you tried. Most of the music in Simon’s Quest is repeated, and many times, monotonous and repetitive. In Shantae, however, the composer took every opportunity that he could, and it ended up being one of the best soundtracks in 8-bit history.
The bottom line is that the two games are so similar in initial design that it’s hard to tell the difference at a glance. However, it’s almost as if the developers took everything good about Simon’s Quest, magnified it, fixed the glaring issues, and then inserted the exemplary sound, music, story, and characters. Shantae got so much right with its perfect combination and balance of all of its elements that it’s hard to believe that most of its design choices and gameplay came from the single most panned game in the CastleVania series.