Wednesday, August 20, 2014

She Wiggles, She Jiggles, and She Julienne's Carrots with Her Hair

During the time when the Gameboy Color was the hot new handheld to own, I lived in a town where to get anything that wasn't super popular like Poke'mon I had to drive out of town.  Being a ten year old kid I didn't have this option at all, which was how I missed a few games I recently got a chance to play thanks to the series of tubes known as the Information Super Highway.  One of these games is a platformer that I have a theory was made with future space wizards and is powdered by unicorn tears, Shantae.

This is the kind of game that people would pigeon hole as a "Metriodvania" game.  The kind of game where you explore an area as far as your current skill set can take you; then you get a new skill that expands where you can explore and find goodies while fighting different bosses (I wonder if that is a analogy for office work).  Rinse and repeat as much as I bet she does with her hair, imagine the crud that gets caught in it.  For this romp through the world we play as the titular character Shantae, a half genie who whips her hair so hard it kills people with pure shock and awe.  The story is pretty standard for a platforming adventure game.  The villain Risky Boots steals a ancient a magical device that could change the world, a steam powered engine.  My first thought was that she would use this on the open sea and end up using planks from her ship to fuel it.  While thinking about the logic of this the game decides to give me quick smack and drop her grand plan on me.  She is going to use magical items to in short make a perpetual motion machine.  Scientists around the world must be eating their collective hats to not have been able to think of that idea.  While on paper this idea works, allowing her to sail on the high seas forever has a few problems with this.  Like food, I think those pirates need to eat an apple or two avoid scurvy.  Anyway because Risky Boots attacked and stole the steam engine from the town Shantae goes off on a journey to stop her plans.  And I honestly like the set up to explain why Shantae has to stop Risky Boots.  Most adventure games you're a hero who was prophesied years ago by a wizard high on shrooms that you and ONLY you can save the world.  Instead in Shantae the reason she has to stop Risky is because it's her job as the Town Guardian.  Yep, she risks her life stopping Risky from ruling the high seas in order to keep her salary as required by her contract.

While I said this game would be pigeon holed as a Metriodvania game I personally feel the game play is more akin to Zelda 2.  Just instead of a overhead map for the world it is all two dimensional platforming.  Both have towns where you go to do your shopping and talk to the locals about what is going on around the area like a genie who isn't Risky in disguise.  The difference is exploring the towns in Shantae is done really well and very differently.  Most games have you run around a town in overhead view, which gives a feeling of less people and buildings to explore.  Instead in this game you stand in the center of town and look left and right in a panoramic view.  This makes what could be a town with wide open spaces appear to be very busy and makes it layout feel tight.  I have never seen this done before and I'm honestly pleased, It gives the towns more life and cuts down on wasted space.

Outside of town you are on the hunt to find the magical maguffins of the week to prevent Risky Boots from accomplishing her goals.  But we know how this goes; you beat her to each item and near the climax you lose them to her for a epic final battle (Which if you think as low as I do the battle would be a pillow fight over her burning ship).  You main method of attacking during this trek is using your hair like a whip.  Not as painful as real whip but the shock of getting hit by hair is enough to just die I would think, plus I'm pretty sure she uses Head and Shoulders Spiky Formula for that extra POW.  I just can't stop thinking how easy it would be to get her hair tangled up or just get a massive headache.  I would have just gotten a real whip if I was her, but that would lead to a discussion about who is sexier Indiana Jones and Shantae.  Which is a different topic all together to be honest.  Another game play mechanic that isn't seen in many other games of the same ilk is dancing.  Which I must admit I would be lying if said I didn't spend about a hour or two of game play alone just messing with that.  Dancing is how you transform and teleport to town, which is done by hitting a sequence of buttons in perfect time with the tempo.  I like this because it requires skill with timing, and because a dick you didn't see hits with you a projectile causing you to die and start over from your last damn save.  Not like other games where everyone waits for you to play your song in constantly shifting measures because you can't remember the notes(I'm pretty sure I just made a musician cry somewhere).  After doing the Hair Whip Shuffle to a dungeon it's pretty much standard fair.  Find stuff in the dungeon to let you progress deeper in, and find a transformation to let explore more of the dungeon and over world.  After getting to the end of a dungeon you fight a boss, and I was honestly let down at this part of the dungeon.  I only think two dungeons found a way to integrate the transformation associated with that boss.  It felt like getting teased expecting a fun climax, but surprise she burps the garlic buttered toast in your face and your excitement wilts like a flower.  Overall while the method of attacking and transforming is fun, the game feels pretty standard.  Which is not a bad thing, it's the same as taking your old car which runs well and adding CD player to it to give it something new and exciting.

Where this game truly shines is with the graphics and how smooth the animation is.  Normally I don't care how a game looks unless it stands out in a extreme way.  But this game leads me to honestly believe that Wayfoward is just a bunch of binary wizards.  Who forged assembly code from the souls of the damned developers who lost their mind trying to hit this level of graphical power.  Everything feels smooth and clean which is something you don't really get much on the Gameboy Color with each character seeming to having more frames of animation then normal.  It gives the feeling like this game was meant for a "better" system like the Game Gear or the Atari Linx.  On top of that the music is really catchy and fitting with the world you're in, I honestly have a hard time getting the music out of my head.  Even if it's just bleeps and bloops from the sound processor the music has thought behind it.  Not just what is passable and sounds like a tune, but I would like to hear these songs played live one day.

Overall I was very pleased playing through this game.  It shows a level of care, like this was a passion project.  Not something you see that often anymore in games, it's always farting out a game that was made for money.  I can't wait to see what Wayfoward has coming next down the pipeline.

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