With the recent announcement of a release date for Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero’s physical Ultimate Edition, I thought it was high time we showed the girl herself some love.
She’s been the star of four separate games to date, as well as making guest appearances in a number of other titles such as Blaster Master Zero.
I’ve actually earmarked June of 2018 to explore the Shantae series as a whole, so we’ll talk more about her in detail then, but in the meantime let’s contemplate the majesty of this belly-dancing half-genie and why she’s so appealing.
Shantae’s first appearance was in the imaginatively named 2002 Game Boy Color game Shantae. Largely overlooked at the time of its original release owing to the fact that the more powerful Game Boy Advance was already on the market — in fact, the Shantae cartridge could recognise when it was inserted into the backwards-compatible Advance and enhance the experience using the system’s additional power — the game is now one of the rarest, most expensive titles on the platform, often commanding three figures or more just for the cartridge.
Unlike some rare games that go for high prices purely for how limited a run they had rather than actually being decent experiences, Shantae is one of the best games on Game Boy Color, and it was clear from the outset that a significant part of the appeal was the titular main character herself.
Shantae herself was designed by Erin Bozon (née Bell), wife of the series’ main game designer Matt Bozon. As the legend has it, Erin was a camp counselor and named the character after one of the campers from a trip in the mid-’90s. The belly-dancing concept was present in the character from the very beginning — though the original idea was to have Shantae charm animals with her dancing rather than transform into them as seen in the games.
Much of Shantae’s appeal comes from the fact that she is obviously sexy without being overly sexualised, if that’s not a contradictory statement. She’s a character who is immediately striking to look at, yet typically presented in such a way that you wouldn’t need to see explicit, provocative or pornographic artwork of her to acknowledge her inherent sex appeal — she just exudes it naturally without having to do anything more than wiggle her hips a little bit. Even her original Game Boy Color incarnation, presented in low resolution with just a few colours, is a delight to behold.
She’s also been given an appealing personality over the course of the games that she’s starred in to date. She’s a naturally confident, somewhat sassy individual and always wants to do the right thing, but has an endearingly clumsy, absent-minded side to her that humanises her somewhat. Despite the “magic” in her heritage, she’s not an infallible, flawless heroine by any means, and indeed there are numerous events throughout the series in which she finds herself cleaning up a mess created by her own laziness or absent-mindedness.
It helps that she’s surrounded by an excellent cast of characters that complement her well, as we’ll explore further when we look at the series as a whole in more detail. These characters give her something to bounce off, whether it’s friendly rivalry with zombie girl Rottytops, or actual rivalry with recurring series antagonist Risky Boots.
Shantae’s visual design has evolved over the course of the four games in which she has appeared. Initially appearing as a relatively simple but astonishingly well-animated sprite in the Game Boy Color version, she subsequently evolved into a 16/32-bit style pixel art form for both Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse before adopting a more traditional cartoon style for 1/2 Genie Hero. Her proportions have also changed subtly over time; her latest depiction is rather more stylised than her earlier incarnations, though she’s still very much recognisable.
Despite her evolving appearance, certain aspects of Shantae have remained constant over time — most notably her animation. She’s always been depicted as walking and running with confidence, and exuding that aforementioned sex appeal particularly when making use of her belly-dancing moves to trigger special abilities. There are even subtle animations that have been a part of the series since its inception, with one of the most delightful being the cat-style butt-wiggle while she’s crouching, almost as if she’s waiting to pounce on something.
The complete audio-visual aesthetic of the games in which she appears is an important part of her overall appeal, too. The fact that she is inextricably associated with Jake Kaufman’s incredible soundtracks for the series is a core part of what makes her such a great character; if you’ve ever played a Shantae game, it’s likely impossible for you to see an image of her without hearing something like Burning Town, whether it’s in its original chiptune format (below) or one of the more modernised remixes from the more recent games.
Kaufman was well aware of what he was doing with his music from the very beginning; commenting on the track he composed for Shantae’s rival Risky Boots in the Game Boy Color game, he noted that “it’s one thing to drool over little cartoon sprites; it’s another to write their theme songs. Mnggggghhmmff.” Quite.
Indeed, Kaufman’s approach to music is something of a contrast to how many other Western developers today approach soundtracks; much like the series as a whole, there are clear influences from Japanese games at play, most notably in the fact that his music features clear melodic hooks that are often associated with characters. The aforementioned Burning Town, for example, while originally simply a theme for a location, has become so associated with Shantae herself that it was also remixed as a boss theme for all of the games except 1/2 Genie Hero.
Shantae has had such enduring appeal since 2002 because of she’s immediately recognisable, whether you see or hear her coming first. It’s a bit of shame that up until recently, her games have remained relatively niche-interest digital-only affairs (astronomically priced Game Boy cartridges aside) but, with 1/2 Genie Hero in particular, we’re really starting to see her pick up some steam in terms of recognition. Long may it continue!
Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero’s Ultimate Edition is out on April 27. And be Ret-2-Go for Shantae Month here on MoeGamer in June!
More about Shantae
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