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It’s amazing to see how far the Shantae franchise has come when you consider how it all started. The original Shantae on Game Boy Color, released in 2002, greatly impressed by pushing the portable to its limits in multiple areas, but a very late launch on the platform, an extremely limited release and the excitement for the Game Boy Advance meant the poor half-genie was neglected by most gamers at the time. It would take another 8 years for Shantae to get another crack at success, but when Shantae: Risky’s Revenge arrived in 2010 for DSiWare, gamers were more than ready to give her a warm welcome.

Ever since Risky’s Revenge, Shantae has become a franchise staple (and de facto mascot) for developer WayForward. We’ve seen her front multiple games across various platforms, one of which came about through the success of a Kickstarter campaign. While gamers may not have known or shown interest in Shantae back in the GBC days, it’s clear she’s got an incredibly dedicated fanbase as of 2024.

It’s crazy to think that the quiet launch of Shantae’s first game directly related to a near decade-long drought for the series. Little did any of us know that WayForward never intended for Shantae to remain dormant, as they were cooking up a sequel adventure for the Game Boy Advance. Sadly, WayForward’s struggles to find a publisher for Shantae on GBC only grew worse with time, as no one would step up to help the company bring Shantae’s GBA debut to the public. This led to the title being cancelled outright…or so it seemed.

While GBA publishers couldn’t see WayForward’s vision back in 2004, things a quite different in 2024. The game industry has expanded wildly in those 20+ years, paving the way for not just a digital revolution, but a physical one as well. Game developers are able to self-publish easier than ever thanks to digital storefronts, and boutique retailers help keep physical media alive with reprints and brand-new boxed releases. The undying love for legacy platforms, new options for physical releases and digital distribution that has now made the impossible possible for Shantae.

Recently, WayForward revealed that their long-lost/cancelled Shantae game from the GBA was finally going to see the light of day. Not only would the game, titled Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution, get a digital release on modern platforms, it would also see a GBA cartridge version thanks to a collaboration with publisher Limited Run Games. It’s a dream-come-true situation for both WayForward and Shantae fans, making for the perfect example of “better late than never.”

How do you restart development on a GBA title in 2024? What’s it like releasing a brand-new GBA game decades after the platform’s death? How does modern-day tech both hinder and aid GBA development? We asked WayForward all of these questions and more in our lengthiest interview yet!

You can get the full rundown below, courtesy of WayForward founding member/Shantae co-creator Matt Bozon and his wife/Shantae co-creator Erin Bozon, along with programmer Michael Stragey.

It's SO good to be back!
It's SO good to be back!

GN: How absolutely surreal is it to be returning to the GBA for a Shantae release? Did you ever think this shelved Shantae idea would see the light of day?

Matt Bozon: I’d always hoped, but honestly it seemed like a longshot, all things considered! Usually canceled games stay canceled, especially after two decades!

Michael Stragey: Every so often I would come across my old archives of games while organizing my office. A few times the Shantae archives grabbed my attention and I wondered if the old engine and tools would still run. To my surprise, they still worked! It also reminded me that I hadn’t talked to Matt in years, so it was a good opportunity to reach out to him. I honestly had very little hope of Shantae GBA ever getting released until the day Matt told me it was a go, which was a shock! I actually turned down another job to make this happen.

GN: How in the world did this project come to be?

Erin Bozon: We’d hoped to go back and finish it for a long time. Knowing that there was an unfinished game always gnawed at us. In 2022 Matt had just come off of a long project, and we were looking for ways to get the next Shantae started. Returning to Shantae Advance made sense, since it was a great way to give fans a new game more quickly than starting a new game from scratch. So we reached out to Micheal to see if he was available, and then pitched the idea to LRG to see if they’d want to partner with us, and it all lined up. It seems like it was meant to be!

GN: When was the last time the team worked on Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution prior to the decision to actually complete/release it?

Michael Stragey: Looking at my archive, we stopped actively working on it early September 2004 when we started working on Sigma Star Saga for GBA. It also looks like we pulled it out for a look in January 2005, most likely to show off a demo to someone in hopes of jumping back on it after Sigma Star Saga.

Definitely nothing foreboding waiting below...
Definitely nothing foreboding waiting below...

GN: How big is the team working on Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution? And how many people on the original Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution team are still involved with this release?

Matt Bozon: You’ve got Mike, Erin, and me from the original team, along with a backlog of artwork from that original effort. Some people still working here now were also involved back then, so it’s sort of like working with their phantoms from the past, even though they’re not on the project now. It’s pretty surreal! New to the team is Maddie Lim (composer), and help from WayForward’s illustration and animation teams when needed. So, if it was six or so people in 2004, it’s only a few on any given day in 2023-2024. So, a bit smaller, but more focused.

GN: How much of the game was completed prior to this effort to release the title?

Michael Stragey: Almost all of the gameplay systems were in. We spent a lot of time tweaking Shantae’s controls and her interactions with enemies, items, and dialog with NPCs. We had a cross section of gameplay with Shantae spinning the world, moving back and forth between the front and back playfields, and going down into and completing a labyrinth full of enemies and defeating its boss. Most of the puzzles you’ll see in the game were done and working. From my perspective, all we had left was to do the same for a few more of these towns and labyrinths. However, after so many more Shantae games being released, expectations were higher for a GBA game released today as opposed to one released back then, so we ended up putting in a lot more than I was expecting.

GN: Did the team go in to completely rework/revamp areas or aspects that were wrapped up years ago?

Matt Bozon: On the design side, we tried to preserve anything that felt like the heart of the game. But I was also very mindful that this was a demo made for publishers back in the early 2000s. We’d put a lot of the demo-able ideas up front, which doesn’t necessarily make for a well paced game. Some labyrinth design and flow, specifically individual room designs, are improved to be less frustrating - removing blind jumps, for example. But we tried to keep everything intact where possible!

Michael Stragey: The dialog system was a big change and had to be reworked as talking to NPCs became a larger part of the game than I expected. Embedding dialog in code became unfeasible, so a new tool to process text from a spreadsheet had to be written and the dialog system had to be upgraded to accept that, and some other new functionality. The complexity of getting and giving items, tracking events of a continuing storyline, plus a shop selling upgrades required upgrading those systems.

GN: How have the decades worth of development on other games helped to shape Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution now?

Matt Bozon: We’ve made hundreds of games at this point, and a lot of them are sidescrollers. So we have a lot more experience making a fun and well-paced game these days. In that way, the game does feel more modern than it probably would have if it was released back in the GBA era of handheld gaming.

Erin Bozon: The story, characters, and art style have all advanced since then. So it was a fun way to look back and fill in some holes with the second game. It let us elaborate more on the backstory, knowing that the future adventures were already successful in the eyes of fans.

GN: How is it to dive back into GBA development from a technical perspective?

Michael Stragey: Honestly, I was scared. LOL. I’ve been using Unity for game development for over 12 years, and having gotten used to the modern conveniences made any thought of returning to GBA a huge deal. But perhaps my biggest fear was returning to my old engine and tool code. I had to hope that I could figure out my old code and remember the GBA hardware.

GN: Do you find the limitations of the hardware limiting or freeing?

Michael Stragey: I actually loved working on the GBA. I loved working directly with the hardware and knowing exactly what was going on rather than through layers of SDKs and APIs. I started in this industry on the NES, SNES, and Genesis working in assembly language, so being able to code in C rather than assembly was a luxury for me.

Handling some monkey business
Handling some monkey business

GN: With so much more development time and expertise under your belt, have you found new ways to push the GBA beyond its limits?

Michael Stragey: Matt has always had me pushing the limits. Luckily, coming back to this game after so many years has allowed me to figure out some better ways to do things and fix problems that I hadn’t dealt with at the time, such as the continuously rotating worlds, which weren’t completely working correctly when we stopped working on the game.

GN: Will Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution feature gameplay mechanics never-before-seen in the series, or will this be more of a return to Shantae’s early gameplay sensibilities?

Matt Bozon: It’s a bit of a missing link. There are ideas that (in 2002) were experimental, and we’ve left them in there, but I would probably not think to add those today. For example, spending magic to run faster. Speedrunners are going to have a field day with that, and I probably would not have included it in a modern Shantae game. These days you might expect to see a speed-based animal transformation instead. But either way, it’s there and it’s very fun, even if executed differently!

GN: What’s it like not only returning to this game, but actually bringing it out on a physical GBA cartridge?

Matt Bozon: That’s the part that really tugs at the ol’ heartstrings. My GBA collection has a Shantae dev cart nested alongside all of the other games that made it. Thanks to Limited Run Games we get to time warp back and swap it out for a real one!

Michael Stragey: Scary!!! One of the things modern developers don’t have to face is releasing a game completely bug free. You can’t patch a cartridge! That being said, it’s amazing that it’s still possible to manufacture cartridges.

Gotta love that Mode 7-style effect
Gotta love that Mode 7-style effect

GN: Be it a modern console, a GBA, GBA SP, the Game Boy Player on GameCube or so on, what way do you personally think Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution should be experienced?

Michael Stragey: I’ve only played it on an original GBA, and there’s certainly a nostalgia that comes with that. It brings back good memories. But I would love to play Shantae on a TV with a full-sized controller, and that’s probably how my kids will play it.

Matt Bozon: At this point I’ve played it on everything. I love playing this on GBA SP. But I have to say, the Analogue Pocket Dock-to-TV experience with a SNES controller is pretty amazing, too.

Erin Bozon: My favorite console is the GameCube, but love the portability of the GBA SP!

GN: Will there be any special borders for those who play Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution on the Game Boy Player?

Matt Bozon: Not at this time!

GN: Are there any other lost WayForward games that could possibly be revived/revisited in the same way Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution is?

Matt Bozon: There was only one canceled Shantae game. But there have been plenty of Shantae game pitches, concepts, and tech demos for other games in the Shantae series that have not been developed. Of course, we have a treasure trove of other game pitches as well. So I’d say there’s no shortage of ideas!

A huge thanks to Matt, Erin and Michael for taking the time to chat with us about all things Shantae!

Don’t forget, there’s still time to pre-order a physical Game Boy Advance version of Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution. There are both Standard and Collector’s Editions up for grabs, which you can see in the images above. If you’d like to pre-order the Standard version, you can do so through this link. If you’d like to lock in the Collector’s Edition, you can find that here.

About rawmeatcowboy

rawmeatcowboy

GoNintendo's founder, and bearded wonder. Although his beard is a little greyer nowadays, RMC is more than ready to tackle news and features. When not playing/talking/writing about games, RMC enjoys comic books, pro wrestling, anime, and more.

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Comments (2)

cestri

21d ago

I'm excited for this game, the back and forth mechanic reminds of Mutant Mudds. This game would be a perfect fit for the 3DS, the 3D effect would be quite nice.


d_says_hi

21d ago

I have the gold cartridge preordered. They should try to rerelease the Sabrina GBC games, those didn't get wide release either since they were even more late GBC releases.