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Siren's Song: WayForward on Shantae's Evolution, Smash Bros., And the Future

Shantae co-creator Matt Bozon tells us what a new generation might hold for the chipper genie.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Shantae may not be a console mascot like Mario or Sonic, but she's nevertheless become one of gaming's most recognizable characters. Originally created for the 2002 Game Boy Color game Shantae, the half-genie hero has since seen a resurgence in the 2010's thanks to a number of well-regarded action-platformers.

With the full launch of Shantae and the Seven Sirens last month, developer WayForward set a few new milestones for the plucky heroine. It was released in segmented parts, and at first, only on Apple Arcade; while console releases weren't split, Arcade players could only play the first half of Shantae's latest adventure.

Despite being split up though, reception seems positive. Steam user reviews are trending upwards, and our own Staff Writer Nadia Oxford tells me it's an enjoyable entry in the Shantae series. (She'd like me to note that Pirate's Curse is still the best one.)

We recently got the chance to talk to series co-creator and Seven Sirens' game director Matt Bozon about the launch of the game, why WayForward went with Apple Arcade, and how that's affected the future direction of the Shantae franchise. I also, of course, asked about Shantae in Super Smash Bros. How could I not?

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USgamer: Seven Sirens had a different release than other Shantae games, going to Apple Arcade as a two-part launch. Why was Apple Arcade chosen for Shantae? Did you see any new interest in the series from mobile players?

Matt Bozon, game director on Shantae and the Seven Sirens: We’ve enjoyed a very good relationship with Apple over the years, and wanted to bring something special to the launch of Apple Arcade. Originally we planned to launch the Apple Arcade version alongside the console releases. However, when development went longer than expected, we’d already committed to Apple’s launch date. So, we decided to release the game in two parts on Apple Arcade platforms. Now, the game is complete, and functions as a stand-alone product regardless of how players choose to enjoy it! Seven Sirens is Shantae’s third appearance on Apple platforms, and with each outing she wins over a lot of new folks!

How did splitting up the game into parts change the development process for Seven Sirens? Has it affected the way you're thinking about approaching future games?

Fortunately the game’s design was not impacted. There just so happened to be a cliffhanger partway through the adventure that allowed us to break the game in two. That said, it did cause some minor delays, since we had to effectively launch the game twice. In the future, I’d prefer to avoid a major shift like that midway through development. But, I think the team did a great job of creative problem solving, and delivered a fantastic game in the end!

Is this a release schedule you'd consider revisiting, or was this more of an experiment?

Releasing the game in parts was helpful in this unique instance. But I’d be more into the idea if the game was designed that way up front, like with Risky’s Revenge. That game was planned out as three shorter games for DSiWare, and I still think it would have been neat to see in that format. I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine that next time we’ll opt for a more typical approach. Although the way this industry works, you never know!

Some things change, but others will always stay the same in Metroidvania-style games like Seven Sirens. | WayForward

Tell me how you think Shantae has evolved most over the years. What's the biggest difference between making a Shantae game now, versus her debut? Has there been anything that's stayed the same throughout?

I think we’ve gotten more comfortable with her character, and we’ve been able to explore more sides of her personality and relationships than we could back on the Game Boy.

The biggest changes on the dev side are probably due to the size of the audience. In the past, we’d make one game for the current Nintendo handheld, in English. Then, we’d go back and start adding languages and releasing in new territories over months or years. Now, we’re trying to serve everyone at once - or as closely as we can. That means more testing, localizing, ratings, and submissions to manage. The first Shantae game for Game Boy had one submission to Capcom. By the third game we were submitting to Nintendo of Europe, US, and Japan in five languages. And by Half-Genie Hero we had DLC, free content updates, launch in various territories that added up to over 150 separate submissions. With Seven Sirens, we’re adding every supported Apple product and their respective screen ratios. To solve this, we’ve built up our own internal publishing and marketing teams. Looking back, this is probably the biggest change, but it’s an important one!

A lot of formerly sprite-based games have been moving towards more hand-drawn animation; not just Shantae, but recent examples like Streets of Rage 4. Why was this the right call for Shantae? Is there any chance of more sprite art in the future, or a throwback of some kind?

Yeah, this is awesome! I love this trend, since hand drawn art is limitless in terms of style, and with today’s tech we can put anything we can dream of on the screen. But, it’s important to respect pixel art as a medium, and not treat it as a limitation that we should “get over.” Yes, it was a hardware limitation in the past, but that limitation sparked an entire genre of art. So while I’m very happy pushing 2D boundaries, I feel strongly about pixel art as a legitimate art form that should hold the same value as any other. I would gladly make another pixel adventure, and would also happily explore a new hand drawn or 3D art style for Shantae. Let’s keep that imagination flowing and see where it takes us!

Shantae's look has evolved a great deal since the Game Boy Color. | WayForward

With Metroidvanias and platformers becoming more common, what do you think makes Shantae stand out? What is the legacy of Shantae, in your eyes?

I think Shantae has a special kind of playfulness that isn’t found in other games. Structurally, Shantae is similar to plenty of other adventure games. But there’s a neat mix of classic game ideas, impressive animation, catchy tunes, strong mobility and clever level design that sets it apart. At the center of that is Shantae herself. And she just wants to make you happy.

There have been fan calls for Shantae to make a Smash Bros. appearance in the past. Would you like to see Shantae in Smash Bros.?

We were over the moon with excitement to have her included as a Spirit when the game launched. But yes, we’d love to see her playable someday!

Previous games like Half-Genie Hero explored controlling other characters in the Shantae-verse, but any chance they could take the spotlight more in the future? Any thought about potential spin-offs or side-games?

That would make a lot of sense, considering how expansive the cast has become. It would be fun to see them get to star in their own stories!

Moving into a new console generation, are there any places you'd want to see Shantae go?

We’ve talked for years about taking Shantae into a 3D polygonal world. But that’s never happened. I can’t say if this generation will be “the one,” but it’s something we’ll probably consider again when the time is right. I’d also love to play around with some kind of Shantae adventure in VR, or something musical in nature. We’ll have to wait and see. Anything can happen!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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