Shantae Advance | Feature Image

One of my favorite parts of this year’s Game Developer’s Conference was being able to sit down with Matt and Erin Bozon of WayForward, and talk about all things Shantae. During our time together, we talked about the upcoming Game Boy Advance (yes, you read that right!) game Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution, about cancelled Shantae games for the Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo DS, about developing for the Nintendo e-Reader, and so much more.

This interview about Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution was originally supposed to go live during the time window while you could still pre-order a physical Game Boy Advance copy of the game from Limited Run Games. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, this interview ended up being delayed into May for publication. However, Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution will be coming to home consoles, and so you can still definitely pick up a copy of the game then.

You can find out more about WayForward and Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution on the official website, on Discord, on Facebook and Instagram, on X, on TikTok, on YouTube, and on Twitch

You can also check out my impressions of a hands-on demo of Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution here.

Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution is set to release in 2024 on Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

Shantae | Logo

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with oprainfall, and could you two introduce yourselves?

Matt Bozon: I’m Matt Bozon, I’m the director of the Shantae series — but specifically here, Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution.

Erin Bozon: And I am Erin Bozon, the creator of Shantae.

OR: Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution started at a Game Boy Advance title in 2002. What can you tell us about this title, and why was it never released?

MB: Well, it is a sequel to the original Shantae game — early, early ideas for this game started in November of 2000, which was when we got our dev kits. Shantae 1 was still in development, so we were starting to think about what a sequel might be. I actually started to have some of its early, early framework — or I guess design ideas, I should say — getting worked on even while the first game was not quite done.

You asked why it was not released. So, Game Boy Advance was very difficult at retail. It was very license driven, toy aisle, movie tie-ins, TV show tie-ins. It was very challenging. And prices of those cartridges were very expensive, so it was very hard to get publishers to want to take a gamble on an expensive cartridge for a completely unknown property. [And] the first game hadn’t even come out yet. And by the time it did come out, it had proven to not be a great seller. It was a fan favorite-

EB: -it only sold 10,000 copies.

MB: So yeah, it got cult [classic] status.

EB: It had a limited release.

MB: Yeah, it had a fan following, but not really a lot. Not enough to prove it would be successful as a Game Boy Advance game. Which, as I mentioned, was so much more expensive to manufacture and produce. Margins were very slim, and so, ultimately, there were a couple of places that looked at it and went ‘Maybe we could do something with this if you can get it on the cheapest cartridge and you can cut the content down.’ Really nice people who tried their best. But we’re like ‘We can’t even fit the demo on one of these tiny cartridges, much less the whole game — there’s just no way.’

EB: We [had] maxed out all the features, so to cut it down wouldn’t have worked.

MB: So, it just got put away and Shantae didn’t really come back again until digital distribution, which was like a rebirth — that was Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, which was a completely different game. This one just kind of went away and stayed away.

EB: And waited for more updated technology.

MB: For us, Risky’s Revenge was the third game we developed. But it’s the second game anyone ever saw.

“We’re always trying to do the next Shantae game, always. It’s always on the forefront.”

OR: How much progress was actually made in Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution before the project was shelved? How much of what WayForward did back in 2002 was actually still usable for this upcoming release?

EB: I think 50 percent?

MB: Fifty percent of the game’s systems, all of the player mobility, transformations, animations, big ideas that had already been built — engine, all that kind of stuff. What it didn’t have was the Golden Path adventure. You could only do 25 percent of it. So, if you’re speaking purely of game development, that is about halfway through the development process. Usually, the back half is a lot of ‘Now you’ve got to mass produce your content.’ We had done all the legwork, but we hadn’t done all the other stuff where you build out the full game experience.

This was really, really important at the beginning of the project: ‘Were we going to just resume work?’ And we ended up doing that. It’s just the same work, same code, same tools — tried to put our computers in the state they were in 20 years ago, back when resolutions of 1024 by 768 was as big as your computer monitor could possibly display. We had to go back in time and actually work in those constraints. Stuff and tools that were not even Windows-compatible yet, they were in DOS. Animations were made in DOS. A lot of this stuff — we’re working on stuff that is old, even back then. In the early ’90s, we were working on tools from the ’80s.

EB: Dpaint! [OR Note: Also known as Deluxe Paint.]

MB: Dpaint, yeah!

EB: DPaint was our go-to for the first game and the second one.

MB: All that stuff was still the same stuff. While we made improvements, we didn’t ditch the old things. We just continued. And that’s kind of like having one or two hands tied behind your back, honestly. So, you get none of the advantages of modern game development, other than being able to communicate with Teams and talking and chatting on a video call. But not the game.

EB: You were saying that there was no ‘undo’, right?

MB: There’s no undo! *laughs* We didn’t have that kind of technology yet! It’s Game Boy Advance, through and through. That’s what it is.

Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution | Shantae outside a house.
While Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution (above) entered development long, long before Shantae and the Seven Sirens (below), the latest Game Boy Advance entry has the same heart and fun as the rest of the series. (Images owned by WayForward Games.)

Shantae and the Seven Sirens | Worst Vacation

OR: Why look to the past to bring Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution back now instead of working on the next ‘big thing’ after Shantae: Seven Sirens and after the re-release of the first two Shantae games?

MB: That’s the best question ever.

EB: We’re always trying to do the next Shantae game, always. It’s always on the forefront. But you have to find someone to help fund it, you have to find the time and the staff and a slot — because a lot of times, you have to work on other titles in order to afford to do something that’s an indie game. So we came to a point where’s it’s like ‘Okay, we can afford to work on another Shantae game because he had just finished working on — I’m not sure we can say it-‘

MB: *laughs* I help out a lot at the studio! I was between projects I was helping out on.

EB: Yeah, we can’t say exactly what he was working on, but he had been on something for a year, and then he was going to have a time where he could actually work on maybe a Shantae game. So, we did talk about doing the next one in the series. But there was this one that had never been released, and it told us a little more of the story. It’s like — it’s there, and when can we release it? And retro stuff is really on the rise right now. So, it’s like ‘Yes, we could do a new one, but when are we ever going to go back to finish this one?’ And so, it just seemed like a good time.

And we did ask different companies if they could help fund it, and we did show them different games. And they were like ‘Yes! Let’s do this!’ and we were so thankful that someone will help fund it so we can get another Shantae game out.

So things lined up — Michael Stragey was available, and he did the engine for the first game, and Matt was available, and we had a lot of the art already done. So instead of maybe taking a year or two to do the whole new game, this one could fit into a slot that was less than a year. So timewise too, for Shantae fans, you don’t want them to go too long before a new game comes out. So to know that it had already been since 2020 or 2019 since the last Shantae game came out, we were like ‘Ahhh, if we can just get another one to play while we work on the next one, that would be great!’

MB: Completely along with that — Limited Run Games had been doing more reproduction cartridges — like that great thing with Shantae on Game Boy Color. It was like everything aligned nicely.

EB: Josh [Fairhurst] is such a fan that he was all for it, and that they would come on board and help us make another game. We can’t do it ourselves.

MB: He totally believed in us and in the preservation mission that he has. ‘Yeah, we’re finding an old game — here is an old copy laying around on a hard drive, and it should have existed but it didn’t.’ And so, he gave it another shot.

And like you said — Mike Stragey — we weren’t working together anymore. He had gone on to do other things, and it had been 20 years. So, he was between projects, and the timing was right. He’s like ‘I could do it, is it real?’ and we were like ‘Maybe it’s real! I don’t know!’ And then all the pieces fell into place. Super cool, also kind of a now-or-never thing. I feel if this was five years later, I’m not sure it would have made any sense — I feel like it would have gone away again.

EB: Especially as we continue to make more and more advancements with the Shantae series, I feel like now is a good time because we’re still [re]-releasing some of the older ones.

MB: Definitely.

OR: You streamed Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution demo as part of the Kickstarter campaign for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero in 2013. During that demo, you mentioned “I’m playing this game with an analog stick — this game was not designed for an analog stick” — and obviously, platforming with a D-Pad is way different than platforming with a Switch [Joy-Con] or PS4/PS5 controller, and this game has been announced for modern consoles.

How difficult was it to adapt the game’s GBA controls to modern console controllers?

MB: So, I guess I’ll say that that is a work in progress. The closest thing to this game, and I know it’s very strange — once this game is done, it will be as though it was done 20 years ago. Pretend that it was remembered fondly by people who played it — even though they didn’t — and now pretend that it is now time for the port by Carbon Engine team to modern consoles. It will be very similar to how they did the port for Shantae Game Boy Color. And since we’re working on it together — WayForward and Limited Run — it’ll also be very similar to when we ported Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse from the Nintendo 3DS with that upscaler kind of look to it. Not upscaling the pixels, the pixels are clean — I don’t like blurry pixels, it’s a thing of mine I can’t stand that, I like clean pixels — but the illustrations.

Erin’s group has artists redrawing everything at 4k resolution, and it will be beautiful. Your Carbon Engine port will have your Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse­-like, if you’re playing that game on a modern console, similar. You have your pixel art in the middle, your beautiful portrait art on the edges, your illustrations. And if you want, you can still play the cartridge version on [modern consoles], too.

So, if you are like ‘I want the way it really looked without all the high-res art’ — same with the controls. Just like on Pirate’s Curse, you can use the control stick to move around. If that’s what is comfortable for you, you can do that. But for, I think a lot of players, they are going to reach down lower on the controller and get the control pad and use that for the more traditional controls. So you can use both.

For me? I actually tend to play it both ways. When I’m getting into the precision-type fighting moments, I go down on my control pad. When I’m starting to wonder about, I’m taking a little rest and using my analog stick for my thumb. So, you can do both. But traditionally though, people are gonna wanna use the control pad.

Or I’ll plug in my Super Nintendo controller — I use that all the time for Switch stuff. I love plugging that thing in — any device that will support my SNES controller. I love it.

OR: Something interesting for a Game Boy Advance game — you can’t really patch it after release. We saw that when Nintendo tried to Berry patch Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. How does it feel knowing that you have to get it right now?

MB: I’m nervously laughing. The reason I’m nervously laughing is — okay, Erin and I have done so many games. We have a Sabrina game that got 25 percent of the game deleted the day before the game shipped. Not the day before — at midnight, it was shipping in the morning to manufacturing. You really made 25 percent of the games, between midnight and 6 a.m.? Does that sound familiar?

EB: And I was pregnant — I was eight- or nine-months in.

MB: So, you’re making levels and people at the same time? *laughs* That’s crazy. It is a completely different mindset that I think is kind of gone from the world today. You have to live with everything that’s going out there. When it’s done, it’s not done. You have people who play it — as many people as can get hands on it.

EB: That’s why, after beta, we have a playtesting phase that goes for a month or something. You have as many people get their hands on it to try to find as many bugs. Our son was a play tester for years, and now he animated some of the Shantae characters. But he was a play tester since he was 15, until a couple of years ago.

MB: He’s good with the glitch theory-type stuff.

EB: He tries to break it.

MB: He’s like ‘If this is a game that is built on these types of things, then theoretically, they will probably do these things.’ And then he goes checks it.

EB: He’s a genius — he is like ‘I can break it, I know I can!’

MB: So there’s ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do the traditional Q&A looking for bugs’, and we’re also more like the quality — is it fun? And then there’s a whole other thing that Limited Run is going to do — and I had never heard of such a thing, and I thought it was actually crazy when I heard this. They have a fairly involved manufacturing process, because they are creating a specific chip set to make sure this thing runs just right on the card. And then they are going to individually test each individual cart by hand. I have never heard of such crazy stuff before.

EB: Just such quality assurance.

MB: I guess what that means is — and back in the day, old school development, you always shipped knowing there was a bug. Not one you knew of, but you knew. Once this thing expands out into the hands of [the public], something will be found. When it’s found, it will probably have to be like ‘Yeah, that’s part of the game’ and you hope it isn’t some egregious thing.

And yeah, you’re right, you cannot patch it. The only thing that can happen is you could — in this case, there is something a little slightly different because there is a Carbon Engine port coming [and] you could patch that original game. And then include it — that would be the fixed or patched version of the game. But even that is even a little bit unusual, because we’ve done re-releases of games in the past — like Shantae 1. Shantae 1 has some well-known bugs or weird exploits.

EB: We’ve seen people do run-throughs where they could skip stuff because they went through a wall. But it’s kind of fun to see people break the game.

MB: And if they like it, we want to leave it in. It’s only the things that would spoil the experience — we don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone. If there are some things that are kind of fun to break, then it probably is best that it be left in there. But you’re right, you can’t patch it, so you gotta check it and check it and check it again. But from the beginning of time, until only around not so long ago, you couldn’t patch anything anyway.

So, all we’re doing is going back to how you had to do things before, when you had to be absolutely sure before you hit that submit button — that you were absolutely done.

OR: Something else mentioned during the livestream was that [Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution] would be 20+ hours, which would make it the lengthiest Shantae game by far. Has that length been retained for this coming release?

MB: No, no. I think that would have been based on everything we had come up with to that point. Now that we’ve actually made the game, and it’s full quest line, I can say, I think with a fair amount of confidence, that that would have been a fairly drawn out 20 hours. This clocks in with much better pacing right around…I would say a little longer than, considerably longer than, Risky’s Revenge and a little shorter than Pirate’s Curse. Not as long as Half-Genie Hero with all of its DLC options. Right around in that sweet spot is where it lands. I think it’s going to be a satisfying length and move at a good pace for most of the people who are going to be into it.

EB: Not including the speedrunners.

MB: Yeah, without overstaying its welcome. Another way to put it is that every Shantae game has a ‘How fast can you beat it time?’ seems to be clocking in at about all of the other Shantae games. What you don’t want is a 20-hour game where it’s 10 hours of backtracking. A nice, clean, streamlined, respect-your-time game. As a result, shorter, but I think, more dense. Less watered-down flavor.

“And so, what happens, of course, with all of the Shantae games is when something finally doesn’t happen, all of those animations don’t get thrown away because I don’t like to waste anything.”

OR: Let’s talk about some other Shantae cancelled projects.

In an April 2021 interview with Nintendo World Report, you said that “CAPCOM did entrust us with a Dolphin development unit sometime around 2002 in hopes that we could come up with a Shantae GameCube sequel” and that “[w]e did some very early exploration into this idea, but ended up focusing on Shantae Advance instead ‘because that was where the work-for-hire jobs are and you have to keep the lights on’.”

Can you talk any about that early exploration with the GameCube? How far along did you get, and what was the concept behind the title? What was it like to essentially tell CAPCOM ‘thank you, but no’?

EB: GameCube is like my favorite console.

MB: This one is tricky. The reason it’s tricky is because I don’t know all of the facts. So, [CAPCOM was] very happy with Shantae Game Boy Color. That was excellent, they weren’t worried that it didn’t sell well. They were just happy with the quality — for them, it was very high. I was aware of a whole CAPCOM thing, they were trying to greenlight five CAPCOM games at the time. What was it? Viewtiful Joe, P.N.03, Resident Evil 4, and a mystery cancelled game. [OR Note: The cancelled title was ‘Dead Phoenix’, and the fifth unmentioned title was ‘Killer7’.]

So, we found out about that too. We didn’t know if we were one of those five, or not. I always wondered if we were supposed to be, but the timing was always the same — ‘oh, that’s why they gave us a kit.’ But we were new to 3D [and] we were trying to figure it out. And so we didn’t have a ton of confidence — there was a lot of R&D and experimentation phase during that time.

So, what ended up happening there was ‘Well, Shantae shouldn’t probably be the experiment — we should go straight into the thing that’s working that at the time was our core business.’ Which was the handheld team. So that’s why I went in that direction, and just let some of the — handheld was a small part of the studio at the time. About six out of the 20 or 30 people. So, I was like ‘Okay, we’re going to huddle up, focus on this, get really good at handheld’ — which is what evolved from Game Boy Advance into the DS.

Other parts of the company were going more 3D, PC — trying out various things on console, testing our reach as a studio. And those early, I guess, experiments, just kind of kept shifting from one thing into the next. So, while it was Shantae, I can tell you that the theme of the [GameCube] game was river rafting. The concept was revisited for Nintendo DS, which would have been Risky Waters.

There was concept art, there were some test videos made using really crude 3D. Not anything that was put through an actual art team — just ‘Hey, let’s make some basic geometric shapes and try moving a raft through it.’ And the concept of that was ‘What can the controller do, and what’s that like?’. And it’s like ‘oh, it’s fun to squeeze those analog triggers, it could feel like paddling through the water. Maybe this is what we do. Put all four characters on a raft, have four inputs, you’ll paddle paddle paddle, you’ll smack monsters, you’ll pull over off onto the shore, go into a dungeon, do traditional Shantae gameplay, pop out of the dungeon, get back onto the raft.’

That was the concept, and in that era, a lot of games were doing sort of strange and unusual things. It felt like experimentation was in the air, and it was a fun time.

Shantae| Portal Door on top right.
One of the biggest surprises in Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution is the ability to jump between the foreground and background of a stage. On the top right corner of the above photograph, there is the portal that allows Shantae to jump between the background and foreground of an area. This effectively gives the player more room to explore in every area. (Image owned by WayForward.)

OR:  You mentioned in a 2007 interview with MTV that you assembled a treatment for Shantae: Risky Waters on the DS after the console was announced, but you couldn’t find a publisher for it. Can you tell us more about that treatment? How close was it to the GameCube version?

MB: Okay, I can talk about that! No one’s ever asked about this as far as I know — this is a really funny one.

So, it was very similar. Our early test kits for Nintendo DS did show that you could do things that were very similar to GameCube. Like, ‘that’s very similar — let’s get this design out and bring it back in!’. So, what I had for that was — it was dual screen, which we didn’t end up doing until Contra 4 — I designed and directed Contra 4, so a lot of those same designs and ideas — I was like ‘I want to play with this and that for Shantae’ — did get experimented with. It was dual screen gameplay, so what you had gameplay on the top and bottom, and you had to manage both.

So, when you’re on the bottom, rafting in 3D, on the top, you had Sky on her bird. I don’t recall what the task was, but you were doing flyby things. You could target and drop powerups onto the crew below on the raft. When you pull over to a place to go into a battle area or a labyrinth or a dungeon, then you would have the action on the bottom. You’d be exploring, and your team members would be on the top. And you could manage them also just using L and R buttons. It’s like, ‘Can you play two games at once? Can you do platforming while managing some light gameplay on the top?’.

And the way that worked was that you had Uncle up top mixing potions and health items, and then he would throw them down into the dungeon for you. And each character had its own sort of thing. Rottytops would play almost like a tower defense thing where a bad guy would would come in, and she would be ripping off her leg and beating up the bad guys as they’re trying to get in — which would keep the number of bad guys down in the labyrinth in the bottom of the screen from getting overwhelming.

And so, what happens, of course, with all of the Shantae games is when something finally doesn’t happen, all of those animations don’t get thrown away because I don’t like to waste anything. Those animations got all put into Risky’s Revenge. So, the reason that you fight Uncle Mimic in that game is — you get to a point where you’re like ‘What’s the boss of this area going to be?’. Well, we had this full animation set of Uncle Mimic fighting and mixing potions, throwing bombs, all of this stuff. That was him as a helper character from what would have been the Shantae dual screen game. But instead, it’s like ‘Well, we’ll make up a new guy, he’s the Hypno Baron, he is making Shantae think she is fighting her uncle.’ There, I’ve got all the animations and I don’t have to throw them out and I can use them. And that’s what that was.

That’s about as much as I can get into without going back and re-reading that document.

OR: You were also the first e-Reader licensed in the United States.

MB: I think we were the only one, at least Nintendo told us at one point that we were the only person to ever ask for e-Reader.

OR: What was the process like to become a licensed e-Reader developer, and can you talk about that from the developer side? It’s a Nintendo product that really fell on the wayside.

MB: I love, I love the e-Reader, or Card e-Reader, or the e-Card Reader, depending on what region. We ran to the Celebi movie [OR Note: ‘Pokémon 4ever’] to get the cards to watch the little cartoon in the e-Reader. Totally loved that device. I was pushing really hard for a Shantae game on the cover of Nintendo Power — ‘I want to print the code, have people swipe their e-Reader cards through the Nintendo Power cover and get a little game.’

Because of that, I asked our CEO: ‘Can someone at Nintendo get us that dev kit?’. His response after awhile was ‘No one has ever asked for that dev kit, because who would want that?’ And I was like, ‘I want that!’. So, they sent us a dev kit, and I’m sure there is a lot of NDA stuff that is like ‘Don’t talk about what’s on the thing’, but it was a development kit with an e-Reader where you could look inside and see the guts of it, see what it was capable of doing.

We did some experiments. The experiments were Shantae battle cards, and you couldn’t physically do this, in theory what you would have done — is you’d swipe your move through. ‘I want fireball, I want hair whip, I want a high kick’, and you’d swipe them through. And there was just enough space to have really simple, tiny, tiny, I think the animations had to be down to 14k or something — like barely anything — but we did make a tiny animation set of Shantae. She looked just like the Game Boy Color Shantae for all practical purposes, but she could just do one of a few actions. And you’d just swipe in a bad guy card and swipe in up to, I think, three Shantae moves, and you’d be able to combat a thing and see if you would win or lose.

Not sure why it never went anywhere — I think it was because, honestly, that era ended so quickly. We had those Super Mario Bros. 3 cards come out, and then it very quickly became Pokémon Battle-e, and then they were kinda gone. So, it had its really cool moment, and there was just no catching up to it and getting into the card manufacturing. Man, if we could do that today? Because we do card manufacturing. I mean, actual trading cards- cards. We can do Shantae cards now. But no one had those anymore.

EB: We love all that old school stuff — Pogs, etc.

MB: The Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution game is only available until April 7th, but there is no preorder. In the future, you can’t get it anymore. So, when the preorder closes-

EB: -You can get it on other systems, but if you want a cartridge, it’s the only time you can get it. They aren’t going to reprint it. So, the collectors who really want to play it on the system, you really have to get the cartridge before April 7th when its gone.

MB: Yeah, after that, you’re just waiting on the Carbon Engine. Which I have a lot of confidence that will be a great port, but the port is not the same as the game. Even if the port has all these cool bells and whistles.

EB: I think a lot of Shantae fans are collectors, and sometimes they will get upset: ‘Oh, you need to re-release this thing!’, so if they can hop on when its actually pre-orderable, that’s the best.

Shantae| Turning the map in multiplayer mode.
In both the main game and in the multiplayer mode for Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution, the world will continually turn around to offer a different perspective! Here, we see Shantae and other gamers needing to grab a fence in order to hang on and stay alive a little longer. (Image owned by WayForward.)

OR: Lastly — there is a four-player mode announced for Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution. Can you tell us briefly about it?

MB: Yeah, the four-player battle mode is for two to four players. You only need one cartridge, so you don’t need to go buy four. You can plug in anywhere up to four Link Cables. Once you do that, it transmits the game to all the empty devices, and then you’ve got four people playing in a combat arena. It’s a constantly rotating play field, where if you don’t grab onto the fence, you will fall off and land on some spikes and die. It’s kind of last-man-standing, like Bomberman.

Everyone has a different animation, but you basically have a punch attack, a character-up-and-release attack that will clobber a guy and send him bouncing all around, and then you’ve got to watch out for when that arena is about to rotate. Then you grab a fence, or you’re going to fall and get knocked out. It’s just fun, light-hearted Link Cable stuff [that] the world hasn’t seen in a long time.

OR: Thank you very much.

Are you excited for Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution? What is your favorite Shantae title?

Did you ever play with the e-Reader?

Let us know in the comments below!

Quentin H.
I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it.