Metamorphic madness

  • Developer: Grand Prix
  • Publisher: Hudson Soft
  • Original Release Dates: December 9th, 2008 (Japan), October 19th, 2009 (North America), November 20th, 2009 (Europe)
  • Available on: WiiWare (no longer purchasable)
  • Genre: Shooting Gallery

If there’s one thing I miss about the Wii, it’s WiiWare. As a service filled with eccentric and unusual games, it was something of a goldmine for curious types like myself. It was the first time Nintendo ventured into digital services and it was supposed to be their competitor to Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Sony’s Playstation Network. Nintendo wasn’t (and still isn’t) the best at handling digital services though, and their Nintendo Switch Online service continues to piss off lots of people with every update in the present day. Nintendo’s lack of experience with digital distribution led to WiiWare having bizarre constraints like a minuscule 40 MB size limit for games and a points system that made purchasing games an awkward puzzle to solve if players didn’t want to have leftover points festering on their console like unused pennies in a wallet. While this meant that the platform missed out on important indie titles like Super Meat Boy, it also meant that developers had to really flex their creative muscles in order to develop titles that fit the service’s criteria, resulting in lots of simple but charming experiments unlike anything its competitors were providing.

WiiWare was home to loads of exclusive games, with some notable examples being Konami’s Rebirth titles, Excitebike World Rally, two Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles games, Blaster Master Overdrive, and multiple Taito releases within franchises like Bubble Bobble and Space Invaders. Tragically, the service was taken down in 2019 and all of its games are now unavailable through official means. To make matters worse, these games never seem to get ported anywhere, leaving most of them lost to the sands of time. To me and anyone interested in preservation, that’s a huge shame since there’s a bounty of interesting titles from there still worth exploring. But luckily for us all, there are ways to still play them if you didn’t have the chance to stuff your Wii full of them prior to the service’s closure. I won’t be covering how to do that here (Google it, it’s very easy), but I will be covering one of the service’s most underrated and overlooked games, Shootanto: Evolutionary Mayhem.

Amusingly enough, Shootanto brings us back full circle to the very first game covered on this blog, The Adventure of Little Ralph. This game was developed by a team known as Grand Prix, who only had two games in the Victorious Boxers series to their name prior to Shootanto. If that sounds familiar to you, that’s because New Corporation, the company behind The Adventure of Little Ralph, also worked on a Victorious Boxers game. Upon further investigation (the only source I can find for this being Mobygames), it turns out that New Corporation was split up into four different developers in 2002, one of which was Grand Prix. In terms of returning faces from New Corporation, lead programmer Kazuya Furukawa reprises his role here and Ryuta Aoyagi, who was a planner on The Adventure of Little Ralph, was a producer on Shootanto. Aside from these talented individuals, this game also has a couple of team members who would go on to do pretty significant things within the industry. Producer Shinichi Kudo would go on to be one of the directors of the tremendously successful Puzzle & Dragons, while character designer Kenji Kojima still works in the industry to this day and has sound programming credits on recent Capcom games like Resident Evil: Village and Devil May Cry 5. Isn’t it funny how these things work out? While Shootanto is nowhere near the looker that The Adventure of Little Ralph was, it does channel the same ethos that New Corporation believed in, taking simple gameplay inspired by arcade classics and turning it into something more modern and equally riveting.

The arcade classics used as inspiration this time include games like Cabal and Blood Bros. as Shootanto opts for the shooting gallery approach that those games employ. Starting a game drops you into the Primeval Era as a monkey, armed with only its poop for a basic projectile, limited “bombs” in the form of some kind of coconut-looking fruit, and zero context as to why anything is the way that it is. Unlike rail shooters, all of the action here takes place on a single screen, and your goal here is to cause enough destruction to trigger the appearance of the boss. It’s a less focused, more meandering approach than it sounds since it seems to be random (or at least not obvious) when exactly the boss shows up. Enemies pour in endlessly from all over the screen and you can also destroy parts of the environment to reduce the number of spawn points they have. Not only is it fun to change the terrain through your destructive tendencies, it’s also a key part of the strategy – the environment obscures some foes and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by enemy fire, so reducing the number of targets ASAP becomes a desirable goal. You can’t move while shooting (yet!), so proper positioning and evasion requires a degree of restraint. It’s tempting to hold the fire button down constantly, but being forced to chill out and play defense too gives the game a start and stop kind of flow that makes it feel ever so slightly more tactical. Your character also has a dodge roll that grants total invincibility except for on its ending frames, which is essential to learn in order to deal with just how much stuff gets sent your way.

The ice age didn’t kill the dinosaurs, monkey poop did!

It’s tough out there for a monkey; apparently, everything wants you dead, ranging from things like lizardmen, super-sized bugs, living mushrooms, gigantic fish and dinosaurs too. You may be at the bottom of the food chain, but your projectiles and dodging skills are enough to fight your way to the top, when assisted by power-ups, anyway. Initially, your projectiles move pretty slowly and you’ll find that your starting power level isn’t enough for the later stages, but power-ups that dramatically increase your throwing speed can be found from defeated enemies, as well as extra bombs, 1-ups, and boosts to your piercing power. There’s also a mysterious lamp (like a genie lamp) power-up that sometimes appears and the game keeps track of how many you collect at the end of a stage, but I wasn’t able to figure out what exactly their deal was. I think it’s kind of cool when games have unsolved mysteries like this that I have to just accept and work around, though, so I’m not too bothered by it. You get multiple lives and infinite continues for each stage, but dying strips you of everything, making it like Gradius where successful runs will involve minimal deaths and the best solution to dying is to not die in the first place. If you’ve got a second person around, you can do co-op, which I have to imagine makes things much easier. Persevere in the face of frightening odds to make it through the first two levels and before long you’ll find yourself evolving to the next stage, both literally and figuratively.

This big guy’s likely to catch you off guard the first time

The next time period, the Ancient Era, has you playing as the “Apeman”, essentially a taller ape with kinda freaky human features who now throws rocks instead of dung. Entirely new enemies get introduced and it’s here that the difficulty begins to ramp up. The lizardmen are the one constant throughout the game, evolving alongside your character and gaining new tricks and tools to try and stop you. Here they’ll throw torches and come at you in giant wheels while saber-toothed tigers and pterodactyls charge at you. Your second evolution has the Apeman becoming a caveman, armed with spears and boomerangs that serve as their bomb equivalent. The lizardmen have villages and homes now (presumably containing noncombatant families) and they’ve got watchtowers, spears and other melee weapons specifically to fend you off. It’s here where the implications of the “story” get more interesting – you seem to be the one (or two) man/woman army crashing their party every time, so does that mean you’re the villain? Are you the lone human trying to become the dominant species and rewrite history to conform to its expected direction, or is your human fighting back against a lizardman takeover that threatens the future of humanity as we know it? Considering the only cutscene in the game is the ending that shows your character forlornly staring out into the distance, we’ll likely never know the whole story of this war, but it’s certainly interesting to think about! If you manage to complete the game in co-op (as seen in this video), the ending updates to show the male and female characters standing next to a naked baby who is also staring forlornly into the distance, which makes the ending far funnier than before and does at least hint that this is meant to be the beginning of humanity’s resurgence.

The final period, the Medieval Era, is the most challenging and the most mechanically fulfilling, serving as the apex of your character’s abilities. As a knight, your character is now a true and proper warrior, able to use a bow to shoot while moving. Your bomb is also now a trebuchet you call into battle, which isn’t entirely an upgrade, being more explosive at the cost of a longer animation that leaves you more open to retaliation. Even with your enhanced capabilities, the lizardmen put up one heck of a fight, requiring you to take down entire fortresses, dodge absurd numbers of projectiles, clip the wings of flying gargoyle-like creatures, and conquer a two-headed dragon knight that grows in size as you damage it. Probably not the finale you expected even for a game this strange, huh? By the end of this era, my arms were killing me from all the pointing and dodging I was doing! A classic controller option is available, but I found the Wii remote controls reliable enough that I didn’t want to give them up. It’s a pretty steep challenge, but one that feels rewarding both as a way to prove you’ve mastered the game and because it reaffirms the reliable logic and smart design backing the game’s mechanics – learn how to dodge and keep your aim true, and you’ll achieve a victory earned without any reservations or compromises.

It’s a good thing knights know how to do cartwheels because you’ll need ’em!

As it stands, Shootanto would be a solid shooting gallery with an unusual aesthetic and setting that ties into its mechanics in smart ways. But what really elevates it into an experience greater than the sum of its parts is the music. Composed by the fantastic Takayuki Aihara, who was a composer on games like Tekken 2, multiple Ridge Racer titles, Makai Kingdom, and the Street Fighter EX series, Shootanto‘s soundtrack is incredibly energetic and exciting, making the experience uniquely entrancing at times. The music for the early stages feels like it’d fit right in with something like Ys Book I & II, being an adventurous track with a bit of a jazzy techno flair that’s rousing like few others. The Apeman stages are backed by a track that immediately communicates the challenges ahead to the player while still allowing them to feel confident in their abilities – things are about to heat up and you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you, but don’t give up! Later stages retain this similar energy and change the tone just enough to signify the ever-increasing challenges ahead. The boss theme is also a strong standout, taking the energetic sound of the rest of the soundtrack, slowing it down just a tad, and throwing in new instrumentation like guitars and bells to establish these encounters as something different than your typical fodder enemies. It’s too bad Shootanto isn’t a better looking game because with this soundtrack, it’s just begging for some beautiful 2D pixel art. Such limitations were part of the WiiWare brand, I suppose…

At the time of its release, Shootanto didn’t get much love or even attention at all and the few reviews out there docked points for its simplicity and limited amount of content. I would propose that Shootanto‘s length actually works in its favor; considering that the game has arcade influences and was developed by people with a passion for arcade games, the fact that it can be finished in an hour or less makes sense. This was a game people were meant to replay on higher difficulties to get better scores and improve their accuracy (all of which the game tracks) or pull it out whenever a friend came by for some co-op action. The gameplay is mechanically tight and the soundtrack is one that you’ll want to revisit once you hear it as an overlooked joy in an unexpected place. There’s also an unlockable character that can be played in the game’s “Extra Mode”, which allows you to use any character in any time period. That character is the soldier, who comes equipped with a gun and grenades. They start off powerful and once you get a speed power-up, their gun really tears through things. Being overpowered makes sense when you have a huge technological advantage!

Shootanto‘s unavailability really is its biggest drawback. It was priced right at 500 points ($5) and games of its ilk were both a natural fit for the Wii and are in higher demand nowadays due to their rarity on modern platforms. As a game that’s easy to pick up and takes practice to master, anybody who enjoys light gun games and arcade games will definitely get a kick out of this one. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s never going to be re-released considering that more than a decade has passed and Grand Prix hasn’t made a game since, but if you have the means to play it, you should absolutely check it out. Seriously, just listen to that soundtrack!

More Screenshots


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