2001 was the year of the Game Boy Advance and the Gamecube—not the year of the Game Boy Color. Yet, a few developers did push on, including WayForward, who would eventually release the seminal 2D metroidvania-esque platformer Shantae a full year later, well beyond the lifespan of the GBC. Wendy is technically speaking a licensed game, but the license it is based on is not well-known. Even the GBC game itself is probably not well-known, as dedicated handheld gamers were busy queueing up to get their hands on a purple GBA.
This immediately reveals Wendy’s biggest problem. There weren’t many cartridges made, the game is a bit obscure, and against all odds, it is very good. Financially speaking, this obviously results in an expensive aftermarket price—provided you manage to get hold of it in the first place. I dropped
€55 for this at a retro game store in Oostend. It was the first time I actually saw the cartridge, and a quick GameValueNow check made the decision easier: the cartridge on average fetches for about
$89 nowadays. Yikes. Is it worth it?
Yes and no.
Yes—the game is great, and we’ll delve into that. No—the game is extremely short. Without speed running, it’s easily finished in about 45 minutes—less than an hour! Fifty euros for an hour of retro platforming fun is very steep. Replayability is limited: the game only has 12 levels (spread in a 3x4 fashion: three levels and four worlds divided by a bonus stage for each world) and there’s little extra to collect except beating your high score. But there’s no save state present, so you’ll have to write that down, diminishing its appeal by quite a bit. Sure, there’s a hard mode for those wanting to go for a second run, but still, it won’t prolong the game that much.
So what’s the Witchy deal with this kiddy platformer? It’s a late GBC game, meaning all sorts of technical stunts have been pulled to make this game look and sound gorgeous. I was genuinely disappointed to encounter the credits so soon. You play as Wendy, a little witch that accidentally opens up a chest to release 12 evil gems upon the world, thereby grounding some sort of scary looking castle. It’s up to you to traverse all the levels and reclaim the gem to seal the evil back into the chest.
2D Game Boy Platformers are rarely known for their back story. Wendy can jump and shoot with her wand (which can power up if you collect enough stars). The unique premise of this game compared to other platformers is the fact that Wendy herself can “flip” during a jump, sticking to the ceiling, avoiding pits and all manner of sharp objects among the way. This opens up a lot of clever level design that has you flipping over Wendy several times every few seconds to navigate her through the castle maze.
The shortness of the game felt a bit of a missed opportunity as to me, the floor/ceiling gameplay mechanic could be explored and experimented with more to create truly crazy (and challenging) levels. Wendy is far from a hard game (the hard mode included), and the concepts are gradually introduced without the need of any text. The music is catchy, but not great enough to stick around, even though some levels use recycled versions. In-between stages, a short broomstick flying session keeps you on your toes and has you collecting more stars. The more enemies you manage to zap with your wand, the higher the score. These sections feel a bit like a Schmup, which is a nice change of pacing.
In the end, I just wanted to see more of Wendy. It feels like a nice introduction, and I’m ready for the serious work now, in the same vein as Toki Tori, which is also a late era 2001 GBC game. I could forgive early nineties original Game Boy games for not having a save or password system and being on the short size, but for Wendy, with such a beautiful game and original mechanic, it seems like a waste.
The question then is: are you, like me, willing to drop a lot of money on the cartridge for an hour of retro platforming fun, while there are at least as enjoyable others out there that are longer and cheaper, such as the Wario Land games? Consider this: even if I were to buy this game in 2001: as a kid, it would make my hard earned savings disappear and I’d burn through it in less than an hour. Game Boy (Color) platformers aren’t known for their longlivety, but even Super Mario Land 2 does a better job. No wonder others resort to RPGs instead.
Still, perhaps you should ignore the price tag and buy Wendy. Just remember that once you become a fan of WayForward’s early work, a copy of Shantae fetches on average for
$514 at this moment. That’s like ten times Wendy—ouch! The game has been re-released on the Nintendo Switch lately, but the true vintage gamer of course wants the cartridge experience. I’d buy the Switch version and just download the ROM. One has to stay reasonable…