50% genie, 100% platformer
Shantae fans, rejoice; the wait is finally over! After a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, and a little over three years of waiting, WayForward’s fourth game starring everyone’s favorite belly dancing half-genie has finally arrived. We don’t need any more introduction than that, do we? Of course not! Let’s see what Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is all about!
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero begins with none other than Shantae, the half-genie hero herself, being awoken in the middle of the night (she can’t ever seem to get a good night’s sleep in these games, can she?) by a mysterious voice, beckoning her to her uncle’s workshop. Upon arriving to the workshop and traveling to a mysterious trapdoor that most likely isn’t usually there, Shantae comes face-to-face with a messenger from the Genie World. The messenger warns her of a great evil that threatens to take over both the mortal and genie world – and only Shantae can stop it! It’s a good thing that she’s always always got that Ret-2-Go attitude!
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a platformer, and plays very much like its predecessors, meaning that both series veterans and newcomers to the series should have no trouble at all with picking up and playing it. While the game may play the same, however, there’s a noticeable difference with its setup. Now, those who have played any of the previous Shantae games know that they all neatly fit into the “Metroidvania” category. Well, guess what? There’s none of that in Half-Genie Hero – it’s entirely a traditional platformer. I’ve got to admit that, as an avid Metroidvania enthusiast, this broke my heart a little bit. I loved the way in which the previous three Shantae games were set up, and seeing it deviate from its traditional formula worried me in the same way that Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash did when it made the leap to strictly being a platformer. Fortunately, Half-Genie Hero managed to transition genres correctly (rest in peace, Zip Lash).
The first time you play through a level in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero it is, as previously mentioned, strictly a platformer. Each level boasts unique themes and stories, and always adds something new to the mix that makes it stand out from any of the other levels in the game. While I would have been more pleased had Half-Genie hero not strayed away from the Metroidvania formula, there was one thing that the jump to being a total platformer helped Half-Genie Hero pull off quite well – an increase in overall difficulty. While previous Shantae titles have always been incredibly enjoyable they were also never, in my opinion, terribly difficult. I’m sure that there were certain parts in previous games that required a few re-tries on my part, but nothing ever made me say “wow, this is tough!” I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing – “good” and “challenging” are in no way synonymous with one another. I do, however, appreciate a good challenge – especially when it comes to platforming – and Half-Genie Hero really delivered on that. Between the quickly-paced magic carpet rides in Cape Crustacean, everyone’s favorite disappearing/re-appearing blocks in Tassel Town, and a final level that throws everything in the book at you, Half-Genie Hero does a great job of bringing a new level of challenge to the Shantae series. If you aren’t particularly fond of hardcore platforming challenges, however, there isn’t a need to worry. Half-Genie Hero offers players plenty of opportunities to collect money in order to buy healing items, and special equipment that makes the adventure a little less rough on players. It’s a very nice balance overall.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero’s levels may be a bit (well, a lot actually) more streamlined than in previous Shantae titles, but they still aren’t one-and-done. In order to properly beat the game, and especially if you want to 100%, you’ll find yourself needing to re-visit previous levels after clearing them, primarily due to the fact that, upon completing a level, Shantae will receive a new transformation dance. That’s right – the transformation dances are back! Exciting stuff! No, really, it is. Half-Genie Hero provides with over 10 unique transformations that, while some may not be entirely as useful as others (does the Blobfish Dance actually do anything?), are all unique and provide new and exciting ways of getting around each level (except, you know, for the Blobfish Dance). The need to beat a level, obtain a new power, and revisit old levels with said new power in order to uncover previously inaccessible areas and items is very reminiscent of some of the older Mega Man X titles, and ended up being some of my favorite parts of the game. Sure, playing through a level for the first time is fun, but aren’t levels most fun when you can go back and 100% them? Yes. Yes they are. The need to backtrack also aided in bringing back the Metroidvania feel present within the previous Shantae titles (have I mentioned that I like Metroidvanias at all?), which was a nice touch as well.
Really, my only issue with Shantae: Half-Genie hero was its length. Now, I know that none of the Shantae games are known for their incredibly lengthy playtimes (in fact, all of them seem to encourage speedruns), but Half-Genie Hero felt especially short. Ultimately, I feel as though this was due to how it was set up. Platformers, simply due to how they are played, are usually very short. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is made up of six levels (plus one hub world) which, even when you through in the plentiful backtracking required by the players, isn’t very much. The game was a very fun experience overall, but I honestly expected a bit more life from the game. Two of the levels in the game are actually only there due to stretch goals being met – originally Half-Genie Hero was only going to have 4 levels. Yikes! I know that game development costs more time, effort, and money than I could probably hope to ever imagine, but I still think that it would have been nice had at least one of those extra levels been added despite not having met the proper stretch goal. Fortunately, it looks like WayForward is taking the “negative” of the game’s shortness and turning it into a positive by adding more ways to play by adding in a Risky Boots Mode, and has mentioned the possibility of other DLC in the future. Unfortunately, none of that has come out yet so I can’t exactly comment on how it contributes to the longevity of the game.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero may be the fourth installment of the Shantae series, but its graphics are the first of its kind. Half-Genie Hero has abandoned its pixelated past, making the jump into the world of full HD – and let me tell you right now, that it’s gorgeous. As much as I like pixelated graphics, it’s always nice to see games get HD updates (when they’re done correctly, of course), and this game was no exception. Character animation and movement are incredibly expressive and fluid, and go quite well with Half-Genie Hero’s artistic decision to somewhat shy away from the “sexiness” in Pirate’s Curse in favor of a more cute, cartoony look.
Finally, there’s the music. I’m going to come right out and say it: I am a huge fan of Jake Kauffman. I have been a fan of his work for quite some time – he’s one of my favorite composers – so it’s going to hurt me to say this, but… the soundtrack was just okay. Objectively speaking it was a good soundtrack – plenty of old Shantae favorites were thrown into the mix with new songs that helped to spice up the environment and were very clean and nice-sounding overall. When considering other games such as Mighty Switch Force! and previous Shantae titles, however, the Half-Genie Hero‘s OST just didn’t get me as hyped as Kauffman’s music normally does. I know that not every soundtrack can knock it out of the park, but there just seemed to be a weird disconnect between the upgrade in graphics and the stagnancy of the OST quality.
Shantae’s latest romp may have its flaws, but is really a great experience overall. A mixture of familiar gameplay mechanics and a new way to play with them, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is quite a fun little adventure, and does a fine job of solidifying the high quality that we have come to expect from the Shantae series.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Wii U (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Vita, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: WayForward Technologies, Marvelous USA ; Developer: WayForward Technologies, Inti Creates ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 20, 2016 ; MSRP: $29.99 ; ESRB: T for Teen
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a Wii U copy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.