Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review – A Gorgeous Adventure
For full disclosure, I was one of the 18,558 backers who took to Kickstarter to give Wayforward our money and help bring a new Shantae game to life. The Shantae series follows the titular Shantae, a half-genie who traverses a range of 2D worlds whipping enemies to death with her hair and belly-dancing to transform into different creatures. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was billed as the biggest Shantae game yet, with enhanced visuals, a chapter-based story and a large range of transformations for Shantae to turn into as she makes her way through each level. Wayforward were true to their word and have delivered the best Shantae game yet and one of the best platformers of recent times.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has you follow the titular Shantae as she works with her uncle to create a brand new contraption that will help protect the town, while also responding to threats to the town and defeating the enemies that come as part of that. The story is told mostly in text during small scenes between characters, with only a small amount of voice work within the game. The story and text that are there are charmingly written, with each character having a distinct personality and a whole lot of jokes thrown in. Characters bounce each other in dialogue, establishing and building on their relationships and Wayforward weren’t afraid to use the characters as an avenue to poke fun at themselves and the industry as a whole throughout the story. The story is your main driving force throughout the game, so it’s great that it is well written and fun to read.
As a half-genie Shantae has the ability to transform into a variety of different creatures, ranging from a tiny mouse that can squeeze into tight spaces, a monkey that can climb walls and even a harpy that can fly the skies. You mostly unlock these transformations as you complete worlds in the game, but there are 3 that are hidden separately within the worlds. Initially, none of these transformations can attack or do damage to enemies, however, they each have their own unique platforming mechanic that makes them integral to the game. You can eventually upgrade certain transformations to have the ability to attack, but their attacks are relatively weak and aren’t a replacement for Shantae’s normal hair-whip attack. The real strength to each transformation is that every level is designed to take advantage of them, even though you may not have them when you initially play through.
As you gain new transformations you’re encouraged to go back to previous worlds you have completed and look for new areas that you can access within them. All of these new areas invariably include some form of treasure or upgrade, so you’re always incentivised to backtrack. This is good, because you’ll be backtracking quite a bit through the six main worlds in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero as you progress through the story. While there are only six main worlds in the game, plus one final stage which doesn’t contain unlockables, each of the worlds is fairly large and comprises of multiple individual levels. They’re also fairly unique, with each comprising of a different environment type, and a variety of different types of levels and enemies. Worlds also change after your first completion, with the enemies changing and certain elements shifting to account for the new transformation you have just unlocked.
Each of these worlds culminates in a battle against one of the many different bosses in the Shantae universe. Whether you’re facing the P.O.O.P. T.O.O.T., Techno Baron and his mermaid Queen or the Important Squid Baron you’re in for a rough time. Boss battles are akin to what you would find in Mega Man, with bosses following patterns of attack which you need to learn and projectiles which you need to dodge. Each boss has a unique hook to how they work, with some requiring the stage environment to be used as part of the battle and others requiring specific types of attacks to damage them. The boss stages themselves change from boss to boss as well, with some utlitising a traditional 2D closed-in battlefield and others using a full 360-degree field with attacks coming at you in every direction. The one complaint with the bosses is that some of the latter ones do overstay their welcome and would have benefited from being slightly shorter in length.
Playing through these different and varied levels could become a chore, as with any platform intensive game, if the controls are unresponsive and the physics are bad. Handily, this isn’t the case in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, with the controls always being fairly responsive. There was the odd time where I felt the controls didn’t respond quite as I wanted, but that was incredibly infrequent. The physics were also largely fine, although there were some times where Shantae didn’t quite seem to jump as far as she should, leading to some falling deaths. This is potentially more an issue with level design leaving little room for error, as opposed to issues with the physics themselves. The physics also change for each of your transformations, with some being heavier and unable to jump as far and others having a lighter weight and a higher jump. Overall, I didn’t really face any obvious issues with the controls or physics, just the odd moment where it felt the slightest bit off.
All of these different aspects to Shantae: Half-Genie Hero are well supported by some gorgeous graphics and an incredible soundtrack. Every stage has been meticulously crafted by Wayforward, with a mixture of 2D and 3D assets used. There is a large variety of props and textures used in each World, creating a varied and unique look for each. Each character is a 2D model that uses incredibly clean lines and all of them have their own unique animations. All of these models and textures use an incredibly vibrant colour palette that brings a fun tone to the game. The music is a mixture of big band and electronic-styled tracks, all with some excellent instrumentation and composition. The best part of the music is the heavy use of saxophone, an instrument that I feel is sorely underrepresented in video games.
Overall, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is an excellent platformer that combines some great platforming mechanics with some unique boss battles and a charming story to create an entirely loveable experience. The story and mechanics are well supported by some excellent music and an absolutely gorgeous art-style. Some boss battles do drag on and the game is short as a whole (I hit 100% completion at 6:57), but these are only minor complaints in what is a smaller game. If you’re interested in 2D platformers or want to try out a unique new game, I highly suggest jumping on Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.