Quickly becoming an icon for the indie game scene, Shantae’s humble beginnings started on the Gameboy Color and from there went on a journey that started a franchise. Shantae’s latest adventure comes in the form of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, which is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and the Vita. Being a huge fan of the last game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on the newest game. So, I bought it myself for the Vita, due to my love for the little console that could. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero took the game away from the amazing sprite work of the last few, into the world of hand-drawn animations and 3D backgrounds. Does Shantae’s new adventure hold up to her previous endeavors? Let’s find out.
The story begins with Shantae being waken up by a strange voice. Braving the darkness in her nightclothes, she ends up finding a secret door in the floor of her uncle’s workshop. Beneath is a cave system, that eventually leads her to a magical voice with a foreboding prophecy. Something evil was tampering with the world of genies, disrupting the order of magical power in the world. Not knowing anything else than that, Shantae must unravel the mystery piece by piece, all while gathering parts for her uncle’s latest invention.
From the get go, the style and beauty pumped into Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is stunning. The music of each area fits the mood extremely well, with many tunes getting stuck in my head well after putting down the Vita. All of this is presented in the first few moments of the game. That first scene teaches the player how to move, as they cannot attack quite yet. The opening shows off the new graphics, especially how backgrounds and foregrounds layer with the 3D areas. Movement is smooth and the atmosphere is whimsical, even humorous at many points with witty writing and fun characters. This opening level welcomes the player, drawing them into the magic.
After that opening, players can fully take control of Shantae, setting out to find parts at each stage. Using her hair as a whip, the immediate comparison can be made to the Metroid or Castlevania series, although both of those games sport much larger areas to explore. Throughout the game, Shantae can upgrade her powers like increasing the damage of her hair whip or learning interesting spells like the Spike Ball. Grabbing gems after beating enemies or finding caches throughout each stage means more upgrades, but know that being overpowered can make the game extremely easy. I found some of the best things to grab at the shop were the Fireball to give Shantae a ranged attack, as well Attract, which helps in collecting gems.
Aside from the purchasable upgrades, players will be using Shantae’s special power to turn into animals, each with their own abilities and upgrades. Throughout the game, Shantae will be changing into a monkey to climb walls, an elephant to bust down stone blocks, a dryad that spawns fruit to increase health, and many more. Each form adds a new level of things Shantae is capable of, allowing her to reach more and more things throughout each level. For example, there are many secret areas, sometimes providing more powers or keys to open the art gallery. There are plenty of new areas to explore, making visiting each stage several times a must.
Level design complements Shantae’s abilities extremely well. Some of my favorite moments were experimenting to find the best way to reach new heights or hit that special door to get something new. Levels are made in a way that are hard to exploit, using geometry to force the player to think outside the box and have the right ability or set of abilities. This is also leads to one of my only criticisms about Half-Genie Hero; there are only a few levels overall. They are decently sized and have plenty of little nooks to discover, especially once water based transformations are available. However, the player will go through the same area at least five or six times, making looking for a specific item or power-up repetitive.
The game’s plot is pretty simple as it should be given just how tight the gameplay is. Find out who the bad guy is, find a way to beat the bad guy, and end with a final confrontation against the bad guy. Half-Genie Hero at its core feels like a modern day SNES game, both with its lovable designs and easy to pick up controls.
Half-Genie Hero also features some truly epic boss battles. These enemies are accompanied by awesome music, and their sheer size often makes the player feel incredibly small. These fights usually take a certain technique to exploit the enemy’s weakness. Fans of the series will also see the return of characters like Ammo Baron and Squid Baron, each with new quirks to their battles. These fights usually are prefaced by some of the funniest dialogue in games, often breaking the fourth wall for meta humor.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is an almost perfect platforming experience, one that hearkens back to the classics, as well as develops on design choices established in earlier games. Really the only thing holding this game back is the limited levels. Each one is expertly designed, so its a shame that there are not more to enjoy. I actually completed the game with 100% in about 8 hours, with about 70% of the trophies earned. Honestly, I enjoyed the game so much, that I immediately started on Hero Mode for a second playthrough.
There is also a space when starting a new game that’s a silhouette of antagonist Risky Boots. This points to future content coming to the game, which may let the player play as the haughty pirate. Some of the harder trophies also encourage speedrunning, which leads to some interesting replay value. Of course Hero Mode is unlocked after playing through the first time, giving the player access to most of the transformation dances. This mode keeps speedrunners in mind.
Where Shantae shines most prominently is its accessibility to players of all skill types. Even the hardest segments of the game are forgiving enough to teach the player how to succeed. Plus, the plethora of upgrades Shantae can buy over time can make the journey easier.
Overall, Shantae: Half Genie Hero is a fun platformer with a lot to love. Shantae continues to prove her worth as an important character in gaming, eager to stand alongside characters like Mario or Mega Man. It’s definitely a game that will stand the test of time, many years from now as a classic.
Now, on the PS4 there isn’t a whole lot of difference, which is great. This means that the portable version on the Vita is incredibly playable. There were a few frame-rate issues here and there, which happen less often on the PS4, but otherwise both versions are rather similar. Those looking to play Shantae: Half-Genie Hero should pick it up on any console they own.
Note: PSVita version was purchased, PS4 version was provided by Way Forward afterwards. All screenshots are from the Vita version.