Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was successfully released on the Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Nintendo Wii U, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows on December 20th, 2016. This was three years after a successful Kickstarter campaign which gathered over $700,000 (not to mention extra PayPal donations after the fact). This review will only cover the main story of the game as there is extra DLC content planned for the future which may or may not be written about briefly after it comes out depending on the size and scope of the additional content. The reviewer in question played Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on the Playstation 4 on a physical disc (which later went into the console, thankfully).
The plot of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero appears to reboot the franchise by retconning the story events of the two previous games in which Shantae lost her magical abilities to transform. While this can be seen as excusable given that including this title there are only four games in the “Shantae” franchise, it immediately generates a sense of confusion to the player had they played the previous games. Does it make sense to completely ignore the two games that put Shantae back on the map after eight years with no release? No. But it seems as if the team at Wayforward Technologies wanted to once again have Shantae transform and did not bother writing in an ending in which Shantae gets back her powers at the end of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. While this in itself is not a huge catastrophe story wise, the rest of the game’s plot is ultimately mismatched and seems to try and establish an entire universe and cast of characters within 5-6 hours through limited cutscenes and dialogue. The ultimate goal of Shantae throughout the game is unclear as multiple obstacles are thrown at her, but rather than coming across as a victory against all odds on Shantae’s part it plays out much more like a bunch of half-written plots being thrown into one game. First, Shantae has to stop women from being kidnapped and turned into faux mermaids, then there is a rival genie who steals the villagers memories but does not exist because she is a memory herself? Then all of a sudden there is a heist at the magic carpet racetracks, and then Hypno Baron is trying to unleash some sort of ultimate monster onto the world. Meanwhile, Risky Boots is supposed to be the main villain overseeing all of this as if it was her plan all along. While the plot of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is not extremely important to the game itself, excessive lines of dialogue that fall flat and pointless cutscenes make it a issue worth mentioning. Overall there is a lack of cohesion in the multiple stories the game tries to tell, which becomes evident very quickly.
Next up, the visuals of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero are absolutely fantastic! The 2D animations and vibrant colors make the game a treat to play on the big screen in high-defintion and makes even simple screenshots of the game wallpaper worthy. Both side characters and enemies have very appealing designs that translate nicely to 2D from the pixel art Wayforward used previously, especially when it comes to screen-filling bosses. Another area in which Shantae: Half-Genie Hero knocks it out of the part is music. Not only does every stage have a nice background tune that pairs well with the stage’s theme, but a handful of characters have their own catchy themes as well. For an extra $10 or less depending on the marketplace, gamers can purchase a physical copy of the title with the soundtrack. Or if $10 is too rich for their blood and they do not necessarily care whether or not the game is physical, fans can also name their own price for the soundtrack which can be found on Jake Kaufman’s Bandcamp here (try sampling some of the music!).
Ok, time to get to the nitty gritty of the review and talk about the core gameplay Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has to offer. Fans of the previous titles will not be surprised by the hair-whipping actions of the heroine who can also magically transform into different creatures to aid her on her quest. And while the controls of Shantae are responsive and her attacks are fast, the main problem with the game’s gameplay is its repetitive nature. There are only about five main areas in the game total which play out as linear stages, but the game requires the player to backtrack their way through these stages repeatedly to complete the game and even more if they hope for the good ending. While some of these stages are designed in a way that makes it less of a chore to backtrack, this still becomes an annoying gripe to be had with the game very quickly. Especially when it comes to the underwater sections as Shantae actually has two underwater transformations, a crab and a mermaid. The problem being that once Shantae is given the Crab Dance she can only access so many underwater sections of each stage and then has to get the Mermaid Dance to fully explore these areas. This leads to the question of “why even have the Crab Dance in the first place?” Not to mention that Shantae’s magical capabilities of summoning a pike ball to surround her or shooting fireballs is relatively useless and unnecessary save for collecting a handful of collectibles which lead to the good ending. There seems to be a large amount of nonessential additions in this game and while most of them do not hurt the game, it does leave players question why they are there.
Last up in the review is to briefly mention some of the improvements in comparison to previously released entries in the “Shantae” franchise as Adeki has now played every game in the series except for the very first. The most notable improvement in the game is the way in which collectibles work, while it could be easily argued that there are too many different collectibles in the game to encourage backtrack, they are laid out in a much simpler way than Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. While the previous entry randomly threw collectibles all over the place in stages, some of which were in bizarre, nearly unguessable places, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero tries to amend this by making smarter level design decisions. Another improvement would be that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a bit more difficult that previous titles, which does not mean that it is brutal in anyway but it does offer a nice challenge. The only time in which the game gets to be annoying difficulty-wise is the very last section of the game in which the player has to guide a flying Shantae which is largely just annoying due to how she controls in that form. However, one area that Wayforward still needs to work on is how upgrades work, which they tried to fix in this game. In Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, there were absolutely too many upgrades that Shantae could unlock (which also counted towards a 100% completion rate). Upgrades are unlocked by buying them in the item shop with gems collected through defeating enemies and destroying pots laid out by stages, and the problem is that in both Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and the more recent Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, there simply are not enough gems accessible through the main story to purchase all of these upgrades in one run. Yes, even though the player has to run through stages multiple times they will still end up short monetarily, leading to the game basically saying, “play the stages again solely for gems if you want an 100%.” In the words of Winnie the Pooh, “Oh bother.” So thar it be, matey, a review for the most recent game in the “Shantae” franchise. It is noticeable that through each attempt Wayforward is improving upon the Shantae formula that they are still trying to create, and while this game is not perfect it is still very good in its own right and for $20 it does offer quite a bit. No, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is not a must-own for platformer fans, but for fans who have enjoyed previous titles in the franchise or are looking to delve into the series, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a very decent game.