Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PC) – A Bewitchingly Charming Platformer

Released on: December 20 2016 (PC, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One), June 8 2017 (Nintendo Switch)

Available Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One

Price: $26.99 CDN ($19.99 US) [For the Base Edition]

Published by: Wayforward Technologies, XSeed Games (retail version) Developed by: Wayforward Technologies

We’ve reviewed a few games made by Wayforward here on Sergie Reviews (River City Girls and The Mummy Demastered). While they have a talent for working with pre-established licenses, they made their mark on the video game industry with the 2002 Game Boy Color game Shantae. I only heard about the series when I was in college, as a friend of mine was playing it at the time. I saw a sale of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on Steam one day, and I decided to give it a shot. After doing a little bit of research, I found out that Half-Genie Hero is a game funded by Kickstarter. Not only was the base funding successful, but they reached their stretch goals too. The Shantae games have their share of fans. Is Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, another example of a Kickstarter success story?

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero opens to our heroine, Shantae, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a mysterious voice. The voice tells her of a formidable evil on the way, and that Shantae is the only one that can stop it. Even though Half-Genie Hero is the fourth game in the franchise, it does an excellent job introducing us to the colorful cast of characters while also acknowledging that Shantae knows who these people are.

Without context, this screenshot is a little unsettling…

Speaking of colorfulness, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is gorgeous. On a visual level, everything is hand-drawn, giving a strong sense of life to everything on the screen. On a technical level, Half-Genie Hero runs at sixty frames per second, making every bit of animation flow smoothly. The designs of the characters, enemies, and environments ooze charm.

The music in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is phenomenal. The background tracks fit the levels exceptionally well, further engrossing the player into the level. The intro level’s theme is so incredibly catchy, to the point where I still listen to it regularly.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero seems like a linear platformer at first, but pretty quickly, the player will find areas of the level they can’t access until they acquire a specific transformation. Shantae, being a half-genie, can transform into various animals to overcome obstacles. Is something underwater? Time to turn into a crab! Boulder in the way? Destroy it as an elephant! I love finding out which animal will overcome which obstacle. The player can also gather money that they can use to buy upgrades and extra offensive spells. When Shantae is not turning into different animals, she uses her hair as a whip to defeat her enemies or the offensive spells mentioned above (like fireballs.) The controls are tight and responsive at the start of the game. When the player is fully upgraded, however, their attacks become incredibly strong and fast, making Half-Genie Hero’s platforming snappy and satisfying.

High flying platforming!

The transformations are definitely what sets Shantae apart from other platformers and Metroidvanias. The obvious use for these is to get over obstacles, but players can also use these to travel through the level quicker, provided they account for each animal’s shortcomings. The monkey, for example, moves the fastest, but can’t attack. The elephant does a lot of damage, but moves slower and is a bigger target. Finding out which transformation works best in particular situations is fascinating, as it makes backtracking a lot more bearable.

Time to push this block by turning into an elephant!

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has a town hub where the player can spend their jewels. They can buy upgrades, spells, and consumables. The town is also a place where the player can get hints if they get stuck, or, if they want to take a break, view concept art the player unlocks during the game. Players also come to the town hub to pick up, not only story missions that unlock more stages, but side quests that will reward the player with goodies. I like the town hub quite a bit, as it gives off a lively and friendly vibe, along with the environments being so well detailed. My favorite place is the bathhouse, where the player can restore magic and health, while also reviewing which tasks the player should take.

Nothing like a nice relaxing bath after a long day of adventuring!

Half-Genie Hero has impressive boss battles. All of them take place on a David vs. Goliath scale, meaning all bosses are enormous. The first boss, for example, is a mermaid queen that is the size of a building, and the goal is to set her free by attacking her chains. The visuals being hand-drawn and lively make boss battles genuinely magnificent.

One issue I have with Half-Genie Hero is with its post-game unlockables. Beating the game will unlock Hero Mode, where the player gains access to all of the mandatory transformations at the start of the game. While this is nice for speedruns, and there is a Hardcore Mode for the bold, a New Game Plus would also be nice.

If the player is looking for more modes, Half-Genie Hero has a bunch of Downloadable Content (DLC) for those looking to expand their experience. I don’t necessarily have an issue with DLC, and Half-Genie Hero’s DLC is substantial, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. Backers of Half-Genie Hero’s Kickstarter got the DLCs as a backer reward.

Officer Mode, Ninja Mode, Beach Mode and the other selectable characters are all DLC for those who want more Shantae.

Despite being level-based, Half-Genie Hero is classified as a Metroidvania (on Wikipedia at least). While I don’t entirely agree with this classification, it does have a lot of backtracking reminiscent of most Metroidvanias. After beating a level, there are still a lot of essential items to find. Upgrades for Shantae can easily be overlooked on the first playthrough of a level, and plot crucial objects often require a level to be played more than once. For one object, I had to go way back to the desert level to find an Iron Slab because I only recently got the transformation necessary to get to the place that had it. I do like Metroidvanias and level-based platformers, but I do feel Half-Genie Hero relies a little too much on backtracking.

My criticisms might sound a little harsh, but I loved Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. It is a fantastic game with gorgeous visuals, charming characters, exciting gameplay, and a rockin soundtrack make Shantae: Half-Genie Hero a must get.

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