Beautiful New Visuals with Ancient Gameplay Design
Written by Logan Underwood on January 4th, 2017.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the fourth installment in WayForward’s racy action-platformer series and the first entry to be specifically made for anything more powerful than a 3DS. Though I’m not what you’d call a massive die hard fan of the series, I am familiar with previous titles and thoroughly enjoyed both Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse. I picked up Half-Genie Hero during the Steam Winter Sale and played roughly eight hours of it over the past few days.
Compared to previous games in the Shantae franchise, Half-Genie Hero is a leap in the right direction. Every previous entry in the series has had well-crafted pixel art with delightful character portraits during cutscenes, but Half-Genie Hero made the proper choice and switched to an entirely new style of art for their jump into the console market — hand drawn cartoonish sprites laid over a third dimension. Despite my own feelings toward two-and-a-half dimension titles, I quickly grew to enjoy the juxtaposition of animated characters leaping about on 3D platforms, as threats were easier to spot against the lovely textures. And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to give a big thumbs up to WayForward since the environments in this game are absolutely stunning! Textures and levels all pop with an Oasis-esq Arabian flare and come alive when paired with Half-Genie Hero’s absolutely mind-bogglingly juicy soundtrack! (Jeff Kaufman, you’re the man).
I don’t want to get too deep into the story since it’s one of the main draws of this game, but rest assured, your journey to help Shantae’s aging Uncle Mimic build his Dynamo device leads you to meet some lovely cute characters, many of whom are returning from previous games. Some classics include the devilishly charming Risky Boots and my personal favorite — undead cutie pie Rottytops. In an attempt to not spoil anything else about the story, I’ll simply share my only gripe that it doesn’t follow the plot of Pirate’s Curse.
Once we stray further from artistic design, I start running out of positives for Half-Genie Hero. Chances are, if you grab a dictionary and look up the word Metroidvania, this game would be listed as a reference, which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know you can’t do much else with a 2D platformer, but a lot of explorative enjoyment is lost when WayForward follows the pre-existing formula like a map. Throughout the game, you pick up forms that you can switch to with a cute little belly-dance. Those forms do everything from letting you climb vertical walls to swim through water, opening all kinds of sideways routes and whatnot. There are also several things you can buy from the item shop that let you traverse previous levels quicker than before. Still, I stopped going back to explore past levels after the second one because I knew most treasures simply wouldn’t be accessible without an upgrade from future worlds. Luckily, this isn’t really as terrible as I’m making it out to be, since you usually get an upgrade at the end of each level which makes it easier to re-run that specific stage. That being said, playing through a level for the first time is a thousand times more enjoyable than the countless times I was forced to backtrack through levels I’d already played; burdened by less interesting music and the search for five specific objects that I needed to obtain a new object. I’d have to backtrack and kill two of the same enemies in a very specific way to acquire two new items that I could trade in for yet another one. Yes, there’s a lot of fetching in this game and if you’re not the type to use a walkthrough, be prepared to slog through most of the stages five or six times before you get everything you need. Not to mention the girl dedicated to giving you hints will repeatedly feed you the same hints even after you’ve done them.
One of the other things that kinda peed in my coffee was the enemy design. Cute as they may be, most enemies are still pretty boring or otherwise just annoying. Also, after upping your damage with Shampoo there might as well be no enemies whatsoever since they will all fall with a single whip, all while you’re decked to the teeth with oranges (or the flesh of your fallen foes). Bosses themselves are also just boring. Each boss, aside from the final boss, requires one sequence you have to do over and over again in order to kill them. Giant slug? Climb a rope, kick a bomb, hair slap, repeat. Mermaid Queen? Climb some ruins, slap her head, climb some ruins, slap her head. At least all the bosses (including the giant Sandworm) are memorable. I can name each one and remember their fight vividly, and they’re honestly really aesthetically pleasing.
Everything I’ve whined about in the last couple of paragraphs could, obviously, be forgiven if you’re a big fan of similar titles. But be warned gorgeous reader, there are several things in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero that are unforgivable. For nearly three quarters of this game I used your average wireless Xbox 360 controller and wanted to die. One specific level where you had to race a massive hungry sandworm up a tower was so frustrating with thumbsticks that I gave up and got Whataburger at 2AM. Once I returned from my anger-induced burger quest, I spent nearly an hour fumbling around with a Dualshock 4 controller to make it work with my system. For whatever reason Half-Genie Hero absolutely hates the things on the PC, so I ended up having to map buttons as keyboard keys and instantly wept with joy in the end.
If Half-Genie Hero wasn’t specifically designed with a Dualshock in mind then I’ll eat dirt because playing this game without that scrumptious D-pad is akin to swallowing your own tongue. Sticky, awkward platforming suddenly became feasible, and hellishly impossible sections that took me fifty tries with the 360 controller were merely rendered hard as balls with the Dualshock. This makes it all the more confusing why they didn’t make it easier to connect for the PC version. My last gripe is the overall length of your first playthrough. Despite the fact that they want you to go through most of the levels ten times over and follow up by using two other characters, it still feels too short. I’m not going to take off too many points because I have a gut feeling that this is probably just personal preference since I beat the game in only about five and a half hours and I have no inkling to play it again.
In conclusion, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a charming action-platformer with absolutely adorable lovable characters, engrossing level design and atmosphere, life changing music that you should listen to right away, and well-written dialogue that is unfortunately weighed down by bog-standard Metroidvania-style gameplay and mediocre enemy design. You’ll get six or seven hours out of Half-Genie Hero, and probably a lot more if you go for a completionist run. I give it a nine out of ten because the great art design and amazing music will always live in my heart.
Graphics: Stunning 3D backgrounds mingle with adorable, cartoony sprites for a unique and adorable experience!
Sound: Half-Genie Hero's music is some of the best I've ever heard and makes the entire experience flow like a flying carpet!
Replay Value: Despite being on the short side at around six hours per run, the game encourages multiple playthroughs with three different characters.
Originality: WayForward has ditched pixel art for cartoony style and any returning player could see why — it's great!
Story: Many fan-favorite characters return and they're cuter than you could've ever imagined!
Final Rating: 9/10. Despite being held down by predictable gameplay, Shantae: Half Genie Hero more than makes up for it in the creative department. You'll be listening to its soundtrack for weeks and clutching a picture of Rottytops when you go to bed.
Some returning classic characters include the devilishly charming Risky Boots and my personal favorite — undead cutie pie Rottytops.
About The Author
Logan is just your average Texan who enjoys the little things in life: Absurdly expensive computers, thick cuts of beef, and losing hours of his life to online shooters. In his downtime he can be found streaming some games on Twitch or cooking some eats.