Big thank you to Wayforward and XSeed for providing us with a review code for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero!
A Successful Kickstarter Tale
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero began its life as a Kickstarter project back in September of 2013, the first game of the series to be developed from the ground up as a console title. Previously, the series had lived on Nintendo’s various handheld systems, with the original release back on the Gameboy Color (now being a rather pricey collector’s item!). The Kickstarter campaign was a success, pulling in $800,000 – double its goal amount! Before playing Half-Genie Hero (referred to as HGH going forward), my only exposure to the series was watching streams, usually speedruns, of the previous titles. They always seemed like fun games, but for one reason or another – be it timing or funds – I didn’t play the others. Now I find myself wishing I had jumped in sooner.
Shantae: HGH starts easy enough, with our half-genie, half-human guardian being woken up by an eerie and mysterious voice. This voice leads her to an equally mysterious secret door in her Uncle Mimic’s lab, where she is warned about an evil that she must defend her home (Scuttle Town) from. While the story won’t break any molds or win any awards, it is a lighthearted and enjoyable tale. Throughout the adventure, Shantae will have to reclaim her spot as the guardian of Scuttle Town (after the mayor fires her early on) and assist her Uncle in locating the remaining parts to complete his Dynamo – an invention that will hopefully protect the town from pirate attacks and give Shantae a bit of a breather. If you are a longtime fan of the series, many familiar faces return – such as Risky Boots and her Tinkerbats, Mimic, Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops. As a beginner to the series, I especially found myself laughing at how oblivious Bolo was and his interactions with others.
Platforming And Exploration Done Right
If you have played the previous games in the series or other Metroidvania-esque titles, you will know what to expect with HGH. The game mixes tight and precise platforming goodness with light RPG elements. The structural style of HGH is more Order of Ecclesia than Symphony of the Night; the game is level-based rather than a single sprawling world to explore. Each level is a fairly straight path from start to end, but along that path, the abilities/items you have found will allow you to access other areas filled with secrets. As a genie (well, a half-genie), Shantae can whip enemies with her hair or take advantage of numerous magical attacks to up her arsenal.
You can purchase magic spells and items from different vendors that are fairly standard fare – items that will extend your life bar, magic spells that shoot projectiles or surround you with spinning scimitars (a personal favorite), a quick escape from a level, etc. What really opens up different paths, though, are Shantae’s animal transformations. These abilities are the Shantae equivalent of Metroid’s morph ball, or Symphony of the Night’s bat form, granting access to new areas in each level. Shantae has 8 transformations, including elephant, mermaid, monkey, bat, and crab, that give Shantae unique powers. The monkey, for example, lets you climb walls and jump very high. These transformations also have special abilities you can find hidden in certain levels that further expand their capabilities, including a special attack that you can use while transformed.
The main gripe I had with HGH was just how frequently the save screen was presented. Every time you transition from one part of a level to the next, you will be asked to save. When you start a level, you are asked if you want to save. When you beat a level, too. The save guy is even present in the main hub town! It would have been a better decision to just have the save guy show up throughout levels; that way you wouldn’t have to deal with the same solid black screen time after time. The parts of levels aren’t long enough on their own to warrant the same transition save screen.
Perfect Weekend Game
Half-Genie Hero is not an overly long game, but it isn’t an incredibly short one either. It never drags on, and with a New Game + option (known as hero mode) that lets you start with a number of transformations from the get-go, and new playable characters coming, there will be reasons to come back and continue to play. Depending on how much of a completionist you are in collecting goodies, HGH will take you between 6-10 hours. With a $20 price tag (as of launch), I would say it’s a perfectly priced game for the amount of bang you get for your buck!
Beautiful 2D Goodness
In my opinion, HGH is the best-looking 2D game of 2016. The sprite work on each character is beautifully done and animated. Even when characters are idle, the way that the hair and clothing bounces and flows are incredibly smooth. You can tell right away that a lot of work went into the presentation and animation of the sprites. The landscapes are vibrant and incredibly varied, from burning towns to underground cave factories. Everything in this game just oozes charm and personality, adding to the overall package. The story is presented with large character portraits with printed dialog. There is a limited amount of voice work in the title though, consisting mainly of small phrases to go along with certain dialog windows. The soundtrack perfectly suits the upbeat and silly nature of the world, with tones and sounds of instruments reminiscent of Aladdin or Prince of Arabia. Many are pretty catchy, and you will find yourself humming along as you revisit levels over and over to find new goodies with your powers!
Shantae Is My Waifu
I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing through Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. I was captivated by its beautifully drawn sprites, upbeat and catchy tunes, precise platforming, and abundance of hidden goodies and paths to find. I almost feel that I did myself a favor by having Half-Genie Hero be my first dip into the Shantae pool, since I didn’t have to battle the angst of waiting for this to come out. After playing through it, I downloaded the other Shantae titles that are available on the PlayStation Network. I do wish that it wasn’t a level-based setup and more of an open-world style along the lines of Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, as I find those more immersive. If you are new to the series like I was, this is a fantastic title to start you off. I never felt too confused by jumping in late – it only made me more interested in playing the other titles and finding out more about the characters of Scuttle Town.
- Amazing 2D Sprites and animation!
- A plethora of abilities at your disposal
- A little too easy
- Would work better as an inter-connected world
- Save screen appears way too frequently
- Voiced dialog would have been nice