After over three years of development and total crowdfunded proceeds of nearly one million dollars, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has finally been released, and I was one of the few thousand people to have backed the project. As such, I’m actually able to release a game review the day it comes out, which will likely never happen again.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, PS Vita, XBO, Wii U
Developer/Publisher: WayForward Technologies
In describing the story of Half-Genie Hero, it’s actually pretty thin. Half-genie hero Shantae is vaguely told about an oncoming evil force, fights series antagonist Risky Boots as part of an introductory level, as is customary in the series, and is then set off on a quest to acquire items for a machine that will keep her home of Scuttle Town safe from outside forces that wish to demolish it, seeing as how that happens in every game in the series. From there, the story is made up of a series of small encounters with returning antagonists from the prior games in the series, each with their own little storyline that concludes with Shantae kicking their butts. All before a standard feeling build up to a final encounter.
The entire thing feels oddly regurgitated from prior games in the series, and unlike Risky’s Revenge or Pirate’s Curse, things do not really progress once the plot is over and done with. Shantae and her friends are still where they were beforehand, and Risky Boots is foiled once again. That’s not to say that the journey itself is not enjoyable, as the upbeat and eccentric personality of the series rings true throughout every beat, and the story itself contains some genuinely enjoyable dialog from its colorful characters.
I’m guessing the story was planned early on, and was made more simplistic so the developers could better insert content in accordance with whatever stretch goals they met, such as the subplot with a rival half-genie that really does not amount to much in the grand scheme of things. This mentality carries over to the game and level design itself, as the game is not as much of a metroidvania title as its predecessors were.
Levels are each separated with no connecting paths. The layout is linear, often focusing on heading right until reaching the end, or up depending on the stage. There is precision platforming to be found throughout most levels, though it’s never too severe, and enemies are placed to more resemble obstacles in the player’s path that need to be overcome. There is still backtracking, some of which is mandatory, and each level holds a varying number of secrets, upgrades, and items that can only be obtained by using Shantae’s transformation abilities.
It gives way to a notably different experience, but one that I found to be quite enjoyable to go through. Levels are well laid out, the obstacles are fair, at least most of the time, and the entire thing is built on a rock solid action platformer foundation. To the point where I was eager to explore the unlockable “Hero Mode” after clearing the main campaign and go through the game again in a slightly remixed way. What’s there is both solid and brief enough to easily warrant multiple playthroughs.
Considering how I use my personal desire to revisit a metroidvania game as a signifier of its quality, that is pretty high praise. However, the design is not free from blemishes, and barring a few les enjoyable sections, most of mine stem from the way transformations are handled. While the sheer quantity of them is impressive, they are not the best implemented. Some forms are regular and incredibly useful mainstays, while others are only ever useful in situations where the game demands their use, and have largely no practical application elsewhere.
The mouse is only good for the handful of mouse mazes in the game, while the spider form is, based on my memory, only useful in about five instances across the entire game. Each of these transformations also have an additional ability, and they unfortunately follow a similar design mentality. The bat’s ability to see in the dark is only ever used once, and specifically so the player can obtain an additional ability for the spider, which would allow her to spit venom. Which is never useful, nor is it required for obtaining an elusive item. These oversights make the game feel incomplete to some degree, as if deadlines and budget prevented the developers from fully utilizing everything they create.
Moving to the visuals, for as I adore sprite art and some of the animations of the prior games in the series, I might actually like this new art style better. The distinct cartoonish art style of the 2D characters and enemies plays to the series’ lighthearted nature, feature fluid animations, and bring a new level of detail to new and familiar designs. While the 3D backgrounds and environments manage to avoid the juxtaposition that I found present in other games that employed such a blending of 2D and 3D assets, namely Wayforward’s own Ducktales Remastered. The detail and shading at display here allow the backdrops to resemble concept art and it blends in with the characters and enemies of the game quite well.
As for the music, it is a Jake Kaufman score, and that man is easily among the greatest video game composers of this era. The energetic soundtrack he offers to this game, rife with remixes and enhanced versions of songs featured throughout the series, is one that kept me happily going through each level, and I look forward to listening to it on its own. Once the download is made available to backers that is.
In its current form, I would say that Half-Genie Hero is a slightly different, but still vastly enjoyable continuation of the series. One that managed to meet my expectations, barring a few issues that, while present, are not enough to stop this game from being an enjoyable romp. The visuals and soundtrack make the game’s presentation feel top-notch, and with a series of four additional playable characters currently in development, I’m actively looking forward to going through Half-Genie Hero yet again.