The purple haired heroine of Sequin Land returns in an all new adventure, complete with plenty of moving, shaking and dancing! Shantae: Half Genie Hero is the latest installment in developer WayForward's quirky little platforming/Metroidvania series, and my personal introduction to Shantae. While I can’t speak in any authoritative way as to how this title stacks up against previous entries, I can say that, as a beginner to the franchise, Half Genie Hero made me feel right at home.
Half Genie Hero features a pretty standard “thwart the bad guy’s evil plan” plot. While the story may not bring anything new to the table, the world and characters more than make up for this. Shantae, her friends, the antagonists, NPC’s and even stage enemies are all brimming with personality. The writing in Half Genie Hero is perfectly self aware, and honestly really funny. Strong writing in conjunction with a well rounded and charming cast go a long way towards endearing players to Shantae’s world.
Another part of what makes the world feel so special are the graphics. Half Genie Hero’s art style is absolutely gorgeous. Every character is a given a really high quality 2D sprite, and they all animate super smoothly. In fact, the smooth and unique animations are part of what gives the characters so much personality. Shantae herself has different animations for just about everything she does. I never get tired of seeing her scurry along the ground on all fours, or do her special transformation dance. She’s just so gosh darn adorable! Oh yeah, the music is also fantastic. Each track fits perfectly with the locale that it’s paired with, and I’m totally in love with the vocal track Dance Through The Danger.
The number one rule that every platformer has to abide by is making the characters feel good to control. I’m happy to say that Half Genie Hero passes this test with flying colors. Shantae is an absolute dream to control, and I always felt like she was responding quickly and fluidly to my inputs. In her base form, Shantae can jump, duck/crawl and attack using her ponytail as a whip. Shantae can also gain access to power ups that increase her whipping speed, damage output, and give her a backdash (that I never used after I obtained it).
Half Genie Hero’s main gimmick is transformations. As a half genie (heh) Shantae has the ability to transform into various animals, each with their own unique attacks and traversal mechanics. My personal favorite is the Monkey, as she is small, nimble and great for speedrunning. Some of these transformations are tied to story progression, and some are optional pickups hidden in the levels. I said before that each animal has an attack that can be acquired, but these are mostly useless. This isn’t too big of a deal, as Shantae in her base form is more than capable of handling enemies.
While the animal traversal techniques are a ton of fun, they kind of break the game. There were numerous times where I could just fly over platforming challenges with the Bat transformation, and you’re given this dance fairly early on in the adventure. Conversely, there are some animals that are really underutilized. The Spider and Mouse forms are only used for a handful of secrets, and the Bat’s special ability is used for literally one treasure chest.
In addition to being a platformer, Half Genie Hero is also a Metroidvania. As such, going back to previous levels with new tools and abilities is par for the course. Was an underwater boulder blocking your path to a treasure chest? Come back a few levels later with your Mermaid transformation projectile and reap your rewards. Level design like this is a constant in Half Genie Hero, and explorative gamers will love how rewarding the secrets feel in this game.
Half Genie Hero is a unique Metroidvania in that it is stage based. Scuttle Town is the game’s main hub, and from here you can go to one of a handful of different levels. Each of these levels functions as somewhat of a segmented Metroidvania game, and I actually really like this approach. It allows players to enjoy many Metroidvania aspects without being too overwhelming. This, in addition to a very helpful item checklist, makes 100 percenting Half Genie Hero a comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Shantae also has access to a number of powerups that consume magic. Each of these skills has three tiers, and can be bought from Scuttle Town’s item shop for relatively cheap. While the power ups are pretty harmless at first, by the time they get fully upgraded, they’re pretty broken, even more so than certain animal transformations. For example, the final upgrade to the Mirror spell gives Shantae full invincibility to everything that isn’t an instant kill spike. Half Genie Hero wasn’t a hard game to begin with, but the spells make the endgame a total breeze.
I played Half Genie Hero on the Playstation Vita, and I feel like it was right at home on the little handheld. The art style looks fantastic on the Vita’s high res screen, and it’s the perfect game to pick up and put down at your own pace. However, during my ten or so hours with Half Genie Hero, my game crashed about 3 times. Luckily, Half Genie Hero saves every time you enter a new area, so I never lost too much of my progression, but this was definitely worth mentioning.
I had an absolute blast playing Half Genie Hero (my Platinum Trophy speaks for itself). It was the perfect sized game for me. There’s plenty to do, see and collect, but I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of content. I may be a few installments late to the party, but I’m definitely a Shantae fan now, and I would highly recommend Half Genie Hero to anybody who has wanted to get into the franchise for a while now, or is just looking for a fun little Metroidvania game.