If you’ve never heard of the Shantae series, that’s ok. Despite it being about 15 years old, the series itself is very much a cult-classic. The original game came out during the last year of the Game Boy Color, it got a sequel 8 years later for the DSi, and the third title came to Wii U and 3DS (among other platforms) via the eShop. Thanks to those successes, the team at Wayforward went to Kickstarter to fund a fourth title, and they succeeded by a large margin. Thus came: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. And despite it being my first run into the fray, this game is a beautiful and wonderful adventure.
Game Name: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Platform(s): Wii U (reviewed), PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Wayforward Games, XSEED Games
Developer(s): WayForward Technologies, Inti Creates
Release Date: December 20th, 2016
You play as Shantae, a half-human, half-genie, belly dancing girl charged with protecting her home of Scuttle Town, and the larger world of Sequin Land. One night, she’s guided to an area by a mysterious voice and warned that her home, and the dimension of genies, called Genie Realm, is in grave danger, and that Shantae must be ready for what’s coming.
Despite not knowing what exactly the voice meant, she does her best to save both worlds. But when danger throws her life into disarray (again), she’s forced to travel the land with her friends, battle her rivals, defeat massive bosses, and prove just because you’re a “half” of something, doesn’t mean you’re not a full-on hero.
For my money, Shantae is proof that you don’t need realistic graphics for something to be beautiful. True, this is Shantae’s first dive into HD, and the graphics are good, but it’s the simplicity of those graphics that make them shine. The world is laid in 2D for its characters, save for the big bosses, while the worlds, background, homes, and many foreground objects are all 3D. This allows for some really cool levels to be made, and a nice blend of styles to be had. The various areas are brimming with life and detail in nearly every aspect. One area was recently bombarded by pirates, and you see the damage in the buildings, including seeing them on fire. Other areas see you in a factory with a working assembly line. Many times you’re asked to dive underwater to find things, and those waters have numerous details of their own!
It’s a crisp world, and it works with Shantae in every way. Add music and sound effects that blend perfectly to the world and you’ll get a realm full of life. The song “Dance Through The Danger” will easily get stuck in your head when you hear it on the first level, and as the credits roll.
As for gameplay, Shantae takes after Metroid, Castlevania, Legend of Zelda, and even Mario. You fight on a 2D plane and have numerous monsters and villains attack you from the land, sea, or sky. What separates Shantae though is that she has a unique arsenal compared to the names above. She uses her hair as her primary weapon (which for the record beats out Bayonetta by a decade), and then uses her genie and belly dancing powers to transform into animals. All of which have unique traits, and even attacks. You can be a monkey and climb walls, a mermaid that can swim freely in all water types, a spider that can hang from the ceiling, an elephant that’ll smash large boulders and ground pound, and so on and so forth.
These transformations aren’t just for show, though, much like Mario, there are puzzles within the levels that you have to solve. And many areas of these massive levels are unreachable until you get the proper transformation. While backtracking isn’t ideal in many games, Shantae actually makes it work well. As each new transformation brings new life to the levels, and gives you the itch to collect all items that are hidden throughout the land.
Another interesting aspect here is the customization of Shantae herself. While her hair and transformations are powerful, you’re also allowed to buy Relics and magic that can give you new attacks, better stats, and even restore your health. These are invaluable as the game goes on, as you’ll need certain power-ups to not only make it through levels but to fight bosses. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have survived the last few bosses without a key power-up.
A fun part I loved was how progression wasn’t just “go to the world and finish it”. At times, you needed advice from those in Scuttle Town, who are all too happy to help their genie hero. Interacting with them, getting them the things they need, and just exploring what’s changed since the last level was always a joy. As often it introduced new characters who were a hoot to look at and listen to.
Before I go into the downsides, I have to talk about the dialogue and humor of the game. You might be surprised that this the game is rated “T”, despite its darn right cute appearance, there’s a good reason. The humor can be very adult at times. The female characters often wear revealing clothing and aren’t afraid to flaunt it. That being said, it’s all in good fun. The guys and gals at Wayforward know what they are doing, and they made this story and dialogue as fun and funny as it can be. In one instance, they shatter the fourth wall and talk about what could be the fifth game in the series, and what the title would be. And they do this for over a minute. Oh yeah.
Which brings me to the characters themselves! From Shantae’s bright and bubbly personality to Bolo’s airheadedness, Uncle Mimic’s desire to build machines no matter the risk, Rotty Tops numerous zombie puns (as she is a zombie herself), this is a cast full of great characters. Even the villains are hilarious! Often talking with the heroes in ways that only a 4th wall breaking game like Shantae can do.
It’s very meta, and it works, it’s part of its charm! Again, I’m new to this series, but the characters, dialogue, plot, and gameplay all kept me going from beginning to end with very little frustration.
That being said, there are some key flaws that must be addressed. First, if you haven’t played Shantae before, some of the character interactions will go over your head. Especially when they reference past games. Also, while exploring the worlds multiple times is fun, it does get tiresome when you’re having to search the whole area (which mind you are separated into large segments) for one item so that you’ll get the thing you need to advance. For those not found of “catching them all” so to speak, this will wear on you. Which is bad, because if you don’t explore, you won’t get the “true” ending, nor will you be able to complete the game, most likely, as you’ll not receive a key transformation or power-up for that transformation.
Second, though I dig the Item Shop and the items it gave. If you buy the right items in the right order, along with some exploration, Shantae becomes not only a powerhouse quickly, but can basically be invincible. For some, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re looking for a solid challenge throughout, it may make you bothered. Add to that, that there is no tutorial for the game, and often times during the beginning you’ll be button mashing to see what makes what button do what action. I missed numerous power-ups in one level because I wasn’t told about a certain move that Shantae had at the beginning of the game.
Third, while many bosses have the stereotypical “do this and they’ll get hurt” tactic (and trust me, even with that gimmick, they’re EPIC!!!!). The final two bosses don’t follow that formula exactly. In fact, if you don’t pay attention to the finer details of said final bosses, you’ll likely be playing it for a while with no clue what to do. This happened for me on the setup to the final boss, and I played for at least 10 minutes with no idea of what to do to hurt the boss until I finally got it.
Finally, the game is short. I finished in about 7 hours, and that was with 80% collectibles acquired and a lot of willing backtracking and a sidequest I technically didn’t have to do. It’s important to note two things, though. One, the length of the game was set by the Kickstarter, it could’ve been a LOT shorter, but backing allowed the game to grow. Still, though, if you play it in decent spurts, you could do with it in a few days, if not one. Also, though, there is another mode that gives you control of another character, which provides an entirely different story. This wasn’t available with my review copy. So it’s likely that the game will be more around 10 hours once that mode is available.
*Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was provided to us by WayForward Technologies for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a beautifully made, wonderfully crafted, and totally fun adventure. It’s got great characters, fun gameplay that’ll keep you entertained throughout, epic bosses that’ll keep you on your toes, and plenty of collectables that’ll have you going back through the levels multiple times.
I’m hooked on this series, and I’m going to try and backtrack to play the previous games. If you love Shantae or are just fans of Wayforward, go check this out.
Shantae whips up another successful game with Half-Genie Hero!