Despite starring in a series spanning almost 15 years, WayForward’s indie darling mascot, Shantae, only began to pick up in popularity in 2013 when Nintendo fans started suggesting her as a possible character for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. As a result of this, when WayForward launched their Kickstarter for the first HD Shantae title in the same year, the campaign ended with the amount of funds raised doubling that of the goal. Recent independent Kickstarted game releases haven’t exactly delivered, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouths upon hearing of a new one actually releasing. Does Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, like Shovel Knight and Undertale before it, prove that Kickstarter games can be worth the investment and patience? Or is it another waste of the backers’ money?
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, like the other titles in the series, is a 2D platformer/Metroidvania. This time the formula of the gameplay is changed up to fit more as a traditional 2D platformer with Metroidvania elements instead of being a straight-up Metroidvania. The game sees you taking the role of the titular character Shantae as you jump, hair whip and belly-dance through a level, followed by taking part in a few side-missions to lead you toward the next area, but not before exploring redesigned versions of the previous ones. It seems like a loop that would become noticeably more repetitive as time passes, but the game never asks you to go too far out of your way for this to happen. The game just flows so consistently and never outstays its welcome for the 6 hours of the game’s length.
Shantae herself retains her transformation abilities from the previous three entries, but Half-Genie Hero also takes the time to introduce some new ones. Returning transformations include the monkey, which allows Shantae to become a small monkey so she can jump higher and attach to walls, and the mermaid which can be used to float freely underwater. New transformations include the bat, which can be used to fly horizontally and see in the dark, and the crab, which can attack underwater and access areas the mermaid form can’t. These forms perfectly compliment the brilliant level design and add to the welcome Metroidvania elements. Consider them the same as weapon upgrades in Metroid and Castlevania, where parts of each level are hidden off until you return with new transformations to access certain areas. Shantae can also use weapons such as rotating ‘Pike Balls’ and fire attacks to defend herself, which make for great projectile attacks.
After receiving a warning from a messenger of the Genie Realm in her dreams, Shantae wakes to find that the evil pirate Risky Boots has returned once again to steal blueprints belonging to Shantae’s uncle for a device created for the purpose of finally putting a stop to her terrorizing of Scuttle Town. Even after stopping Risky Boots though, Shantae is once again fired from her role as guardian genie (half-genie in her case) by the town’s mayor. To reclaim her job and keep Scuttle Town safe, Shantae embarks on a huge adventure across all of Sequin Land joined by familiar characters like Skye, Bolo and Rottytops. Half-Genie Hero’s story delivers as a cute Saturday morning cartoon-like adventure with an enjoyable cast of characters that makes for a nice modern twist on the 2D platformer genre that we’re beginning to see more and more, with charming, clever writing and characters. The story works as a fun adventure anyone can enjoy.
With the first HD title in the series, developer WayForward chose to use their proprietary game engine previously seen in DuckTales Remastered and Mighty Switch Force!, which combines 2.5D backgrounds and levels with beautiful 2D animated characters resulting in one of the most aesthetically pleasing 2D platformers in a very long time. This mix of 2.5D and 2D creates an amazing looking blend that is so unique to WayForward’s games and makes them instantly recognizable that it makes them just some of the best looking games being released today. This is coupled with outstanding composer Jake Kaufman’s incredible soundtrack mixing chiptune with funk, jazz, soul and metal in one of the composer’s best works yet. The visuals and music of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero work to create a joyful game that’s hard to forget.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero not only manages to be the best in the nearly 15-year-old series, but it’s probably the best game 25-year-old developer and publisher WayForward Technologies has ever released. It has charm and creativity in its level design, gameplay, story, visuals and music that comes together far too scarcely in the gaming industry anymore.
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii-U, PC
Release Date: 20th December 2016