E3 2016 – Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Hands-On Preview – Hair We Go (PS4)
I first discovered Shantae while wandering Nintendo’s 3DS eShop, looking for a decent old-school platformer to play. That cult classic had just found new life in the form of a sequel by WayForward, and I’d heard pretty much nothing but good things about the genie’s hair-whipping adventures, so I figured it was finally time to see what all the buzz was about.
Boy, am I glad I played it — at least at the time, it was one of those hidden platforming gems that made me wonder how I ever missed it. Now, of course, the series has seen three sequels and raised a massive $776,084 on Kickstarter (not even including donations they took on PayPal) for the latest entry, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. I got a chance to try the game at E3, and it seems like it should be another fun and classic bout of platforming action.
New Look, Old Tricks
The demo took me through one standard combination of level and boss battle. The most obvious and striking difference when I first started playing, of course, was the visual style. While previous Shantae games have used pixel art, the new game fuses smoothly-animated 2D sprites with 3D background environments. Everything looks a little bit more fluid and malleable compared to its predecessors, and while I personally prefer the new graphical style to the old one, I’m sure there will be some disappointment at the change.
The visuals may be different, but the game still contains all the hoppin’ and hair-boppin’ that platforming fans have come to love from the series. It appears that Half-Genie Hero will eschew the free-roaming, Metroidvania-style elements found in Pirate’s Curse in favor of a more straightforward style; the level I played had a fairly standard and linear left-to-right progression, which — to be honest — I found quite refreshing after getting lost and stuck so many times in Curse (constant reviews often mean I’ll return to games after a while of not playing them, which means I’ll often have forgotten the objective by the time I return). This time around, the game will be split into “chapters” that can be revisited once new characters and abilities are unlocked, which is much more up my alley.
Speaking of characters, Risky Boots is playable this time around in a sort of reverse-campaign where her goal is to defeat Shantae — but unfortunately, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen in this particular demo. Instead, XSEED highlighted the fact that the genie girl’s got a whole host of powers this time around, including a semi-”best of” slate of abilities she’s carried in previous games. You’ve got your transformations, like the adorable monkey and underwater-exploring crab; and you’ve got your magic, like a super-helpful healing spell.
These, combined with Shantae’s ever-trusty hair and dexterity, make for a fun and incredibly-polished experience. I’m hoping that WayForward will take some risks with the level design, because the formula’s beginning to feel a bit predictable with so many similar new games in such a short span of time, but we’ll tackle that another time when we give Half-Genie Hero a whirl for our review. In the meantime, all I have to say is that fans of previous Shantae games will find plenty to love here, which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise — they helped put it together thanks to the Kickstarter!