Back in 2002, WayForward released the first entry in their unlikely platforming series Shantae on the Game Boy Color. Published by Capcom after the release of the Game Boy Advance, the game sold poorly since it was released in a very limited quantity. Despite this, the game managed to defy having the cards stacked against them as it was beloved by the thousands that did play it, and eventually received a sequel eight years later.
Fast forward six additional years, and Shantae is on its fourth major installment. Even more excitingly, the series was beloved enough to gain success on Kickstarter, and is now making its proper console debut (as in not a port of a handheld title) with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. Can it possibly live up to hype and fan expectations?
That answer is an easy “yes,” as not only is Shantae: Half-Genie Hero a fine platformer, it manages to fix a lot of the series’ previous issues. It’s a mixture of what fans have come to love from the series (which is fitting considering its crowdfunded origins) while also refining the formula that has worked for the past 14 years. It doesn’t dramatically change what Shantae is, but rather polishes a series that has always seemed like a diamond in the rough.
Genie in a Bottle
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero plays a lot like past installments, as players will make Shantae run and jump her way through environments, while whipping her hair to take care of enemies. What makes the game special remains her genie abilities, which lets the purple-haired heroine transform into different forms (such as an adorable monkey or an elegant elephant). This ability opens up the gameplay as it goes from a pretty standard platformer to a Metroidvania-type experience filled with hidden items and reasons to replay areas.
There are four main ability categories in the game: flight, water, mobility and power. These come in the form of bat, crab, monkey and elephant transformations, but that’s not all. There are actually second, slightly different forms that can be found (and sometimes easily missed) in special areas around the maps. Collecting these different abilities is the core gameplay loop, and WayForward did a great job at constantly introducing new mechanics for the player to learn over time.
Some of the major issues in past games have been addressed here, as it’s now much more difficult to get completely stuck. This applies to both knowing what to do, and the game’s difficulty level. In the previous game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, I often found myself at a lost what to do. To fix this issue, a lot more helpful dialogue has been written this time around and simply talking to random people in the game’s hub area will give the player enough hints to move forward (or in this case, know where to backtrack). There’s also no huge difficulty leap like in Pirate’s Curse, where the final area felt much more difficult than anything that came before it. I never once felt like I didn’t have a chance against the game’s bosses, and this is a much better crafted experience.
Shantae PS4 Review (PS4) - PlayStation LifeStyle
It took me about eight hours to finish the game (with about a 94% completion rate), and there are only six levels to playthrough. Considering a stage typically takes around 20 minutes to beat the first time around, that means a lot of my time was spent going through previous levels and searching for various items (such as skills and health upgrades). While I wish there was more variety in where I was exploring, WayForward did a really good job packing every area with a ton of secrets. Due to this, the backtracking never felt too tedious.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero also sports a bold new look for the series as the environments are largely comprised of 3D models. Previously, the game was always sprite-based and I wasn’t really sure about the look at first. It ended up growing on me over time, and the mixture of 2D characters and 3D backgrounds never really clashed much. I still would’ve preferred a gorgeous all 2D game, but this new perspective does allow for some cool moments to happen and feels relatively fresh.
My biggest complaint about Half-Genie Hero is that so much of it felt overly familiar. The majority of the forms are returning from past games. It’s cool to see them return initially, but they lack the impact that new abilities could’ve had. It felt too much like I was playing with my old toys in a new toybox. This carries onto some of the boss choices as well, as a lot of the foes return and take up the majority of the big encounters.
There is nothing more satisfying than when a developer learns from their past mistakes, and WayForward has finally refined the Shantae experience. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the belly dancing heroine’s best adventure yet, and doesn’t suffer from any huge leaps in difficulties like previous titles. While there are parts that will feel a bit too familiar for series veterans (certainly there has to be other characters that exist in Shantae’s world), it’s a highly polished title that provides plenty of fun from start to finish.
Review code for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.