NS Review – Shantae: Half Genie Hero
It’s been a strong couple of years for Shantae since the release of Pirate’s Curse in 2014: she was one of the front runners in the Super Smash Bros 4 ballot; indie-party game Runbow introduced her as a DLC character in October 2016; Pirate’s Curse and Risky’s Revenge received a limited physical release; as of this year they’re both available on almost all current consoles following their initial launch as Nintendo exclusives.
WayForward were able to release Half-Genie Hero worldwide across all home platforms (sadly no handheld release this time). It feels like a new era for Shantae, despite these two years being the shortest any fan has had to wait for a new entry in the series.
A lot of that sentiment is due to the fresh art direction. The previous Shantae games used a pixel-art style with great animation. Half-Genie Hero maintains the quality animation but does away with the pixel-art, applying a smooth modern style with 2D characters mixed with 3D-rendered environments. The visuals are gorgeous, and the platforming is still solid despite the shift.
The game’s tone is aided by Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack, which delivers plenty of tunes that will have players tapping their foot to the bouncy beats. Kaufman’s work has always been a highlight of the Shantae series, and he’s truly on top of his game in Half-Genie Hero. Voice actress Cristina Vee gets involved in the action too as she takes vocal duties on “Dance Through The Danger”. It’s a fast, pulsating tune that plays during Shantae’s first level, and sets the tone for the rest of the game. Vee once again provides sparse voice lines for Shantae and Risky Boots, characterising them well. The game didn’t reach the Kickstarter goal to have full voice acting, but fully voiced lines may have ended up being detrimental. Sadly there are some issues with audio balance, as the music often drowns out the dialogue.
Shantae’s transformation abilities make a return from Risky’s Revenge, essentially replacing the pirate gear upgrades introduced in Pirate’s Curse. However, there are many more transformations in Half-Genie Hero than previous games. The returning monkey, elephant, and mermaid forms are joined by various others that all give Shantae unique abilities. This is where the game gets its ‘Metroidvania’ playstyle, as these forms are gained throughout the adventure and give the player access to new areas. Selecting a transformation is a simple task, helped by the fact that the world freezes while Shantae dances (who wouldn’t?) so there is no hurry.
There are a couple of comedic forms; Shantae can turn into a tree to gain fruit, or just a plain vase for more gems. There’s also the highly-useful Warp Dance that allows Shantae to fast-travel to different areas of a level. However, the amount of forms does mean that some become obsolete. The bat and crab forms tend to get ignored once the upgraded forms are found later in the game. In fact, taking form in certain areas can allow the player to advance unchallenged, essentially breaking the game. It’s not quite as focused as the Risky’s Revenge range, but the various Shantae forms are endearing enough to be included.
Half-Genie Hero continues with the level-based structure seen in Pirate’s Curse. Scuttle Town is now entirely closed off as its own area, and Shantae flies with Sky on her trusty giant bird to travel to each level. Maintaining the Metroidvania formula, each level is revisited several times as new abilities become available. It can become frustrating playing through levels repeatedly when the objective is obscure, although this is alleviated by the Scuttle Town inhabitants who offer plenty of hints.
Each level is divided into multiple areas, which is where the Warp Dance comes in handy. Like Pirate’s Curse, each area also concludes with a boss battle. The boss fights take on various forms and are usually entertaining. Wilbur and the Giga Mermaid deviate from the Shantae norm, as they utilise the new camera perspective.
It’s not quite clear where Half-Genie Hero sits in the series storyline. Risky Boots, following the supposed character development in Pirate’s Curse, has immediately gone back to her villainous ways and is the main threat. While the story could be set after Pirate’s Curse with Shantae’s regained genie powers, the lack of acknowledgement for almost anything that happened in Pirate’s Curse suggests that it could be a reboot or retcon. One of the early-game NPC’s even references this in their dialogue.
The plot feels less cohesive than Pirate’s Curse too. Many well-known characters appear without ceremony, and don’t play any significant role except to exist for a fetch quest or boss fight. In Pirate’s Curse there was a sense that everyone was important to the story. Rottytops’ brothers, Abner and Poe, were often revisited for advice and transport, with Abner discussing the zombie siblings’ past and Rottytops’ feelings towards the protagonist. Here they both play cameo roles in the later stages, barely connected to the plot. The same problem hits the Barons, most of whom return to this game for a single boss battle.
A noticeable new character is set up to be a rival to Shantae, but disappears after the first hour. Despite a few letdowns with minor characters, all the major figures play a large role in the story. Shantae’s genius uncle Mimic, best friend Sky, dimwitted-but-loveable friend Bolo, and of course Rottytops, regularly exchange dialogue that contains plenty of wit and laughs.
Despite the drawbacks, the game’s quality in music, platforming, and visuals make it a highly recommended title. Once again WayForward have delivered an excellent experience, and it’s likely the final Shantae game to come to the Wii U. If that is the case, it’s a very fine send-off for the series and with DLC on the way, there’s going to be even more to enjoy this year.