Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

In the newest iteration of our beloved half-genie hero’s journey to stop evil from destroying Sequin Land, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve traveled back in time. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a love letter to the retro age painted in a fancy 2D paint. It nails the feeling of an old school platformer without being too hard, and that makes it a great game for anyone who is interested in going back to the past for the first time. For any veteran fans of the series, you will notice that this iteration is completely different from any other Shantae game. This isn’t necessarily bad, as it manages to create its own unique identity among the rest of the previously released games. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is different, yet the same, and that’s a good thing.

First, the biggest piece of information that needs to be addressed is that Shantae is no longer a Zelda game. It still has heart containers and collectible items that help you progress and find secrets, but there are no more dungeons. At first, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it quite as much without dungeons, but each of the platforming levels has enough variety to provide a challenge. Now, you select the level, finish it, and then go back to find something new in order to unlock the next. It feels satisfying to go back to a level you’ve already beaten with your new abilities, and even more gratifying to collect the relics that you missed the first time around. I wouldn’t say that the level design is perfect, though. It rarely feels boring, but some segments feel rather tedious when you replay them. Fortunately, there is an answer for that: Warp Dance. Each level has multiple segments, and the Warp Dance allows you to skip to the next one instantly as long as you’ve already cleared the stage. It’s very useful and makes the game feel a bit more selective in a sense.

Other than the change of level mechanics, Shantae is still very much the spunky adventurer she has always been. Being a half-genie, she has access to her powers rather than using the items that you got in the last game. These genie powers allow you to transform through dancing. For example, the monkey dance will transform you into a monkey, giving you higher jump height and the ability to climb walls. Additionally, Shantae has her notorious whipping hair. She attacks using a combination of her hair and magic powers that can be purchased from a shop in Scuttle Town. Everything feels very fresh and speedy, and perhaps even more so in this iteration.

With the game being updated to what seems like a newer engine, Shantae feels a bit easier to control, and the game feels easier as a result. Her hair whips faster, the game plays smoothly, and everything feels hiccup-free like a modern day game should; of course, it’s still very much in the retro style that we expect. I think all of the new updates may have been too much, though. The game suffers from what seems like a rather short length, and I would have loved to have some more action. Thankfully, DLC is planned in the future where you can play as Shantae’s friends from throughout the series. I’m crossing my fingers for a Squid Baron DLC myself.

One of the interesting things about Half-Genie Hero is what it does in the world of gaming. It’s a retro style game that wears modern graphics. This is something that I haven’t seen have much success outside of a few special cases, like Shovel Knight or Cave Story. Shantae still carries itself high and creates and very faithful fan base. I feel that this is worth mentioning only to emphasize how unique this game truly is.

This game is a good way to let newcomers into the series. It may seem odd with how much I mention the previous games in the franchise, but I believe it to be true nonetheless. The first few games are nowhere near as accessible as Half-Genie Hero, and so far it seems to be bringing in many new audience members to the series. The game is relatively cheap, extremely fun, easy to pick up and play, and offers a very likable set of characters. It's almost like a new beginning for Shantae and her friends, and I certainly hope to see more of them in the future.

The story is as simple as you would expect from Shantae. Risky Boots is once again up to her evil shenanigans and wishes destruction upon all of Sequin Land. Naturally, with Shantae being the guardian genie of Scuttle Town, she embarks on an adventure in order to stop her in her tracks. All of the quirky humor is still present. I hope everyone likes puns because this game is full of them. Mayor Scuttlebutt is still a scuttlebutt, Rottytops is still rotten, and Bolo is, well, Bolo. Some lines of dialogue had me laughing out loud; this is something that many games fail to make me do, so it’s definitely welcome. You could say that it makes the game feel magical. Because Shantae is a genie. Sorry, I had to.

With retro gaming, we usually expect a fantastic soundtrack that sticks with us forever. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero definitely delivers tunes that will keep you bobbing your head and tapping your feet. The tracks all fit their intended purpose very well and even make a great set of songs to take on the go. Thankfully, one of my favorite pack-in bonuses that could potentially be included in the box has been included in Half-Genie Hero: the full soundtrack. I honestly couldn’t thank the publisher enough for including that alongside the game for only $29.99 total. It’s practically a steal!

The biggest noticeable change from the last game is probably the way that it looks. Shantae uses beautiful glossy graphics that almost couldn’t look better. While I was a big fan of the pixel art that the previous entries all used, it’s a very nice change of pace and it still holds the same feel that you would expect out of a Shantae game. Unfortunately, though, graphics aren’t everything. I spent quite a bit of time wondering if Half-Genie Hero suffered from putting too much emphasis on the graphical portion of the development.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is an excellent 2D platformer that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The humor is quirky, the gameplay is great, and it expertly crafts a retro-style game into a glossy and new coat of paint. Even so, it didn’t seem to provide the same sense of awe that Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse provided in the not-so-distant past of 2014. This is not to say that Half-Genie Hero missed the mark; it’s just different from what you would expect out of the series. Fortunately, that’s one of the best features about the series as a whole. Each game feels unique, bringing a whole new taste to the table every time. This is what always brings me back to Shantae, and it’s what makes Half-Genie Hero all the more enjoyable. Ultimately, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero manages to create a sense of old-school bliss in the modern era where there proves to be little success, and it’s wonderful.

Most of my time is dedicated to tearing apart games and movies, then telling you what I think about it. I've been a gamer since birth, practically born with a controller in my hand. I've always spoke my mind, so critique was a natural fit. Twitter: @Jsrf38