Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is another solid entry in the cult series and one that both longtime fans and newcomers can enjoy.
As far as platformers go, few titles have achieved a cult status. Like Tomba, Kid Icarus or Bionic Commando, Shantae is one such game and, despite receiving rave reviews, the original Shantae came out too late in the Game Boy Color’s life cycle which meant that not a lot of people paid attention to it. The ones who did though, couldn’t stop talking about it and they talked loud enough that some developers paid attention. Half-Genie Hero is the fourth entry in the Shantae series and like its predecessors, this is a remarkable platformer that hits all the right notes.
So what makes the game stand out? In Half-Genie Hero, you assume the role of Shantae, a heroine who has the ability to turn into different creatures when she dances. Each of the mythical creatures you transform into gives you a unique ability: the siren lets you swim, the monkey lets you climb, the elephant lets you stomp, the harpy lets you fly and so on. As you progress through the game, you get more and more dances (or abilities for dances you already have) and the game’s structured in such a way that when you get a new dance, you need to revisit levels to unlock secrets using recently acquired abilities. Of course, anyone who played Castlevania or Metroid is familiar with this structure, but that doesn’t make it less effective.
Apart from dancing, Shantae can jump over obstacles and use her hair to defeat enemies which is what you’ll be doing most of the time. As you explore the different environments, defeating enemies and breaking vases, you accrue gems that work as currency which you can spend on several upgrades. These include everything from a faster attack rate to spells such as fireballs or a force field. In other words, there’s no shortage of ways to clobber enemies, but believe it or not, you need every resource to beat them because Shantae can be a tough game.
Some of the most difficult parts involve fighting end level bosses. In these encounters, you need to recognize patterns, use spells creatively and make use of your reflects. Luckily, you can use healing items during the fights, so should an encounter be too overwhelming, you can always pause the game and recover enough health so that you can keep fighting.
But not everything in this game involves jumping over platforms and attacking enemies. The game’s divided into different themed-worlds and one of those settings acts as a main city where you can chat with people, complete quests, buy items and upgrades, unlock concept and fan art and choose your next destinations. You’ll spend a lot of time going back and forth and when you complete a quest, you usually need to go back to the main city to see what’s your next move.
Since Shantae is equal parts platformer and adventure game, you need to know where to go next. This could have been a problem and to solve it, the game includes a hint system in the form of a character that nudges you into the right direction. Unfortunately, these hints are so elusive and obscure sometimes that you might need an extra resource like YouTube or a forum entry to know what to do next which is frustrating and completely defeats the purpose of the flawed hint system.
Finally, I have to mention Shantae’s fantastic visual style. Several independent developers have proven what can be done in this day and age, but this game still manages to surprise. The 2D style look amazing , thanks in part to the fluid animation and the sharp-looking graphics.
In conclusion, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is another solid entry in the cult series and one that both longtime fans and newcomers can enjoy. The level design is varied, using the animal transformations is entertaining and the hand-drawn visuals look exceptional, making Half-Genie Hero a fantastic platformer even if its difficult is overwhelming at times.