Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a 2D platformer by WayForward. This is the fourth entry in the Shantae series and as such the review will assume you’re familiar with the series already. I personally played the Wii U version without any of the DLC so it will cover this criteria specifically. The premise is essentially that Shantae is visited by a spirit from the Genie Realm that informs her of dangers that threaten both of their realms. Uncle Mimic has been working on a mysterious machine called the Dynamo that should help Shantae keep Scuttle Town safe. However, series antagonist Risky Boots returns and attacks, stealing the blueprints needed to finish the device. Shantae must battle with her to get them back, but it is only then that the group realizes there are still missing parts required to get this bad boy up and running. So it’s up to you to track down the necessary materials in order to help ensure safety for all.
You still run around different lands platforming and whipping your hair to defeat enemies. Gems are used as currency to purchase and enhance items, abilities, and even spells from the main shop in Scuttle Town. This main hub area also has a bath house which allows you to refill your health and magic and the lady residing here will give you hints on what to do next in the game. Some of the townsfolk walking around will give you hints more geared towards some secrets. There’s Uncle Mimic’s workshop which is generally where you’ll go to return parts and advance the story. There’s a museum which allows you to unlock concept art and fan art if you find gallery keys hidden throughout the game. And lastly there’s Sky’s Hatchery where Sky and her newly super-sized bird companion Wrench will fly you to other areas of the world, provided you have found a map to lead you there.
The areas you fly to are a bit different than the previous games. Similar to Shante and the Pirate’s Curse, once you select an area you must start from a designated starting point in that area and proceed through it. The difference here is that each level plays out in a more linear fashion. Each level has multiple sections and once you enter a section you cannot go back to the previous one. The only way around this is to obtain the warp dance, which allows you to skip entire sections of levels you’ve already completed. There are many other dances to acquire as well, returning to Shantae’s dancing roots and her iconic ability to use them in order to transform into other creatures. These creatures all have innate abilities which can help you through the environments, challenges, and puzzles of the game. Furthermore, each form has a special ability for you to acquire which will further add into their use and effectiveness. To perform dances you merely hit the dancing button and then hit the direction of the desired transformation presented in the four cardinal directions around Shantae. They will cycle through multiple pages along with the beat to show you all your available dances. Each level has many secrets which cannot all be obtained at first, requiring you to come back with the appropriate abilities later if you’re looking to collect everything in the game. Thankfully there’s an indicator on the level select screen which shows you how many items you’re missing. Some of these are upgrades to transformations. Some are key items you’ll need later. Some are heart holders that increase your maximum health. And some are for completion and obtaining the good ending. Each level also ends with its own boss fight that you will not need to repeat with subsequent plays. Be sure to keep your eye out for the jars hiding the snake lady salesman for some unique goodies you won’t get in town too. After getting all of the components you will have the choice of either going straight to the final level or finding a new set of items to help you out in the final showdown. After that… you win the game.
There’s certainly a lot to like about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. The art style leaps ahead of the pixelated past entries and sports a hand-drawn aesthetic. It retains the colorful presentation while adding in some 3D objects and layers for depth AND it’s made for higher resolution systems so it looks that much prettier on top of it. Also, most of the characters have been redesigned in more cutesy cartoonish way. And the soundtrack is pretty damn good. I mean, the songs are all these bumpin’ dance tunes that keep you pumped up even when you’re just slowly searching a level. Hell, most of it doesn’t even sound like video game music so much as awesome songs that just so happen to be put into a game. All the more reason to get the soundtrack, which I did. I really appreciate the way a lot of the game is handled. It doesn’t try to build the story up too much or hold your hand too often with explanations… and it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were a few moments where I even found myself laughing out loud caught off guard by the humor. The developers were clearly aware that this is not new stuff, especially for the fourth game in the series. So you just get to play and experience it rather than being so carefully set up for every little thing. The way you go through levels in a more linear fashion helps keep you from getting too lost and gives it less of that Metroidvania feel, instead being more akin to classic platformers. It’s a neat change of pace to spice up the largely familiar, yet certainly not bad formula. The dance transformations are swift and simple so it doesn’t break the flow to change forms so much. Not to mention the general control is tight and responsive. It’s also interesting how they can use 2D for accurate hitboxes yet use 3D in some spots without it getting confusing. Basically, the developers certainly knew what the game was and were confident enough in their execution to skip all the fluff and exaggerated grandeur so many games these days like to push. Plus, look how adorable Shantae is!
Though while Shantae, along with most of the other girls in this game, is cuter than usual I guess I do think there has been a downgrade to the sexiness. It’s still there but… it seems to be skewing cuter and I’d prefer a healthy balance. I also think the more linear design of the levels, along with having them all separate from one another on top of being sectioned off to begin with ends up making this game feel very disjointed. I didn’t feel like this was all one big world but rather a series of separate places you can choose to visit. I also think it’d be nice if you could play this on the 3DS but I suppose it’s not powerful enough. It’s on the Switch and the PS Vita so you can play it on the go, but the previous two games found a good home on the 3DS along with the virtual console version of the very first game so it’s a shame you can’t have the entire collection in one place. Maybe they’ll release a pack later. I also think I should bring up the few other modes you have available. From the start you can choose to play in hard-core mode which is the same campaign with adjusted features to make you take make damage and making enemies tougher, among other things. This isn’t really worth an immediate replay for that but may serve a later replay or an initial play for those who are worried it’ll be too easy. Once you beat the game you’ll unlock hero mode which is the same game but you start with all of your transformations. This is enticing for speedrunning but it doesn’t add anything new to the overall experience. The one other mode shown on the main menu is an alternate campaign where you play as Risky Boots. However, despite it being on the main menu and looking quite accessible, trying to play it without purchasing the DLC will simply tell you that it’s DLC and asks if you’d like to go the the eshop to buy it. This isn’t a huge deal, but if I don’t have the DLC, don’t put it in the fucking menu. Or if you do, at LEAST make it look like it’s locked until it isn’t. Fuck you too.
But it’s hard to stay mad at Shantae. I mean, look how cute she is. I just can’t. Shantae: Half-Gene Hero is a solid entry to the series that might not do anything all the new, but it does justice to the reliable formula and gameplay it has. There’s enough here with the updated visuals, kickass soundtrack, and polished gameplay to make it be worth your while. I got my copy physically along with a physical copy of the soundtrack for just 20 bucks. That’s certainly worth it. The game itself without the DLC is worth the 20 dollar price tag anyway. I would recommend it to fans of the series and the 2D platforming genre. Also if you were craving some more nicely drawn art then this game will be easy on the eyes. I’m not sure how the series will go from here, but I’m always on-board to see what new adventures my favorite half-genie, half-human, all hottie Shantae will get into next. I guess you could say… I’m always… Ret-2-Go. I just don’t make it sound as cute…