When I first booted up Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It isn’t a series I am overly familiar with, but I did know that the latest entry in the franchise had come off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign with developer WayForward receiving $776,084 from backers. That’s the kind of money that can put immense pressure of expectation on people, but WayForward have thrived under that pressure.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is part platformer, part exploration game, in that you’ll have to go back to previous levels in order to advance the game’s story and unlock Shantae’s abilities as a genie. Shantae has the power to transform into different creatures including a monkey, crab, elephant, mermaid, and bird, but these aren’t all available from the get go. Instead you’ll go through each of the levels available slowly gaining each of these dances, which in turn open up more of the levels to gain access to other dances and upgrades.
While the nature of exploring the same levels can be a bit boring at times, it is alleviated by the fact you can skip or leave at any time. The Warp Dance allows you to skip forward to another part of a level if you’ve previously cleared it, while the Whistle takes you back to the hub world with all the items you’ve found staying with you.
Dancing is how Shantae accesses her shape shifting ability. Once you enter dance mode you must press the corresponding direction at the right time to pick the animal you wish to transform into. The beat cycles through three option menus with the choices available changing through each, but it is a system that is very easy to grasp.
Along with her dances, Shantae has various attack powers. Her basic attack whips her hair at enemies to deal damage, but she has magic attacks too including a pike ball, fireballs, and lightning clouds. There are also defensive powers with a bubble shield and mirror shield, with the latter deflecting projectiles. These powers have to be bought from the item shop, but to do that you need gems, which are acquired from beating enemies and breaking jars around each level. The powers can also be upgraded, with the fireball becoming a flamethrower after a while.
The item shop itself is just one location in a main hub that also contains a bath house where health can be rejuvenated, the gallery which contains development artwork, Sky’s hatchery which takes you to the world select screen, and the workshop were Shantae’s uncle is working. You can also chat with the townsfolk who will give additional clues about what you need to do next if you’re stuck.
The majority of the mission worlds have three or four sections to play through, including boss battles, and all of them will require you to use all of your dances at least a few times. The last world there’s no way you’re getting across without the monkey and bird powers, for example. While Half-Genie Hero does look like quite an innocent game, there are points in stages that rack up the difficulty, requiring quick thinking and movement. Even with the areas of difficulty, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero doesn’t take too long to complete, with my time coming in at under seven hours.
This is easily amongst the best looking platformers I’ve played in recent times. Every stage has a unique touch to it through the kind of traps that are present and the enemy types that patrol the areas. The environment work is top notch with multiple areas available to explore that require your various dances to access. It is incredibly colourful and the character animations are perfect in motion. The music is really well composed too, though a couple of tracks stand far above the others in my opinion.
There are a couple of negatives that prevent Shantae: Half-Genie Hero from being the perfect game though. The nature of having to run through certain stages a few times can feel more like a chore than fun, even with the different paths available to explore and the option to warp or leave at anytime. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the quests that required collecting things for certain characters, as it felt like these missions slowed the pace of the game quite a bit.
It’s clear to see WayForward put their Kickstarter funding to good use. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero features some of the best platforming of recent years, and it’s easy to recommend to anyone that’s a fan of platformers or Metroidvania style games, though a couple more levels to combat the game’s repetition would have been perfect. Wayforward will have to settle for almost reaching that mark instead.
Version tested: PS4