For someone who played the old original game on the Game Boy Color, it’s always a pleasure to see the return of Shantae, the action and platform series from independent American publisher and developer WayForward Technologies. The freshness of the design and the simplicity of the gameplay kept on rolling with two more sequels in 2010 and 2014, and now that the latest Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is finally out on Nintendo Switch, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to test it out. Did the franchise lose any charm with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero? Or did it bring something new to the table?
If you never played a game in the Shantae series, let’s explain its basics. Co-creators Erin and Matt Bozon (both happily married) were inspired by old-fashioned titles like Mega Man, Castlevania and The Legend of Zelda to build a mix of action, platforms, adventure and exploration. A varied gameplay for an exotic universe, the general mood of the game being largely inspired by the Arab world and One Thousand and One Nights adventures. The design of the valorous heroine – Shantae – is for many the main success of the series, characterized by her playful and dynamic spirit, belly dances and her hair (which she uses as a weapon probably influenced by NES’ Kabuki: Quantum Fighter).
Shantae is based on diverse and varied inspirations but offers a unique universe, thanks to beautiful 2D animations, which WayForward Technologies kept on improving throughout their other projects as well such as DuckTales: Remastered and other notable games. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero does not disavow its predecessors: the smoothness of the platforming movements and the beauty of the somehow painted settings can impress more than one, reminding us a bit of good old Saturday-morning cartoon simplicity (yep, I didn’t live in the US, but we had the same thing in France). The game lets you visit areas ranging from the classical platformer themed desert world, but also cities, caves, etc.
In terms of gameplay, let’s say that Shantae is before all an action platformer game like Metroid. Levels have both a sidescrolling and verticality elements in it, filled with enemies that are more a nuisance by their placement than by their combat abilities. The platforming itself is fluid and despite the absence of things like double jumps, the maneuverability is easy and you’ll never blame the controls scheme for indirectly pushing you to a certain drop. In terms of combat, Shantae uses her long hair as a vertical whip to defend herself, and the lack of horizontal attacks is handled by jump attacks and magic (she’s a half-genie after all) such as fireballs, lighting strikes, and more as long as you have enough magic points.
But the core of Shantae’s innovative gameplay comes from her ability to dance, which gives her access to different skill sets. The main feature of the game is the possibility of transforming into eight different animals, each with its own specific abilities, by performing a simple dance with the press of a button. The crab for example can walk to the bottom of the water, the spider can walk along the ceiling and the monkey can climb walls. The fun part is that each of these transformations can evolve with new powers, which generally allows you to access new areas in the levels already traveled. It’s basically a little Metroidvania touch that I’ll never say no to!
If the gameplay regularly encourages us to return to levels already completed, it is also because the course of the adventure works according to a system of quests, such as an adventure game. Via the main hub which is the only city in the game, we try to help the inhabitants and especially our old uncle, an inventor who tries to build a machine to illuminate the city and thus reduce crime. Obviously, the usual characters in the series are back, including the recurring bad guys like Risky Boots, which we face regularly in really entertaining boss fights.
The varied gameplay makes Shantae: Half-Genie Hero a very nice adventure, altering between pure action and platforming, yet sadly condensed to no more than four hours to finish the main storyline. Fortunately, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero as many sidequest, with many secrets hidden everywhere to improve our character, but my only regret is that you’ll end up having to do too many round trips to the same levels, which can become a bit boring in the end. Yet in terms of lifespan, there’s also two different endings to unlock, as well as other difficulty setting such as Heroes mode.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was reviewed using an Nintendo Switch digital copy of the game provided by WayForward Technologies. The game is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo WiiU and PC via online stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A charismatic heroine
• Great 2D platforming adventure
• Well designed animations
• Varied gameplay
• A hint of Metroidvania
• A challenging game without being annoying
• Might get boring for some completionists
• Too short of a game
• Music loop can get annoying