My faith in Kickstarter is restored! After the disappointment that was Mighty No. 9, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero makes our wishes come true – by proving it is possible to crowd fund a quality 2D platformer. How ironic that a game based on the iconic Megaman should flop, whilst a title with a modest cult following shows Keiji Inafune how it is done. Shantae the mystical belly dancer, who is for all intents and purposes WayForward’s mascot, has been around since 2002. You may not have heard of the character though, as her debut game appeared on the Gameboy Colour back when the handheld was on its last legs. Timing can make or break a release… just ask Gearbox how releasing Battleborn in the same month as Overwatch turned out! Hopefully Half-Genie Hero will give Shantae more exposure, because from what I hear all her games are excellent.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero sees the titular Djinn/Human hybrid return once again to protect the citizens of Scuttle Town from pirate harassment. In this soft reboot of the franchise Shantae travels across the land procuring materials that her uncle requires to assemble a giant dynamo, which can supposedly repel any attacker who may decide to target the settlement. Whilst on the scavenger hunt for components Shantae is periodically interrupted by a rogue’s gallery of villains (whose nefarious schemes include afflicting the populace with amnesia and fabricating counterfeit mermaids.) Hmm, I had a feeling that mermaid was a fake… there was something “fishy” about her.
Unlike previous titles, Half-Genie Hero is broken up into levels rather than being set in one massive Metroidvania style world. This doesn’t mean the need to explore has been abandoned though. Revisiting completed stages is mandatory, as each area houses secrets that can only be reached once Shantae has progressed far enough in the story to unlock new transformations. In her default form Shantae can whip enemies into submission with her lengthy locks and she can also cast a range of magical spells. Her humanoid body cannot overcome every obstacle though, which is where the ability to turn into critters comes in handy. As a crab for example Shantae can travel underwater, as an elephant she can use her bulk to smash through blocks and morphing into a spider allows her to traverse ceilings (spooking any Arachnophobic gamers in the process.)
My rating for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is four-stars. If you grew up enjoying 2D platformers I can highly recommend this game. The levels are well designed, the bosses are fun to battle and the soundtrack is top notch. Visually Half-Genie Hero must go down as the finest looking Shantae adventure to date. The pixel graphics found in earlier instalments have been replaced with 3D environments that are populated with gorgeously drawn two-dimensional sprites. High definition Shantae is sure to be a hit with toonophiles, especially during the loading screen were she wiggles her hips. Gameplay wise Half-Genie Hero is one of the better platformers I have played in recent times. Breaking up the game into bite-sized levels may be controversial for series fans but it worked for me, as my sense of direction is terrible (so I often get lost in expansive Metroidvania worlds.)
The only thing that I disliked about Half-Genie Hero would have to be the final level, were the developers decided to ratchet up the difficulty by sprinkling the location with instant death pitfalls and spikes. Other than that I have no complaints. Some more levels would have been nice, as I completed the story in just five hours, but I accept the game’s duration is ultimately constrained by the amount of Kickstarter revenue WayForward was able to attract. All that said I have plenty of trophies yet to earn and a new DLC character is on the horizon, so I still have a few more hours of entertainment waiting to keep me occupied. On a budget of $776k WayForward Technologies has done an exceptional job. Makes you wonder were all the money ($3 million) went in the woeful Mighty No. 9. If Shantae is a genie then shyster Keiji Inafune must be Jafar.