DEVELOPER: Wayforward Technologies
PUBLISHERS: Wayforward Technologies, Marvelous USA
INITIAL RELEASE: December 20, 2016
When the Shantae franchise first poofed into existence, it was at something of an awkward time. The first game launched on the Game Boy Color, but only right at the end of that console’s run, so it became something of a lost gem. It’s a shame too because, for my money, the Shantae games are some of the best side-scrolling platformers I’ve played in recent memory. So naturally, I was pretty keen for Half-Genie Hero, Wayforward’s latest Kickstarted effort in the Shantae series.
So excited, in fact that I’m only talking about it about two months after its release. Ciest la vie, I suppose.
There’s few games I can think of playing recently that feel as smooth or intuitive as Half-Genie Hero feels to play, but that’s not overly surprising given that glorious game feel has always been a strong hallmark of the series. Every move, jump, and attack is smooth as silk and satisfyingly responsive, with level progression and design that keeps everything moving at a good clip and varies up obstacles and challenges enough that levels rarely begin to feel overly repetitive or bland. This is helped doubly so by the return of Shantae’s cheeky animal transformation dances (absent of the previous game) that, once acquired, gives every level several new dimensions. Much like Shantae in her human form, the transformations also feel great to control as well, and it’s genuinely impressive how satisfying their weight and movement feels. Whether you’re turning Shantae into the cutest goddamn cartoon elephant I’ve ever seen, a mermaid, a monkey, or even a bat, they all handle exactly how you would want them to. There’s always something distinctly satisfying to getting a new transformation and having an epiphany about a previous location where that would come in handy. Its also impressive how balanced each transformation is: while some seem redundant or made obsolete after acquiring newer ones, Half-Genie Hero always finds to keep each form consistently useful and well-integrated in the fabric of the game.
With that said, however, the game’s structure does dip perhaps a bit too much into backtracking and revisiting previous locations. Half-Genie Hero fairly quickly falls into a pattern of completing one level before backtracking through other levels to unlock a new level, and basically just rinse and repeat that until the game is over. Of course, the levels are delightful enough ( and the game short enough) that this is only a minor complaint, but given the amount of polish that Half-Genie Hero sports, this very formulaic structure sticks out to a slightly uncomfortable degree. Also, compared to The Pirate’s Curse, it sometimes seemed like it was too easy to just hoard healing items and tank through every single end-of-level boss without too much difficulty, especially if you mined every level extensively for power-ups like I did. And, I think it would be remiss of me not to mention that every part of Half-Genie Hero that forces you to use the Harpy form can go screw itself a thousand times over. I don’t play Shantae games for them to turn into high-budget Flappy Bird knock-offs, dag nabbit.
Perhaps Shanate’s greatest charms, however, have always come from its distinct style and flair, which has been a series mainstay since day one. While the series has been something a chameleon when it comes to its art style, the common thread running through every fresh coat of paint is how great each style has looked. Half-Genie Hero (shockingly) is no different in this department, and its art style and graphics are gorgeous. Half-Genie Hero’s take on Sequin Land is as charming as any other: loaded up with a vibrant color palette and sharp and crisp character models that all pop impressively off the screen, and instantly bury themselves in your mind. It’s a kind of style that, to me, evokes everything I love about animation, and it all has this great “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe to it.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, much like the rest of the series, is brimming with personality beyond just its highly appealing visual style. Shantae’s characters and dialogue, while simple, are both loaded with a delightful, bubbly personality, which is infectiously cheery and upbeat. Its also at times surprisingly clever, carrying itself with just the right amount of winking self-deprecation, to say nothing of its carefully paced fourth-wall breaks and meta-jokes, including one personal favorite running gag that gets an amazing reveal. And the Saturday morning cartoon comparison is as valid in Shantae’s writing as every else, as every level plays out almost like an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. Half-Genie Hero isclever and witty enough to not be dull ot older audiences, while being wholesome and kid-friendly enough to be welcoming to all ages, and I seriously think that Shantae is an amazing animated kid’s show waiting to happen. Seriously, someone get on that.
So all in all, Half-Genie Hero may be the best entry in the Shantae series yet, loaded with excellent platforming action and charm and personality pouring out of its metaphorical eyeballs. Barring some miscues with certain aspects of level design and structure, Half-Genie Hero is pretty close to being at the pinnacle of quality for side-scrolling platformers, and if that kind of thing is right up your alley, then I would wholeheartedly recommend Half-Genie Hero.