Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

Shantae Half-Genie Hero is a 2D platformer with Metroidvania elements. The pixel-art visuals of previous games is dearly missed, but the new visual style here is beautiful. The hand-drawn-esque visuals make you think you are playing a living cartoon. The amazing soundtrack just adds to the enjoyment and will have you tapping your foot the entire journey through. The game starts out sort of difficult but quickly opens up the more upgrades you obtain and power-ups you gather. You will find yourself wanting to explore every inch of the game’s stages looking for secrets and hidden pathways.

Story

The story starts out with Shantae sleeping in her bed, only to be awoken by a mysterious voice. Following the sound of the voice, she stumbles upon a hidden cave where she is told of a forthcoming evil that she must stop. The next morning finally arrives and Shantae assumes it was dream. Later in the day, Scuttle town is ambushed by Risky Boots and her minions who end up stealing the blueprints for Uncle Mimic’s invention that was built to protect Scuttle Town from attacks as well as power the town. Shantae then sets out to retrieve such blueprints and defeat Risky Boots in the process. She succeeds, but is then ultimately fired from her job as the town’s guardian due to the excessive damage Risky caused before she fled. Having lost her job, she instead sets out to search for the components needed to finish Uncle Mimic’s invention. The meat of the game begins here, and more to the story is revealed, but that’s climbing into “spoiler” territory. Plenty of well written dialog will keep you interested in what is going on and have you chuckling to yourself at some dialog exchanges.

Presentation

Simply superb. Where do I start when laying out this games presentation? Visuals are bright and colorful, showing off an eye catching color palette. I’m reminded of sugary cereal boxes, the aisles of a toy store, extravagant flower gardens, a bowl of Skittles, or a freshly opened box of crayons, in terms of how many colors are represented here on-screen. That, coupled with the hand-drawn-esque art style of the world and it’s characters will deceit you into thinking you are watching a finely produced cartoon.

As I mentioned before, I am a sucker for the pixel-art of this franchise’s past, but what they came up with here also happens to appeal to my appreciation for 2D animation. Still a win in my book, it’s like asking if I would prefer one thousand dollars in twenty dollar bills, or one thousand dollars in fifty dollar bills. Certain sections of levels are also given 2.5D elements, such as a boss fight being fought at the top of a cylindrical platform. It really brings this world to life, giving it depth and making it feel like there’s plenty to explore.

Gameplay and Design

The platforming is precise and feels great. I felt as if I had full control of my character even in many of the transformations Shantae can perform throughout the game. I never had a problem with playing the game due to issues with the controls. Levels are laid out so you always feel like exploring every inch when you gain the abilities to do so. I often found areas I couldn’t reach quiet yet because I was lacking a transformation or special attack which only motivated me to replay levels once I gained said abilities. There are around 12 transformations that all have their own uses. Depending on which ones they are, they allow Shantae to swim, climb walls, break boulders, travel on ceilings, squeeze into tight pathways, or fly. Some even heal Shantae, restore magic, or teleport to previously traveled areas.

At the level selection screen, each level is shown to have a certain number of secret items and abilities to uncover so you know what there is left for you to find before declaring each level 100% completed. Each item you gather will be checked off the list as to give you an idea of how far along you are. Usually, if you feel stuck, just go see if there are any items left in levels you have previously visited, and most likely, finding said missing items are just what you needed to progress further. Other items to find that don’t progress the story or side missions are heart containers, or new abilities for your transformations plenty of the abilities end up being necessities but some you could honestly progress without finding, although you will need to if you want to 100% the game. Some transformations or their abilities can also end up straight out replacing other ones due to them doing a similar task, but more effectively. Nothing disappointing however as each ability will get it’s fair share of uses before eventually being replaced.

Sound is one of the best aspects of this game. The music is great, had me whistling along the whole way through. I even went so far as to add some of these tracks to my favorable gaming music playlist. Each song fits it’s respective atmosphere and really helped keep me engaged during some tedious or relentless parts of levels. If it wasn’t for the music, some sections I would have hated playing due to the difficulty, but I kept wanting to hear the track, so I was motivated to keep trying. The music in the mermaid factory comes to mind. Voice acting is done very minimally here, other than a few phrases uttered by Shantae or other main characters, the dialog is all spoken through speech bubbles and subtitles.

Conclusion

This game was very enjoyable. I kept wanting to come back and play it, which is saying a lot due to the sheer volume of great games there are out right now. I would totally recommend the Vita version over any other version of this game, this type of short but dense game fits best on a handheld. Metroidvania type games feel like they are made to be played on portable systems. The game may be short to some, but I found it’s length to be very reasonable. The fact to you must backtrack in each level pads out the playtime but I never felt disappointed by that. There is enough variety and things to uncover as you never feel as if you are wasting your time. The game asks you to save quite often which is perfect for quick on-the-go play sessions. There also happens to be multiple endings and “new game plus” with other characters to play as. You will WANT to come back for more, and the game gives plenty incentive. The varied color palette looks great on the Vita’s sharp screen. The music is truly great and fits each environment well. It makes you pumped to play the game and keeps even the most frustrating parts tolerable. I also highly appreciate that this game released with the option to buy a physical copy in stores as I could have easily expected this to have been a “download only” title, as some previous titles in this series were. This is the type of game I love owning a physical copy for, to look at and hold in my hands.

Score: 8 out of 10

Shantae Half-Genie Hero is an exciting adventure that is a treat for the senses. Fun, balanced gameplay, mixed with exceptional visuals and outstanding music make this a must play. You may find yourself falling in love with this series afterwards.

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