Developer WayForward, originally founded in 1990, can be best described as one of the earliest Indie studio pioneers. Throughout their history, they’ve seen great success across Sony’s and Nintendo’s handheld platforms, and they’ve recently stepped back into the spotlight thanks to their focus on PCs and home consoles. WayForward continues to develop retro inspired titles, and their latest re-envisioning of one of their most popular franchises, Shantae, stays within tradition.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a modernized series re-introduction for newcomers and fans alike. If you’re familiar with the originals, you’ll be treated to an entirely revamped experience that fuses the best parts of the franchise into one incredible package. The gorgeous art direction alone is worth the visit to Sequin Land. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero radiates with charm and personality, and it delivers challenging gameplay that heavily mirrors NES-era platformers. The stunning visuals are accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of the year—a genre mashup of the best kind. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a monumental upgrade to previous entries, and the perfect place to start if you’re a latecomer.
The kid-friendly plot is silly and amiable. At its worst, it simply serves to carry Shantae between cool, exotic locations. Shantae is tasked with protecting Scuttle Town against the self-proclaimed Pirate Queen Ricky Boots. If this sounds like an episode of Hello Kitty, you’re not far off. Sometimes the dialogue can overstay its welcome, and not all jokes land, but none of that matters once the gameplay kicks into high gear.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero plays like a mix between Donkey Kong, Metroid and Mega Man. She can whip-attack with her hair, she can equip an arsenal of magic spells, and she can transform into eight different creatures with unique abilities. Scuttle Town serves as Shantae’s hub area where she has access to various shops, side missions and a giant bird that transports players to the map-select screen.
The game takes its time to get started because it spends a little too much time telling a lukewarm story. Thankfully, when the action picks up, the pacing remains excellent throughout. It doesn’t take long before new dance transformations become available (dance transformations are similar to Super Mario’s suits, and they are Shantae’s primary tool for overcoming environmental obstacles.), and once the Metroidvania-style levels begin to unfold, Shantae is impossible to put down.
Up until the first bossfight, Shantae: Half-Genie may be misinterpreted for lacking challenge. However, the game has its share of hair-tearing moments. Like the many titles that influenced Shantae, this is a game for hardcore retro enthusiasts who thrive under painstaking conditions. I’m not calling Shantae the Dark Souls of 2D side scrollers by any means, but there are definite Mega Man moments where raw reflexes and talent are imperative for success. This thrill, with a hint of joyous frustration, is what makes Shantae: Half-Genie Hero so special.
Conclusion: Shantae: Half-Genie is the best Shantae entry to date, and one of WayForward’s finest releases in years. It’s a beautiful platformer that provides plenty of challenge for retro fans, even if there’s not much replay value once the game is completed. At 5 ½ hours, Shantae isn’t particularly long, but if you’re looking for a brief and fun distraction, Shantae: Half-Genie is an excellent choice.