Shantae: Half Genie Hero (Game Review)

Four years ago - long before I met the Alt:Mag team - the chaps at WayForward started a Kickstarter campaign for their next big game. They raised $400,000 (roughly £330,000) in less than a month, and by Christmas 2014 they reached a final count of $950,000 (£780,000). The game was originally planned to release two months earlier, but thanks to the extra funds, it was delayed for another two years. Finally, on 20th December last year, it arrived. That game is Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. I was one of 21,500 people who backed the game, and now I have the honour of telling you where all that time and money went. So brush up your dance moves and roll out the magic carpets - it’s time to dance through the danger!

In the words of one of the game’s NPCs, Half Genie-Hero is a “soft robot rabbit” - sorry, reboot - of the series. Once again, Shantae’s arch-enemy Risky Boots attacks Scuttle Town, meaning to steal blueprints for a new machine built by Shantae’s uncle. Risky is stopped, but the town is left in ruins and the inept Mayor Scuttlebutt fires Shantae from her job as Guardian again (Boo! Hiss!). With nothing to lose, Shantae agrees to help her uncle finish his invention: a Dynamo that will supply the town with electricity and keep it safe from attack. Shantae sets out on a journey across Sequin Land to find the materials they need, and is helped along the way by her friends Sky, Bolo, and Rottytops. However, Risky isn’t the only villain to worry about; this time there are other enemies - both old and new - for Shantae to tangle with.

Unlike the other games in the series, which are 2D adventures, Half-Genie Hero is broken up into stages and presented with hand-drawn characters in 3D environments. The new style may not appeal to everyone, but for all intents and purposes, it’s not to be sniffed at. This is the first Shantae game built from the ground up for consoles - and the results are gorgeous. It’s filled to the brim with cute characters, colourful worlds, and fluid animation that would give many of today’s cartoons a run for their money. Best of all are the bosses which, as always, are screen-filling behemoths that blend 2D animation with 3D models. Some of you may find it hard to believe, but they - along with the rest of the game’s visuals - don’t demand as much power as today’s AAA titles. My laptop is four years old now, but it ran the game perfectly on max settings. It should run just as well on the other platforms the game was released on: Playstation 4, PS Vita, Wii U, and Xbox One.

Despite being split into levels, the game plays much like the rest of the series. As Shantae you run, jump, fly, and swim from A to B, using your whip-like hair to kill enemies and clear hidden paths. You also collect jewels from your fallen foes to buy new items including weapons, armour, and magic potions. It may sound like every other platformer out there, but what sets Shantae apart from them are her dances - in each level, she learns a new dance that allows her to transform into a creature and find new areas. Most of the time, finding them involves going back to levels you’ve already cleared to reach places you couldn’t the first time. The only difference here is the level-based structure makes backtracking much quicker. At the end of the level, you’ll fight a boss who will test your skills to the limit - and I do mean the limit. Your enemies range from pirates and soldiers to monsters big enough to take up two screens, and they will all give you a tough time if you’re not ready. I was nearly beaten twice by the second boss in the game: a giant, captive mermaid who didn't quite appreciate my efforts to set her free.

If there’s one thing Half-Genie Hero has going against it, it’s a problem every other Shantae game has suffered from: its length. The average player can finish the main story in five hours - or longer if they want to find everything - and it’s entirely possible to finish in less than three. My first playthrough lasted six-and-a-half hours, but the new structure made it feel shorter despite my trouble with the bosses. It’s good news for speed-runners and PS Vita players, but not for those expecting a longer adventure. However, you shouldn’t let the game’s current length put you off. That’s where the extra funds come in.

As we speak, all the extra money raised on Kickstarter is being used to make the game bigger. Two extra stages were added in development, and a new hard mode has just been released as a free update on every platform. Better still, WayForward are taking a leaf out of Shovel Knight’s book and making four new campaigns following Risky Boots, Sky, Bolo, and Rotty. We’ll have to wait for them, but for now, we know each character will have their own story, their own abilities, and their own paths through the game’s levels. They too will be added in future updates, so whether you buy the game now or wait until the new campaigns arrive is entirely up to you. Either way, I urge you to play it. Half-Genie Hero isn’t the first crowd-funded game, but unlike a certain other game released last year (I'm talking to you, Mighty No. 9), it was so worth the wait. Oh, and I forgot to mention it has a very catchy soundtrack courtesy of Jake Kaufman.

Did you back Shantae on Kickstarter? What did you like about Half-Genie Hero? Or are you planning to wait until Risky, Sky, Bolo, and Rotty join the party? Leave a comment below, on Facebook, or on Twitter and tell us what you think!

Alt:Mag © Kaizo Minds Collective 2020 | Layout designed by Rumah Dijual and Lewis Cox.