Shantae: Half-Genie Hero - Review

 Only half a genie but a full-fledged hero!

Console: Nintendo Switch.

Out of all the currently released Shantae games Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the odd one out. Nowadays MetroidVanias are more known and liked thanks to many Indie developers cranking out some very good games. Ori, Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge etc. Back when WayForward started a Kickstarter campaign for this game, this wasn't yet the case. To appeal to a wider audience they decided to ditch the Metroidvania gameplay in favour of just your standard platformer. Perhaps not what Shantae fans wanted out but it did work. It got people like myself to buy the game and, with it as a starting point, played through the whole series.
When I played this game first I didn't have this blog yet so while all the other Shantae games have reviews on here, which you can check out through this hand-dandy portal, Half-Genie Hero didn't. Let's rectify that right now! 

To be clear though, this review will only be about the base game, not the "Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition". I'll cover that release and all its extra content in a separate review. Gives me more room to talk about the base experience, the core game, here. 

Now then, let's dive into this fun ride!

Shantae is told by a glowing light that tells her of a coming evil that only she can stop. After waking from this strange dream she goes to Uncle Mimic to talk about it while he works on a brand-new machine: the Dynamo. Mimic´s newest invention attracts some unwanted attention, however, as Pirate Risky Boots attacks Scuttle Town in an attempt to steal its blueprints. For courageously defending Scuttle Town by stopping Risky, the Mayor gives Shantae the boot. Uncle Mimic tells her not to worry. This isn't the first time the Mayor has pulled this trick after all and with her schedule wide-open, she can help him find the last few parts for the Dynamo.
Thus, Shantae sets out across all of Sequin Land to find the parts, running into quite a bit of trouble along the way. 

The story of Half-Genie Hero is functional. Something to tie all of the levels together with a pinch of Genie lore. The dialogue and the vibe are as good as always. That mix of older pop-culture parodies alongside self-referential humour and 4th wall-breaking shenanigans, all done in good fun, is at full display here. Makes each dialogue box a treat to read. 

The plot, however, is also rather disjointed and formulaic. You go to a level, experience its micro-plot, then go back to the previous level to get something for the Dynamo, rinse and repeat. These micro-plots are fun but don´t really tie into the larger narrative. If they had, for example, included Shantae's 'replacement' Holly, into the game for longer, made them compete for the post of Guardian Genie throughout each level, you would have had more connective tissue.

Shantae in Scuttle Town, the game's opening level.

Shantae Half-Genie Hero is a 2D action platformer. You know what that means by now; it's like a Mario game. You run, jump and in this case use your hair as a whip to damage enemies to get to the end of the stage. Through Shantae´s signature magical dance, she can transform into different animals with unique abilities that allow her to progress through the stage. From the climbing monkey to the boulder-breaking elephant. Each animal also has at least one upgrade that you can unlock for them, like a dash, by backtracking and exploring previously visited locations. 

Shantae can also use many other magical abilities such as throwing fireballs. These are upgrades you buy at the shop with all the gems you collect across your journey and are no longer one-use items. There's a dedicated magic meter now and as long as you have the magic left, you can keep using these abilities and their upgrades to your heart's content. I like this change. With single-use items, I always tend to hoard them. The 'if I use them now, I can't use them later when I might need them' mentality. Magic refills are plentiful, encouraging you to experiment.

All of this makes a game that, on paper, has a lot of variety with all the abilities Shantae has. The emphasis here is on paper. In practice, a lot of these upgrades are completely unnecessary. When fully upgraded, Shantae's basic attacks are more than enough to take down everything that the game throws at you. Once you unlock the magical tiara, which is not hard to do if you put some time into going back to old levels and explore, you can abuse the infinite magic it gives you extremely easily. 

Use it together with the invincibility a fully upgraded magic shield gives you and you can throw caution to the wind and cruise through the game without ever needing to master anything. You just have to know the basics. I know that you can turn all these upgrades off in the inventory screen, make the game harder that way, but that doesn't solve the problem for me. If you need to handicap yourself that much to get a decent challenge that, to me, is a symptom of an unbalanced game.

Each of the 6 levels are well designed. You can feel the MetroidVania origins in how many hidden pathways there are that you can only explore once you return to the levels with more abilities. Each level has a good mix of basic platforming skills, enemy placement, secrets to find and some fun, if simple, boss fights. You can, as I said, easily break the game's difficulty but that doesn't take away that there are some well-designed platforming challenges here. 

The animal transformations are well integrated I find. They are mostly used to find new paths and secrets and all that but they can be used in platforming as well. From giving you different solutions to the challenge at hand to making it easier to traverse the stage in a revisit. 

There's also some nice variety. From a magic carpet race to sliding down a ramp full of barrels to a good amount of different enemy types. The levels don't overstay their welcome. Your first visit is always more involved than any of the revisits thanks to some stage-specific hazards that only show up on that first visit. A sandstorm, for instance. The game also pulls little tricks, like changing the time of day, to make them feel more 'different' so they feel a little different on your revisits. 

Shantae: Barrel-Rider

I have to say though: the game is on the short side. It took me just over 6-hours to finish the game, already short for a 2D platformer, but that's not even mentioning how much I backtracked in those 3 hours. For example, right before the final boss, the game throws another fetch quest at you that requires you to go back to each level again to complete it. Clearly done to pad the game time. Yes, it is optional but you need to do so to get the true ending and the game makes abundantly clear that you need to finish this fetch quest first. I could´ve gone without this much revisiting old areas. 

Due to its Kickstarter origins, Shantae Half-Genie Hero has a bunch of extra modes that started out as stretch goals, two of which are in the base game. The Hero and Hardcore modes. 

Hero mode unlocks most, but not all, of Shantea's animal transformations from the start. It's a good mode for speedrunners but also cuts down on backtracking. You can get stuff like the upgrades for your animal forms earlier making them more useful throughout your adventure. 

Hardcore mode is what the name implies. A harder difficulty. Enemy health bars and damage output are doubled, the timing on things is shorter, those sorts of things. The game is better balanced and more challenging in this mode. If you already have good experience with platformers, this is the mode I recommend you play. These two modes thankfully give more content beyond the short main mode but aren´t very exciting. Rather standard inclusions, you know. 

We've now arrived at the graphics and soundtrack section of this review. The visuals are a combination of 2D HD sprite work against 3D rendered backgrounds. I know the latter isn't all that well-liked by many but I quite enjoy it. I think it looks good and gives the levels a sense of depth. Not to mention how nicely colourful it all is. The soundtrack, once again provided by Jake Kaufmann, is also lovely. Upbeat and chip-tuney but with modern instruments and techniques like a beautiful flute with some of those old-school GameBoy noises mixed in. 

One last thing: the more I read into the game's original Kickstarter campaign, the more the feeling crept up on me some of the game's issues are a result of the campaign. Unreached goals result in unnecessary and brief appearances and short length because levels just weren't funded. Makes me think that if the game had not been a Kickstarter, or at the very least had been fully funded, would've been a better and more full-fledged title. 


With Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, WayForward hoped to create a Shantae game that would appeal to a wider audience and bring more people to the series. In that, they succeeded. 

Breaking away from the Metroidvania formula, the game delivers a streamlined platforming experience. It has engaging mechanics, vibrant visuals and an all-around fun atmosphere due to its spirited soundtrack and charming dialogue and humour. The game however grapples with gameplay imbalance and a somewhat disjointed narrative. It's, especially by the end, too easy. You can abuse its mechanics to just break the challenge in half. The game's short length may leave players wanting more from this fun but flawed title. 

With all of this in my, while my review of the Ultimate Edition might still be pending, I can already tell you that package is the better value with all the extra content it has. If you're interested in Half-Genie Hero buy that package. The extra cost is worth it.