Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero (First Impressions – Spoiler Free!)
I can’t remember exactly why I bought Shantae at first. I think at the time it was probably the character design. It was 2002, I was 13, and long purple hair was pretty much the dream.
Shantae turned out to be one of my favourite games. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s an incredibly underrated platform game that received great reviews but didn’t really sell so well, developed by WayForward and released by Capcom (at least at first). You play as Shantae, a spirited half-genie guardian of a small fishing town in Sequin Land. The main tool of attack is Shantae’s long ponytail, but as the player uncovers dungeons, they gain the ability to morph into different animals with all sorts of powers.
I actually haven’t played previous Shantae sequels – moreso because I didn’t know they were out there until recently. In 2013, WayForward put up a kickstarter to fund their newest installment– Shantae: ½ Genie Hero. To this day, it’s the only kickstarter I’ve ever backed, and while I wish I’d gotten my PS4 in time to change my platform, I was still pretty excited to get my Steam download code earlier this month. ½ Genie Hero is finally released, and oh boy have I been excited to return to Sequin Land!
This newest installment starts out when Shantae is woken up in the middle of the night and discovers a mysterious trapdoor in her uncle’s home. There she meets something that warns her of upcoming danger. The very next day, things get heated when notorious pirate, Risky Boots, attacks Scuttle Town.
1/2 Genie Hero is currently available on Wii U, PS4, Vita, and Steam.
From the start, ½ Genie Hero features charming little 2-D(ish) graphics – I’m definitely loving the art style. It’s colourful, fun, and reminiscent of the original Shantae. Character designs have received a bit of an update, while remaining completely identifiable. Even the small details – like Shantae’s movement when you stand still – carry on the spirit of the original game.
Shantae is still the perfect sassy, playful protagonist, and her interaction with the other characters is as fun as ever. The jokes can be a little simple at times, but I found that more charming than boring. Shantae is endearing – she’s fun, funny, and adventurous, with a big heart. It’s a nice relief to have a heroine who is unapologetic ally spirited (or maybe I’m just getting too used to the sardonic, overly serious and/or hopeless protagonist archetype?)
The majority of the dialogue isn’t voiced, which helps with the oldschool platformer feel, and the minimal voicing was perfectly matched to the characters. Given this approach, I was a little surprised by the voiced song that played during the first stage. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t quite fit the classic aesthetic that the game seems to go for. The rest of the music is great, with hints of the fantastical desert setting. Shantae’s music was always one of my favourite parts – it had perfect accompaniments for crawling through ancient, forgotten dungeons.
½ Genie Hero drops the player nearly right into the action, with minimal busywork at the start. Don’t expect a tutorial or to leisurely explore Scuttle Town. Just get ready for some hair-whipping, tinkerbat-smacking action. Fortunately, it plays like most platformers, so really as long as you can figure out how to move, jump, and attack, you’re good to go! The strategies and obstacles will be familiar to most gamers – timed ledges popping out of walls, throwing dynamite at the big boss, etc.
There was one disappointing detail for me in the gameplay – unless I missed it, the dancing is a lot simpler now. I could be wrong, but if I remember right, the original Shantae required you to do the specific dance for each animal before you could change. In 1/2 Genie Hero it just requires hitting D and the pointing to the animal you want. In the long run this won’t be a big deal, but the dance mechanism was one of my favourite parts of the original game, and I would have loved to have it again. It also gets a little annoying that you have to hit one out of a rotation. If you don’t time it right, you’ll spend a few seconds switching back and forth to get the right change.
It’s not uncommon for a game to try to capture the classic 2D feel and fail. Shantae: ½ Genie Hero absolutely succeeds – at least so far. The updated graphics make the game feel shiny and new while still keeping the original Shantae aesthetic in mind. The gameplay is familiar, but also fun – just challenging enough to keep it interesting, without being too difficult. It’s always a little refreshing to step back into games where you’ve got a few main buttons, instead of sixty-eight various combos to keep track of. There’s an art to updating an old game, and WayForward certainly has a grasp on it.
Now, I will caution that so far the story is moving fairly slowly. The game drops the player right in, but soon ends up in a cycle of running errands to help Uncle Mimic build his newest machine. This on its own isn’t so bad at first, but the player has to spend a substantial amount of time revisiting old dungeons. After a few hours (even with the excitement of new abilities and new secrets to uncover) this can get a little tiring.
It also means that the story takes awhile to really move forward, but most of the time the stages are engaging enough that that’s not too big a deal. The focus is definitely moreso on dungeon crawling than plot. Fortunately the dungeons are interesting enough to make it worthwhile. Though if there’s one tip I’ve got, it’s to find the hidden shop in one of the dungeons and buy yourself a warp dance – it will make things a lot less time-consuming when all you need is to deliver a lollipop in Mermaid Falls or roast some gators.
½ Genie Hero is definitely a return to the Shantae I loved and played for hours on end. I think most players familiar with the series will enjoy this latest addition. Or if you just enjoy fun and colourful platformers, give it a try! It’s worth checking out. (P.S. It’s on sale on Steam until January 2nd!)