Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the latest entry in the Shantae series that once started on Nintendo-only platforms. It’s long gone multiplatform, and with that step is finally a move to “HD”. I emphasize “HD” in that manner because this is still an indie game limited by a crowd-funded budget, and it should be expected that the definition of “HD” here is in resolution and use of 3D polygons more than pixels as opposed to its class of graphical output.
If you’ve played a Shantae game before, particularly the last one, it will feel immediately familiar. For those that haven’t, it’s a side-scrolling platformer where your primary attack is whipping your hair. This entry, however, makes some clever changes to the series for the better. This is primarily in the “dances”, and in particular, I am talking about the transformations. Sure, you get magic and some are pretty cool, but there’s a freakin’ super-cute monkey, crab, and elephant! These transformations continue to pan out throughout the game, used to explore where one could not before. These transformations do also get unlockable moves as well, expanding said exploration. It’s all rather intelligent, cute, and ultimately well done. However, not all is peachy: exploration is great… except when it’s constant back-tracking. While this topic will eventually transition into the content segment, let me say that it’s both fun to backtrack to different parts of a level, but painful when you realize that you’ll be constantly doing that. The game’s collectathons are actually not tedious, though wholly uninspired, and it wouldn’t have nearly been so bad had there been enough places to do it in. Unfortunately, there isn’t, and the backtracking meant revisiting many places… again… and again…
So just how many places are there? I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just blatantly say “not a lot”. I almost accidentally “one-hundred-percented” the game in just over 6 hours and I was only exploring to accomplish progression! I get that a limited budget doesn’t help along with the move to a new engine, but the cost of the game does start to factor in. While it’s $20 digitally, making it a somewhat easier pill to swallow, its steeper $30 price tag for physical release is not quite justified even with the soundtrack CD (which I’ll discuss later). An art gallery, easy “Hero” mode and upcoming DLC do little to rectify this.
Much like its predecessor, here’s where this game gets its higher marks. The move to a new engine is met with quite a competent level of finesse. The polygonal graphics are accented by simple textures, but done to purposely meld with a more animated (and anime) artstyle used for characters rendered in realtime. No longer are the characters just cute cartoons in dialogue, but now run around in their very own cartoony artstyle. Sure, I admit I miss the more voluptuous artstyle from Pirate’s Curse, as they probably caved a little to SJWs and toned down their chest-emphasis on just about every female except one boss, but the animation and feel of the characters is more lively than ever before thanks to this exceptional accomplishment. It might even have the best loading screen animation, ever. Furthermore, the game runs in 60fps, and while I encountered some dips when things get kind of crazy, it never hampers gameplay, and it remains mostly solid otherwise. As for the soundtrack, I have mixed feelings here. The issue isn’t that the quality of the music is bad, because it’s actually really good. It’s that a lot of it is remixes of songs from the previous entry. While I get that some places and some songs will be kept between games as a sort of “theme”, the use of remixes here for whole locations took away from the more diverse feel of the previous entry. So while the music is good, it feels, well… like a “backtrack”.
I start by immediately saying that this entry does not live up to its predecessor. While it’s substantially better-looking in its move to “HD”, and has designed a clever transformation system for Shantae that is intoxicatingly cute, it does bring with it a number of core issues. The extremely low number of locales (and consequently little content) makes it a bit hard to justify, especially with all the backtracking. Additionally, while its new remixes sound great, the overall soundtrack lacks the impact of its predecessor. While I applaud the efforts and see the series actually moving up from here, this entry has fallen a notch from Pirate’s Curse, even if it is still good fun.
I give Shantae: Half-Genie Hero…