Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review (XONE)

I love the artwork and animation in Shantae and that is a huge part of the reason why I wanted to play Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.  Shantae and her friends are just adorably cute and look great, but Half-Genie Hero is more than just eye-candy.  It is a wonderful combination of retro 2D platformer gameplay design paired with modern presentation so it plays like a SNES game, but looks like an XONE game, and I am happy to say it nails both aspects pretty much perfectly.  I’m not always the biggest fan of 2D platformers, but I fell in love with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero’s art as well as its gameplay.  See all of the details here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: WayForward  
  • Developer: WayForward
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: 2D Platformer
  • Pros: Awesome character designs and animation; great presentation overall; fun and accessible gameplay; good challenge
  • Cons: Lack of direction causes pacing problems; repeated visits to every level
  • MSRP: $20

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the latest in a long running series of Shantae games, but it’s okay if this is your first one.  The storyline is simple enough, so the only thing you’ll really be missing out on are the returning characters where you’re supposed to go “Oh wow!  It’s so and so from blarg game!  I remember her.” but your reaction will instead be “Oh wow!  She looks cute and awesome!”, so no big loss.  The gist of the story in Half-Genie Hero is that Shantae, as the protector of Scuttle Town, has to defend the town and surrounding area from pirates, robots, gators, rogue mermaids, and other enemies trying to take over while also finding the parts for a new device Shantae’s uncle is building that will, hopefully, protect Scuttle Town so Shantae doesn’t have to work so hard. 

The gameplay in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is pure oldschool 2D platformer goodness.  Previous games in the series had a more open world Metroidvania-style setup, but Half-Genie Hero opts for linear levels that you have to visit multiple times to open up new areas and secrets after you earn new abilities.  Shantae’s abilities mainly consist of transformations that turn her into a crab, or mermaid, or elephant, or bat, or monkey, or other animals that let you do things like climb on walls, easily swim through the water, break through tough blocks, and more.  The first time you go through a level there will be a lot of inaccessible areas and things you can’t do yet, but as you earn new transformations you’ll be able to open them up.

This gameplay setup makes the first couple of hours of the game kind of repetitive as you have to play through the same few levels over and over and over as you acquire new abilities that mostly just open up a new path that leads to another ability that leads to a new path.  Eventually, the game gives you the ability to skip past unnecessary areas of levels and go straight to the section you need to go to, but up to that point you’ll be seeing a lot of the same stuff over and over again. 

It also doesn’t help that the game doesn’t really tell you what to do next.  People in Scuttle Town will give you missions with location hints, and there is even a character dedicated entirely to telling you what to do next, but everything is so vague that it is hard to know where to go or even what you’re supposed to do when you get there.  This leads to a lot of playing levels you didn’t need to, or playing levels and accidentally missing the new path or ability you have access to now, which can be frustrating. 

You do eventually get things figured out and get into the rhythm of the game, though, and from there on Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is pretty fantastic.  The variety of the transformations, along with other magic like lightning and fireballs, make fighting enemies and traversing the levels a lot of fun.  The game is also surprisingly challenging with some pretty tough platforming sections that will test your 2D gaming skills as well as your patience.  It has that oldschool kind of 2D platformer design, which means jumping around on disappearing blocks and enemies placed in just the perfect position, that jump at just the perfect time, that totally screw you over and kill you.  Once you learn how to get through a level, then you have a boss fight to contend with but, thankfully, the bosses are generally pretty straightforward and easy.

As I said above, the character designs and overall artwork are a big reason why I wanted to play Half-Genie Hero and they did not disappoint.  Previous Shantae games were made with portables in mind at first, and had a retro sprite-based aesthetic, but Half-Genie Hero was made for current-gen HD consoles and features a smooth hand-drawn style that is absolutely stunning.  The characters are fantastic looking, the animation is smooth and crazy great, and the backgrounds, while not particularly detailed in most cases, are clean and good looking.  The music is also incredibly good and perfectly fitting the theme of the game as well.  I just love the way this game looks, though.  I can watch gifs of Shantae and the other characters dancing all day.

Put it all together and you have a pretty enjoyable 2D platformer overall in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.  There are some annoying bits, mostly due to a lack of direction, but the core platforming gameplay is a ton of fun and well worth your time.  The game also has solid replay value, so your second time through won’t be nearly as frustrating as the first.  There are extra unlockable characters to play as when you beat the game, too, which will certainly extend the replay value a fair bit.  Considering the sheer amount of content – with at least a little more to come as free DLC – the $20 asking price seems pretty fair for the quality of the gameplay and presentation.  Overall, I really liked Shantae: Half-Genie Hero a lot and can highly recommend it to 2D platformer fans or anyone just interested in the fantastic art style.  Buy it.