Platformers, folks: they’re here to stay, so you should probably get used to it. It feels like we see another new hop-and-bop title show up every other week or so these days, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we’ve got great adventures like Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge and the Great Giana Sisters games lately, after all. If you’re a platformer fan, you’re probably familiar with WayForward’s Shantae, a Game Boy Color classic that earned a hardcore and devoted fanbase over the years, eventually leading to several sequels, and you’re also probably familiar with Shantae’s return in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.
If none of this is ringing a bell: Shantae is a half-genie who lives in Scuttle Town, a seaside burg known for high levels of adventure as well as a consistent forecast of pirate menace. Shantae serves as the town’s guardian, using her magic powers and whippable hair to help keep everyone safe, and she often finds herself at odds with the villainous pirate Risky Boots. She’s pretty good at her job, despite being fired from it every other day or so, and it’s largely thanks to Shantae that Scuttle Town and the better part of the surroundings aren’t a smoldering crater by now.
In Half-Genie Hero, we find Shantae chasing down Risky Boots yet again after the pirate steals the blueprints for an automated defense system known as the Dynamo device. Risky Boots shouldn’t be allowed to have anything more dangerous than string, so those blueprints need to be found ASAP. You’ll do so in typical 2D platformer style, though Shantae’s got a few tricks up her sleeves (?) to spice things up a little.
For instance, she’s got that whip-hair I mentioned, which serves as her normal attack. I can’t imagine how she doesn’t get headaches doing that all day, but I guess that’s magic for you. Speaking of magic, Shantae can also turn into various animal forms through the power of belly dancing. These range from a wall-climbing monkey to a mouse that can get through tight spaces to a harpy that can flap around. Finally, there’s a selection of magical subweapons and upgrades that help keep the combat from turning into a bland whipfest. You’ll need all of this to take on some impressive-looking enemies and bosses. Just check out those screenshots! They’re gorgeous!
This sort of 2D platforming and upgrade-mongering has been popular lately, particularly with indie developers and the Kickstarter scene. It’s no surprise that it’s been honed to a fine edge by now; Half-Genie Hero feels like a dream to play. Shantae’s controls are incredibly responsive, to say nothing of the joy inherent in playing a game that looks this nice. I was a little surprised at the more free-form, exploration-focused style, which contrasts with games with more linear gameplay like Shovel Knight but isn’t necessarily a flaw. If we were to make a retro comparison, this is NES Strider to Shovel Knight’s DuckTales…except they already remade Strider and it was pretty great, so take that as you will, I suppose.
As mentioned, this is a beautiful game that really excels in terms of both art and sound design. There’s even a cute little lyrical Shantae theme that plays over the game’s opening level. I might throw plenty of shade at Kickstarter, but the money that WayForward earned from their campaign was certainly put to work here. If I had any complaints, they’d be related to the Half-Genie Hero’s surprisingly short run time; it averages around 5 hours for an initial playthrough if you take your time and explore.
Honestly, that’s on par with previous Shantae titles but still manages to disappoint given how engrossing the game can be. Postgame content includes Hero Mode, a sort of more difficult remix of the game’s campaign, and we can also expect a new campaign starring Risky Boots, so you could reasonably get around ten hours out of Half-Genie Hero.
$20 gets you ten hours of classic platforming that impresses with solid gameplay instead of leaning on the pixel-art-and-nostalgia crutch. There are certainly worse deals out there these days, and if the only really terrible thing I can say about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is that I wish there was more of it; that makes it a winner in my book. Shantae’s return further cements her place as one of the platforming greats, and fans new and old alike would do well to check out Half-Genie Hero.