To preface my review, I would simply like to say that I have not played any of the previous Shantae games (although I would like to after playing Half-Genie Hero) and am basing all of my observations/critiques on my experience with Half-Genie Hero alone. With that said, I don’t have many critiques but have plenty of praise about nearly everything the game has to offer. The first thing nearly anyone will notice is just how bright and clean the game truly is. Every detail in Shantae is sharply defined, vibrantly colored, and moves with a fluidity most games simply can’t compare to. The 2D art style plays a major part in this fluidity as it allows many elements on the screen to have enough detail to be visually impressive and move without any bit of stagger or slowdown. This sense of fluid movement is perfectly paired with a very catchy soundtrack that never seems to get old and has unique songs for each of the game’s levels. Each song sets the speed for the level it accommodates while also giving Shantae something to dance to as she uses the various magic forms found throughout the game to complete said levels. By using these magic forms, Shantae is tasked with stopping a sudden crime spree before any one of the several crime lords can finish their various plots.
Based on how Shantae reacts when she confronts each of the main villains, it seems most of them have met her in previous games. Because of this, new players may feel a little lost at first but luckily the game never requires players to know anything about the previous games in order to progress the story. The nice thing about these relationships already being formed is that Half-Genie Hero doesn’t have to waste any time setting up deeper motives or anything like that. Since the game relies on boxes of text to convey information, taking the time to explain each villain would take way too long and ruin the natural flow of the game’s story. If a player can’t keep the flow going, there is even a character that provides optional hints. Most times players will be able to figure out where to go and what to do based on what the goofy characters around town will say when talked to. Every time a character speaks, their personality becomes pretty clear as all of the dialogue in the game feels more or less natural, adding to its overall charm. Even though the game’s levels are all unique and fairly disjointed, the story events have a clear order that forces players to revisit old levels in a fun and interesting way.
The world of Half-Genie Hero has a hub world, five densely packed levels, and a final challenge stage that ends the game when beaten. In addition to being played once to defeat the boss at the end of each level, the five main stages also have many hidden secrets that can only be accessed with magic forms that must be unlocked from later levels. Not only will players be looking for story items and collectibles, but there are also heart holders that extend Shantae’s life hidden in the stages. Another reason to replay these levels is to see how they have changed after the boss has been defeated. For example, when players first enter Main Street, cannonballs will be being shot into the stage from time to time. On a return trip, these do not show up at all since the ship firing them has been dealt with already. I didn’t actually notice any of these changes until I replayed the second level, which swapped one of the main enemies for a completely different and very obvious addition. This observation was the first (of many) “Aha!” moments that made me feel like I had truly figured out something by myself. Even when many of the various NPCs give little tips about where some secrets may be hidden, the actual levels hold the secrets well enough that anyone’s first playthrough will be memorable. While hunting down all the collectibles, I quickly realized that nearly every platform had at least one purpose and it made the whole game feel like it was thought out to the tiniest details.
This attention to practicality is also clear in the gameplay as all but a few of the magic forms have a specific use. When I got my first few magic forms, I was worried that my original water form would become obsolete when I got a second water form. This simply isn’t true as the original water form is small while the second one is larger and, while offering more mobility, can’t actually fit in the smaller tunnels. Simple details like this make each form unique and useful in their own situations. This is made even more impressive when you realize there are sixteen different magic forms Shantae can take. With all of these different forms, I was concerned the game would have some asinine or difficult-to-learn control scheme. Luckily for me, WayForward managed to figure out a way to allow players to jump, attack, use magic, backdash, and transform without any pointless menus or crazy button combinations. This simple and effective control scheme allows players of all skill levels to play the game with ease. Besides magic and transformations, Half-Genie Hero has many power ups that can upgrade things like how much damage Shantae deals and how strongly she attracts gems to her. How the game handles these power ups is what I truly liked as they can be toggled on or off in case the player would like to make the game more or less difficult.
Being able to adjust the difficulty to fit my play style is just one of several things I really enjoyed about the game that don’t fit into the typical categories. For example, the main merchant in the game sells tons of things, but nearly all of these items are quality-of-life items. The player is never required to upgrade the damage or speed of Shantae’s normal attacks and using magic is completely optional, so the merchant is mostly for customizing Shantae to each player’s liking. Another example is how fast the game loads each level and how the ‘loading screen’ is actually just a way for the player to save their game and keep moving. Due to this, it feels like the game never needs to actually take time and load (excluding entering/leaving the gallery). These little things help to make the game feel extremely smooth and graceful, in a way. Outside of the game itself, the game’s achievements are a nice blend of progression based and skill based challenges. This balance makes the achievements that much more desirable, as a lot of them are easy to get but several will force players to go back and perform special tasks or even speed run the whole game. The final thing I really enjoyed was the few late game fourth wall breaks that came from one of the bosses. These jokes fit in with the character and didn’t really feel all that out-of-place even when Shantae took part in the fun.
Believe it or not, I did have a few gripes with Half-Genie Hero, although they are only personal issues that don’t really hurt the game in the long run. The biggest issue I had was that a lot of characters in the game would appear out of nowhere, serve their purpose and then simply disappear after that. This made a lot of the characters feel lifeless or as if they were just a means to an end. This lack of character development is almost dealt with by the sheer number of characters that appear throughout the game to help or hinder Shantae during her story. My next issue has to be with how the voices work throughout the game. To put it simply, it makes no sense and I can’t figure out why only some characters speak only some of their lines. For example, Shantae will occasionally speak the line in her text box even though it seems like a random line. This is a problem as I would often read the entire text box before I realize anyone is talking, leading me to skip the actual speaking. Truthfully this is just an annoyance, but it did take me out of the moment a few times. Much like the seemingly random voice overs, the lack of boss health bars is more of an annoyance than anything as it never stopped me from killing any of the bosses, but it did make the fights feel longer. Finally, my last gripe would have to be about how unbalanced the game can be. Once I bought a few key items, I basically became invincible and I felt like the game was not balanced in such a way that the late game content could still pose any challenge. Shortly after I finished my first speed run (for the achievement to beat the game in under two hours), I thought about how the game trusts the player to make the game as difficult as they want it to be by toggling which power ups were active at what time. None of these problems were nearly large enough to stop the game from wowing me time and time again. With all the fun I had with such a short game and how hard I found it to find anything wrong with the game, I think it is fair to say Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is by far my favorite platformer on the Xbox One.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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