There are few companies that I pay attention to more when they say they’re making a 2D platformer than Wayforward. They’re most famous character may be the half-genie with the purple hair, Shantae. What started out as a cult hit on a Nintendo handheld a few years ago has grown into a crowd-funded favorite who is seeing a console dedicated release for the first time with Shantae: ½ Genie Hero. Each release is the series has gotten more streamlined and prettier. She’s added more dances to her repertoire. All of the series’ favorite faces make a return.
The game continues the story of Shantae in her seemingly never-ending fight with Risky Boots. After the events of the last game where Shantae regained her genie powers she wakes up from a dream where she is warned that both the genie realm and her world are under attack. From there you probably know what happens and who’s involved. It’s up to Shantae to travel around to the different areas of Sequin Land and collect parts to help her Uncle fix a machine and stop Risky.
The game’s map and world have been made more streamlined and easier to follow with every successive release and this is no exception. No longer do you have big clunky maps to try and follow and remember paths through. No more transitioning between layers of the map. Now you’ll enter an area and it’s just one big world to explore. As you gain new powers more areas of that level will open up to you, but the path is now a straightforward start to finish sort of thing. Many people may not like it, but I actually think it fits the Metroid-vania style of play for the series far better than anything we’ve seen before. It was very easy to get lost in previous games and completely lose your way. Now as long as you’re heading up or to the right you’ll make it to the next area. I think it really does a good job of making the game feel like similar games while still being able to standout from the rest by giving you the different animals you can transform into
The way you’ll traverse around those areas hasn’t really changed from previous games. You’re still fighting enemies by whipping your hair at them. You can buy powerups that will make your hair stronger or be able to whip faster. Shantae can dance to transform into different areas like a monkey to climb walls, or a mermaid to swim through underwater areas. Those transformations are what allow you to access different areas of the world than you would have previously.
Some of the transformations feel a little bit like filler as they’re never really fully utilized. Some get far more attention and use than others, like the elephant which is used to push around blocks, break open secret areas or trample flowers that contain hidden items. The monkey can be used to bypass large chunks of climbable challenge areas when you’re into the part of the game where you’re traversing for collectibles or need to move very quickly through the level. Others, like the bat or the spider, only have a couple of items that you really need them to obtain if you want to get the 100% completion. It would have been nice to see some additional uses of those, or some extra challenge levels designed specifically for the different transformations. You really only need two or three main transformations to be able to complete the game. They’re all fantastically adorable however. It’s a small gripe, but one I think worth mentioning as the developers put a lot of work into those transformations for people to settle on just one or two that they use the most.
Visually, this is easily the most beautiful we’ve ever seen the game. All of the previous versions of the game were really designed for handheld play first and took advantage of those systems like the Game Boy Color and the DS. The pixel art was beautiful and the characters were expressive and the animations incredibly well done. Now, with the power of HD consoles the game, visually, has been taken to a whole new level. The handdrawn style works so well and looks so good. You’re able to really see that the developers take advantage of the increase in fidelity to make the characters even more animated than they were. You’ll see looks of surprise on enemies faces as you attack them. You’ll see cool lighting effects on characters that are close to fire, or as you light up darkened areas with sonar abilities. Spell effects, bones flying around in cutscenes, water splashes; it’s all here and it just hasn’t ever looked better.
I love platformers and Wayforward has been at the top of the list in terms of favorite developers over the last few years. Shantae ½ Genie Hero does not dissapoint. It’s an absolute beauty of a game that’s fun from beginning to end. The story sets up some interesting possibilities and I can’t wait to see where her journey goes from here.
Review copy of the game provided by Wayforward.
Played through the full story. 100% completion
Total Play Time: 9 hours