Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition PS4 Review
It’s a bit of a bummer that developer Wayforward Technologies, one of the longest running pioneers of modern 2D action/platformer games, has to keep going to Kickstarter in order to keep their own landmark Shantae series afloat, but fortunately there is no shortage of fans for both the franchise and retro-inspired indie games alike. It is also thanks to the extra backer bucks that Shantae: Half Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is the biggest and most feature-filled entry yet, with a massive visual upgrade and a whole host of extra gameplay features.
Shantae isn’t known for its sweeping storylines, but the charming cast and tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of its continuity issues gels nicely with the cute and colorful aesthetic. This time around, the titular Half Genie is dealing with a mysterious voice that may clue her in on her magical origins while she also goes on her daily routine to defend the citizens of Scuttle Town from her arch-nemesis Risky Boots. After dealing with the bodacious baddie in record time (the first stage, in fact), Shantae spends the rest of the story helping her caretaker Uncle Mimic with his latest invention, the parts of which are scattered all over the seven seas. Fetch quests, new power-ups and increasingly meta dialog await in this brand new adventure.
Like previous games in the series, Shantae: Half Genie Hero plays like a Metroidvania, with secrets and hidden areas inaccessible without a specific power-up to revisit them later. This time around, the areas are also more linear and work like traditional stages, typically in three acts followed by an end-of-level goal. These stages can be revisited multiple times, which is also necessary in order to obtain the next key item needed to advance the story. Admittedly, much of the game’s progression is often arbitrary, often making little sense without the game’s hint guide outright telling players what they need to do next. Perhaps this is yet another commentary on the old-school structure of the game’s original sources of inspiration, but it’s unlikely and still somewhat annoying exploring every stage’s nook and cranny in order to find the one tiny breadcrumb that leads to the next goal.
Fortunately, the gameplay is as fun and tightly controlled as ever that the obtuse fetch quests are a moot point; Shantae can run, jump, attack with her hair and cast magic just as she could before. The ability to transform into different animals also makes a return to the series, each creature serving a specific purpose in order to progress throughout the stages (the monkey form can climb up walls, the mermaid can freely swim underwater, the elephant can bash through walls, and so on). The game also nails the old-school challenge of classic 2D games just as well, with platforming and bosses alike resulting in sweat-filled controllers. Rest assured that the game never feels unfair, striking that sweet spot between challenging and frustrating.
The most notably new school addition to the game is the new visual style: this is easily the prettiest Shantae has ever looked, with cel-shaded visuals almost as expertly seamless as the ones seen in Arc System Works’ recent fighting games including Dragon Ball FighterZ. The character designs, a mix between cutesy and sexy thanks to its anime-heavy aesthetic, really comes alive with the vibrant colors and animation. The boss fights especially dazzle with the amount of on-screen action and towering adversaries players will be faced against. This is definitely where those Kickstarter donations went towards.
Speaking of which, the game also features all of the DLC released in the previous version, which include a whole set of additional modes that have also been funded by the fans. These modes feature the same levels as the main game, but have been remixed with new challenges and gameplay styles resulting in a unique experience for each additional scenario. Ninja Mode has Shantae getting her cosplay fix on, with the ability to wall jump, teleport and throw kunai from a distance. Beach Mode is a timer-based alternative where Shantae once again has new abilities to go with her beachwear, but she must also routinely collect the sunscreen littered throughout each stage before time runs out and she’s roasted with a nasty sunburn. Police Mode is a crossover with Mighty Switch Force, another Indie darling that is one-part Mega Man and one-part puzzle platforming, as Shantae can instantly switch the blocks in each stage on and off, resulting in some quick-thinking in order to traverse each area. Friends to the End allows players to control three of Shantae’s friends at once, each serving their own purpose to get through each area (Bolo can use his mace like a grappling hook, Sky can create makeshift platforms with her birds, and Rottytops can toss her zombified head to get past laser barriers). Finally, Pirate Queen’s Quest stars Risky Boots as she clears the campaign with her assortment of weapons and power-ups.
There isn’t much left to say about Shantae: Half Genie Hero; longtime fans have no reason at all to ignore this latest (and possibly greatest) entry in the series, and players itching for a polished platformer with a gorgeous presentation and a whole lot of charm have even less reason to miss out. As long as the community continues to vote with their dollars, Wayforward will continue to grant the wishes of old-school gamers everywhere.