[Review] Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Posted on December 21, 2016 by Jakob Vujovic(@jakovujo) in News, Wii U
System: Wii U
Release date: December 20, 2016
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Shantae games. In terms of presentation, they’ve always been top notch. With level design, I’ve always found them to be a little bit basic at best and a trudge of back-and-forth at worst. With Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, WayForward has done an impressive job remedying my faults with past entries. It definitely has its share of fetch-quest trade-sequence padding, but thanks to a revised game structure, this didn’t bother me as much as it might have on paper.
Shantae games tend to be showpieces for WayForward’s skill in pixel art and animation and Half-Genie Hero is one of the studio’s prettiest high-fidelity jobs yet. Characters animate very fluidly and even though backgrounds are 3D, they are textured with such a lavish painted style that they end up looking like some seriously impressive parallax 2D art. On Wii U, the main screen is always mirrored on the GamePad. While it still looks good there, 480p with the GamePad’s weird colur compression artifacts do the art a disservice when compared to the crisp HD TV image. As ever, Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack is a wonderful techno-Aladdin concoction.
The tedium of backtracking that I felt in past entries has been bandaged here somewhat with a reworked structure. As usual, Scuttle Town is the main hub for quests, shops, and characters, but instead of leaving the town gate to enter a connected world, you fly a bird to a world map and select an area. Each area is its own collection of continuous levels. Instead of running back and forth through the world for fetch quests, you have a level select. While this new structure doesn’t feel as much like a connected world as past Shantae games, it eliminates the filler ‘connecting’ areas of past games where there wasn’t a whole lot interesting happening besides pretty pixel art.
The first time through a series of levels is accompanied by a story event where level design is much more dense and focused than I’m used to in Shantae games – something I was very happy to see. On subsequent runs, level design is tweaked, enemies made a little more sparse, and the level is opened up for exploration with newly obtained transformations. Hidden passages reveal weird characters who want you to collect X amount of Y so you can trade their reward with a character in Scuttle Town, and so on, until you get whatever doodad needed to advance the plot. Basically, after the first run of a level it feels much more like a typical Shantae game, for better and worse.
With this tweaked level structure, it’s fitting that Half-Genie Hero is a sort of soft-reboot for the series. It drops plot threads and character progression from past Shantae games and really gives more of an overview of the world. There’s not really a continuation here, aside from the writing still being dumb irreverent fun.
I have a respect for the Shantae series even if I personally wasn’t a fan of the previous games – at least, not for my taste. Half-Genie Hero is the closest a Shantae game has gotten to coming together and feeling like a great title instead of just a good one. A few simple streamlining elements and a more consistently tight level design go a long way, even if it relies a little too heavily on fetch-trade quests to pad out its short (but satisfying) multiple campaigns.