Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Year: 2016
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 2/5/17
Rating: ***

Shantae makes her high definition console debut in this long-awaited new adventure. This time she's helping her uncle build a machine that will help protect Scuttle Town, and its components are naturally scattered all across Sequin Land. The nefarious pirate lady Risky Boots wants to use the machine to enslave the genie realm and only Shantae can stop her. Thankfully, Shantae's genie magic gets restored, and there are twelve dances she can learn to help get the job done.

The game was funded through Kickstarter back in 2013, right before "Shantae And The Pirate's Curse" was released. It managed to raise twice its initial goal, which resulted in a couple of bonus chapters and play modes. Kickstarter is frustrating because the visibility is so low and the fund raising window is so short. If I had known about the campaign, I certainly would have been a part of it. Thankfully, a retail version of the game is also available, so you don't have to be a project backer to get in on the fun.

The game uses vector art and 3D environments instead of the 2D pixel art that the previous games in the series used. The result is gorgeous, and the game looks like a vividly colorful cartoon with crisp lines and smooth movement. The overly sexualized presentation of "Pirate's Curse" has been replaced with a much softer, cuter, and more stylized juvenile look, which works out well. The character design doesn't quite live up to the high standard set by "Risky's Revenge," but it's still quite good. The monkey, elephant, and mermaid transformation dances from "Risky's Revenge" are back, along with new dances for bat, crab, spider, mouse, and harpy forms. The various animal forms are adorably cute, although the harpy form is extremely frustrating to control. Much like "Pirate's Curse," Shantae has a handful of spoken words and phrases which are awkward and out of place. One of the Kickstarter stretch goals was full voice acting, but it wasn't met. I wonder how much that would have changed the overall tone and presentation of the game?

While the game is super fun to play, it also feels like a retread of old ideas. Shantae once again battles Risky Boots, Ammo Baron, Techno Baron, Hypno Baron, and Squid Baron, which seems to lack freshness and originality. However, when working with a franchise that spans multiple games, it's hard to strike a balance between new ideas, established characters, and fan expectations. It's nice to have Shantae's genie magic back and the game is considerably easier to play than "Pirate's Curse." I finished the game in about twelve hours, which feels just about right. It requires a lot of backtracking which can get annoying after a while, but none of the levels are so difficult that you don't want to revisit them. Jake Kaufman delivers another wonderful soundtrack, which comes as part of the retail version of the game.

Having played "Risky's Revenge," "Pirate's Curse," and "Half-Genie Hero" all in succession, it's easy to start getting them all confused. "Half-Genie Hero" is definitely fun to play and the presentation is excellent, but it feels somewhat incomplete. Perhaps that's due to the nature of the crowd funded budget and the fact that there's still additional DLC that's being developed. Regardless, I really enjoyed playing it and I hope to see more Shantae games in the future. And if they're crowd funded, this time I want to know about it.

Notes on game add-ons:
After the initial release, several add-ons were introduced as part of the Kickstarter rewards. They include a costume set (ninja, swimsuit, and officer) and two new game modes ("Friends To The End" and "Pirate Queen's Quest"). The costumes give Shantae new abilities and gameplay criteria, like having to constantly apply sunscreen when she's wearing a swimsuit or else she'll die. The "Friends To The End" game mode makes Skye, Bolo, and Rottytops playable characters that you have to switch between, while "Pirate Queen's Quest" has you playing through the game as Risky Boots. While these are fun additions, the levels, objectives, and enemies remain the same, which is a bit disappointing. As a result, there's very little new art to experience, and the novelty wears off pretty quickly.