Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PS4) Review

Guest article by Wing See Li.

Another Day, Another Pirate Infestation


1: The title screen is accompanied with its theme and the
theme song, “Dance Through The Danger”.

There’s nothing like a pirate attack to start the day.
That’s a day in the life for the belly-dancing, hair-whipping half-genie,
half-human Shantae.

One night, Shantae suddenly wakes up from her deep sleep
by a peculiar, blinding bright light shining through the bedroom window of her
lighthouse. Curious to know where it’s originated from, she climbs out of the
comfort of her bed and exits her home. After running along the long wooden
bridge to her uncle’s home, she discovers Uncle Mimic snoring even as he sits
in an upright position and the same blinding light emitting from an open
trapdoor. She then jumped down, entering a subterranean cavern. While running
through the cavern whilst avoiding the bats that were attempting to assault
her, an odd voice lures her through it until she finally arrives at the source
of the light and the voice. Demanding the voice to reveal itself, it
materialises in a form of a white floating sparkle hovering above the
mysterious, crystal clear water and it reveal itself as the messenger from the
fabled Genie Realm. Before she manages to receive answers from it about her
mum, the genies, the Genie Realm and her origins, everything is abruptly
enveloped in a white colour, transporting Shantae to the real world. She
suddenly sits upright in her bed, taking in everything that happened in her
dream. Is there more to the dream than meets the eye or is it a vision
foreshadowing the events that are yet to come?

The storyline itself isn’t substantial as per se, Shantae
and the Pirate’s Curse
, but the gripping, suspenseful, dire and
bone-chilling moments, plot twists, in-game jokes, innuendos, adult undertones
and the outlandish, hilariously humorous script and dialogue make up for the
lack of a deep plot as the story develop. To sum it all up, the game didn’t take
itself too seriously. However, the fourth wall-breaking humour and the game
taking the mickey out of itself, memes, pop culture references and the internet
got in the way of the burning desire to know more about the lore of Shantae’s
mum and dad, the genies and the Genie Realm. The aforesaid story is episodic
where each level (and character) is comprised of their own mini or sub-plots.

It’s difficult to tell whether Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
serves as the fourth instalment of the Shantae series or it’s a reboot/soft
reboot. It’s probably both seeing as it’s not a relaunch, a remaster or a
remake. It’s released for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Wii U, Xbox One, Steam etc,
on both physical and digital versions. Unfortunately, the Risky Beats Edition
is only released in America, which leads to my next nitpick that will be
explained in the review later. Strange enough, this game comes out on the
PlayStation Vita instead of the Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS this time.
Later on after the initial release, a Risky Beats edition launched for these
consoles, which comes with a physical CD soundtrack.  


2: Just like the previous installments, this game does what it
does best: break the fourth wall.

Unlike the previous Shantae video games, Shantae:
Half-Genie Hero
is the first Shantae game to be crowd-funded. According to
its Kickstarter campaign webpage, $776,084 is pledged to the game and have far
exceeded the $400,000 goal thanks to 18,558 backers. Sadly, only $800k is
reached, in terms of the stretch goals.


3: Risky Boots, the bodacious buccaneer, returns as the main
antagonist of the Shantae series.


4: Sky and Wrench (the large bird) acts as the transportation
for Shantae.

Sequin Land is divided into seven islands or rather…
levels which are known as Scuttle Town Square, Scuttle Town Main Street,
Mermaid Falls, Tassle Town, Cape Crustacean, Hypno Baron’s Castle and last but
not least, Risky’s Hideout. In this game, Wrench (Sky’s massive bird) acts as
an aerial transportation for Shantae and a means for travelling from one island
to another.

Before starting the first level, Scuttle Town Main Street,
Sky hands Shantae a whistle to summon Wrench whenever she needs to. The fact
that the whistle can be used whenever and wherever you want (even in areas for
instance, the Tinkerbat Factory) surpasses the Pirate Flare from Shantae and
the Pirate’s Curse
since the aforesaid Pirate Flare can only be utilised
outdoors and it’s not allowed to be used in the dungeons.


5: Pressing the Touchpad brings up the Subscreen (as mentioned
by Sky and the other non-playable characters).

The gameplay at its core plays like a traditional
old-school platformer: a 2D side-scrolling platformer with precision in terms
of platforming and it’s jam packed with secret collectibles that are hidden
from view, which encourages the player to search for them in every nook and
cranny at your own pace. Hopping from one platform to another without grabbing
on to platform ledges requires accuracy, concentration, eye-coordination and
timing. Failure to do so will result in you falling to your death and you
losing a tiny fragment of one of your hearts, which resembles your health.

Occasionally, the gameplay change depends on where you are
in Sequin Land. The ever-changing gameplay can range from a 2D side-scrolling
shooter before arriving at the Tinkerbat Factory to sliding down the diagonal
slides outside of the factory in Mermaid Falls and escaping Risky’s Hideout.

Here are the game controls:  

Touchpad – Subscreen/Pause Screen

Left control stick – Move, choose options or
decide on a transformation dance from any set included in the dance menu

D-Pad – Move, pick options or select a
transformation dance from any set included in the dance menu

Right control stick – Unused

Square button – Elephant Dash/Charge

X button and Down – Elephant Stomp

X button – jump, press the X button twice to
double jump in the spider form to stick to underneath the platforms using her
spider web, confirm options or fly in the harpy form

Circle button/R2 – Use weapon/magic/item or
transformation capability and cancel option

L1 or R2 – Cycle through weapons/magic/items

L2 – Backdash

Square button – Hairwhip, use transformation
ability or speak to non-playable characters

Down D-Pad/direction – Crouch

Down D-Pad and Control stick – Crawl

Options button – Unused

Share button – Upload video, video clip or

PlayStation Logo button – Return to home screen

Triangle button – Cycle through transformation
modes or cancel transformation

Aside from Shantae’s monster whipper (her signature
attack), her attacks are utilising magic that are named as Fireball, Triple
Fireball and Flamethrower and weapons which are known as Scimitar (a pirate
sword that first appeared in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse), Pike Ball,
Super Pike Ball, Storm Puff, Mega Puff and Super Mega Puff. Not to mention, her
dancing in order to transform into an array of animals ranging from a monkey to
a harpy, each with their own abilities, skills, strengths and weaknesses. In
addition to her possessing a large number of animal dance transformations which
she’ll take full advantage of at her disposal, there are other novelty dance
transformations such as the Blobfish Dance, Gemjug Dance, Dryad Dance, Revive
Dance, Super Revive Dance, Obliterate and Warp Dance, some are more useful than
others. The Blobfish Dance, Gemjug Dance, Dryad Dance, Revive Dance, Super
Revive Dance, Obliterate and Warp Dance are available to buy from a female
snake merchant called Tuki who hides in a little purple pot or container.

Speaking of items, if you explore and uncover enough as
the game progresses and the story unfolds, you’ll eventually come across the
game-breaking collectibles such as the Magical Tiara and the Invincibility
bubble. With those combined, practically no one and nothing will touch you (not
even lasers) with the exception of bottomless pits, deadly lava and one-hit
kill spikes and these aforementioned items will render the game to an easy

During the adventure you stumble across relics such as
Shampoo, Super Shampoo, Mega Shampoo, Silky Cream, Super Silky Cream, Mega
Silky Cream, Red Stone, Green Stone, Magic Bracelet, Bikini Armour, Metronome,
Attract, Super Attract, Max Attract, Backdash, Monkey Bullet, Elephant Stomp,
Crab Claw, Mouse Bite, Harpy Talon, Bat Sonar, Waterfall Relic, Spider Venom,
Mermaid Bubble and so on which can either upgrade your hair and moveset, boost
your defence or help you to advance. Thankfully, you can toggle on and off
these relics at your own free will if you presume the game is deprived of a
sense of challenge.

Besides the relics, you also come upon the whistle, Mega
Potion, Roast, Orange, Gator Steak and Monster Egg which make up your
inventory. Nearly all of these items are used to replenish your health and your
adversaries drop them if you char them to a crisp or make use of a different
attack. The quantity of these items you can carry with you is nine at maximum.
If I’m short on oranges, I’m inclined to transform into Dryad form to harvest
them without having to repetitively revisit Mermaid Falls to ride down the

Along the way you happen upon Heart Holders you can
uncover from treasure chests located in the secret areas, through the portals
and a female, tall, but blonde, non-playable character you encounter in Scuttle
Town Main Square who you have to take on a fetch quest for. Every time you
obtain a Heart Holder, your health will increase by one heart. Think of these
as Heart Containers from The Legend of Zelda series. If you want a real
challenge, refrain yourself from collecting them.

On the subject of dance transformations, these can be
acquired after defeating a boss, uncovering them in hidden locations via
portals or searching for them in secret areas. Sometimes, animal abilities are
found in these locations and just like the transformations, they are locked in
treasure chests. Every animal have only one ability and these skills will help
Shantae enter areas she couldn’t gain access to previously because she didn’t
have the right transformation.  

Another shortcoming this game had is there are certain
transformation dances that I don’t use frequently. WayForward should’ve gone
for the “less is more” approach given that the Crab Dance, Spider Dance, Mouse
Dance, Bat Dance, Blobfish Dance, Gemjug Dance and Dryad Dance are redundant.
They are either pointless, useless, I almost never bring them into play, a
complete waste of my time or they’re cluttering up my dance menu. I appreciate
the game developing company for introducing new things or being a tad bit
ambitious but I just wish it didn’t bother, otherwise these aforementioned new
aptitudes end up unused.  

If you’re not exploring, most of the time you’re fighting.
The combat is simple and not complicated for novices and veterans alike, in
addition to tight and responsive controls. If you mess up, it’s not the game’s
fault but it’s rather your fault.

Although, this is not the case when the game throws a few
curve balls at me, in terms of the difficulty. There are times when the
difficulty catches me off guard and bite me in the rear like for example, when
I’m scaling up the Tassle Tower while running for my life from the
screen-filling, memory-consuming worm, Wilbur. I ran like my life depended on
it! Good gravy… who knows how many times I kept dying which results in me
resorting to using profanity. Luckily for me, there are no lives to lose.

Animation and presentation wise, for the first time
Shantae, her friends, her enemies and the other non-playable characters are in
HD, hand-drawn art. It took me a while to get used to the new art style since
I’m used to seeing them in pixels which WayForward is known for but the new art
style instantly grew on me. The animation is fluid, streamlined and smooth and
how well detailed the animations and the artwork were such as the way Shantae
swayed her body and arms on the spot in rhythm to the music if she’s left idle
for a while to her feeling exhausted when she’s low on health. It’s the
littlest of things such as this makes me appreciate the animation more. It felt
like watching a Flash animation, a Saturday morning cartoon or an anime. The
old style marries with the modern style incredibly well as both the 2D
background and 3D foreground blends beautifully with each other. But if I have
to be honest with myself, I actually miss the pixelated art style.

In light of character development, it’s somewhat lacking
on account of how some of the characters are portrayed. For instance, Risky
Boots is depicted as a stereotypical villain who is heartless, ruthless and
selfish as well as completely void of any emotions, remorse and regret and she
doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants, even if it means
causing mass destruction and ruining people’s lives in the process. Not to
mention, she didn’t acknowledge the events that ensued in Shantae and the
Pirate’s Curse
. It’s like as if she isn’t human. In the third Shantae game,
at first she’s unwilling to cooperate with Shantae but as you progress through
the game, she begins to open herself up to the former half-genie and enlightens
her with her account of her past and spoilers alert! She, Twitch and Vinegar
assists Shantae in dealing out the final blows to the Pirate Master during the
final showdown.

One of the minor issues I’ve come across is while I’m
playing the game, the framerate takes a dive or it stutters sometimes.
Normally, it’s not noticeable because I’m so immersed in the game but it
occasionally dips whenever lots of things are going on at the same time, all on
one screen. Take the side-scrolling shooting section prior to infiltrating the
Tinkerbat Factory for instance, while I’m repeatedly launching my Mermaid
bubbles at the underwater enemies, sending them to their graves, shooting at
the breakable blocks which are obstructing my pathway and temporarily
recruiting more starfish creatures to my “swim team”, wave after wave of foes
kept entering my line of vision and this is when things start to become
frantically crazy. As a result, the framerate decreases as the game couldn’t
take any more.

But in between levels, you’re constantly backtracking
which is to be expected in a Shantae or a platforming game and you’re embarking
on countless fetch quests more than you can shake your belly and bum at.
They’re mandatory since you need these items to progress. For example, you come
across Twitch and Vinegar (the two girls who work for the Ammo Baron and first
appeared in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse) at Scuttle Town Square and
they ask you to revisit the factory in Mermaid Falls to reduce the gators to
smouldering ashes before you give the gator steaks to them. In return, they
hand you a red-coloured race ticket. It’s kind of like doing a chore unless you
don’t mind retracing your steps to the same levels over and over. It’s tricky
to estimate the amount of fetch quests you have to undertake but the total
might be roughly the same as the total of fetch quests there are in Jak 2:
and Jak 3.

Throughout the game, I’ve noticed this game ditches the
dungeons to make way for a linear structure that I find jarring. Thereby,
eliminating the Metroidvania genre this game is supposed to be attached to. In
nearly every level, you’re going from point A to point B that I’ve seen a lot
in modern, bog-standard Mario games. To be honest, it can get very old quickly
and this is coming from a person who hates change with a burning passion. At
least, Scuttle Town Square serves as the main hub area. At the end of each
level there is a boss, which put your platforming and manoeuvring skills to the
test in contrast to the repetitive modern Mario games. Each boss have their own
weaknesses and weak spots and every battle can be just like puzzles as you
figure out how to inflict damage to them.

Similar to the past instalments of the series, Scuttle
Town function as the main hub place which contains Uncle Mimic’s workshop,
Sky’s Hatchery, a shop, a Bath House, the Art Gallery etc along with the
green-hued save guy who this time around doesn’t have his own room or building.
Instead, he is spotted at the far left side of the town near the workshop. The
workshop is where Mimic lives and work on his groundbreaking inventions and
technological devices, Sky’s Hatchery is where Shantae can hitch a ride on
Sky’s bird, Wrench, to distant locales, the shop is where the half-genie
protagonist can purchase important essentials for her escapade, a Bath House is
where she can relax to recover her health and ask the bath house lady for hints
and advice, an Art Gallery is where the main heroine can observe a lot of the
artwork and concept art that goes into creating the game as well as fanart from
the loyal fanbase and the backers of the aforementioned game’s Kickstarter
campaign. Conversely, some of the fanart aren’t professionally done and are up
to an amateur standard at best but most of them are the cream of the crop. In
my opinion, the art gallery reminds me of the Insomniac Museum from the Ratchet
& Clank

The other differences I’ve spotted are there are slide
segments that kind of remind me of the slides from Super Mario 64 (sans
the enemies, hazards and obstacles), the options menu is bare-bones in terms of
how much content there are to toggle with and the save system is different. The
save guy who seems to be fatter than usual tends to appear whenever I enter a
new level, after I finish the level, before I confront a boss and after I emerged
victorious from a boss fight. Basically, I’ve been prompted every five minutes
if I want to save my progress or not which can get annoying and bothersome.
It’s like as if the aforesaid save guy is holding my hand. I prefer the old
save system from Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae: Risky’s
where I can find him in the numerous save rooms in Scuttle Town,
the levels and the dungeons. In this day and age, I still find it strange none
of the Shantae games feature an auto-save system.

Aside from the savepoints are checkpoints that are
littered all over the place in each level in random spots. You’ll know if a
spot is a checkpoint if you accidentally freefall into bottomless pits or if
you touched one hit-kill spikes and you’ll instantly respawn at the previous
checkpoint you went past.    

Another nitpick I’d point out is the lack of a map.
Without a map, there is little to no direction of where to go or what to do
next. When I’m not exploring the levels, the majority of the time I find myself
wondering what to do and figuring out where to travel to next which caused me
to read the guides on the GameFAQs website, which is something I normally
wouldn’t do when I’m playing a Shantae game or a platformer. If you end up
reading a guide, then there’s something wrong.

On the subject of the map, whenever you’re at the level
selection screen, said map shows which collectibles and animal transformation
abilities are in your possession or what you’re missing underneath the name of
the chosen area. This is extremely helpful for backtracking to previous levels,
fetch quests and completing the game 100%.

It’s hard to believe this video game originated from the
Kickstarter website and how far WayForward have come, from the cartoon tie-in
games such as American Dragon: Jake Long – Rise of the Huntsclan which
is released on Game Boy Advance and American Dragon: Jake Long – Attack of
the Dark Dragon
which have come out on Nintendo DS to recent video games
such as Ducktales Remastered and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, to
name a few. This is definitely a Kickstarter game done right. The game may be
successfully funded but it’s a shame not all of the stretch goals were

Just like the Ratchet & Clank (2016) and Ratchet
& Clank Movie
soundtracks, I have mixed feelings with the Shantae:
Half-Genie Hero
soundtrack. Once again, Jake Kaufman reprises his role as
the composer and he really knocked it out of the park! With a soundtrack like
this, he could do no wrong! This time around he gives the aforementioned soundtrack
a modernized touch in terms of the heart-pounding bass of the beats and how the
music sounds overall which keeps me pumped up and motivated to complete the
levels or handing the bosses humiliating defeats. Don’t get me wrong, I love
listening to the soundtrack but most of it is unmemorable, the majority of the
music tracks are nothing to write home about and it falls short compared to the
previous Shantae soundtracks such as Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae:
Risky’s Revenge
to be honest. At the end of the day, will you remember the
soundtrack of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero in many years to come? Will you
be able to hum all or most of the music tracks? In my opinion, I feel this is
the game’s lowest point. The reason why I feel this is the weakest soundtrack
is most likely Jake have set the bar so high. But that doesn’t mean I don’t
have favourite music tracks. Some of my favourites from said soundtrack are, “Dance
Through The Danger
”, “A Mysterious Fountain”, “Scuttle Town”,
Neo Burning Town”, “Mermaid Falls”, “Tassle Town”, “The
Sky Bridge
”, “Cape Crustacean” and “Tinkerbat Factory” in no
particular order. On the other hand, I still reckon some or most of the music
tracks don’t match well with their respective locations. Take the “Tassle
” music for example, it doesn’t complement well with Tassle Town itself
due to the jazziness and funkiness of the music, which are music I normally
don’t associate with video game desert locales.

Once again, Cristina Vee made a comeback to provide her voice
for Shantae and Risky Boots for the fourth time. Originally, the game would
have full English voice acting but alas, it isn’t meant to be when the stretch
goal isn’t reached. In spite of this, the game containing some voice work is
better than nothing.

I can’t stress this enough (constantly in my mind) but the
Shantae series have many things such as a colourful cast of characters
and personalities, exciting, exotic locales and rich environments to explore
which are exploding with various cultures and well-written, laugh-out-loud
dialogues and scripts that the modern Paper Mario games (Paper Mario:
Sticker Star
and Paper Mario: Colour Splash) clearly lacked these
days. Therefore, I jumped ship. In other words, for the first time ever I
bought a PlayStation console first before any other video game console. In the
past, naturally I buy a Nintendo console first before any other video game
console. As sad as it is to say, Nintendo isn’t “wowing” me last year due to
the lack of variety when it comes to 2D and 3D platforming games. It’s all well
and good to play as Mario or Kirby but what I really want is to play as other
platforming mascots. The Shantae series might as well replace the Paper
series the way things are going.

Similar to the previous three Shantae games, there are
good and bad endings. Your actions determine which kind of ending you’ll
unlock. If you strived for 100% completion, you’re most likely obtain the good
ending. For example, spoilers alert! If you go out of your way to embark on fetch
quests for the previous bosses (Techno Baron, Ammo Baron, Squid Baron and Hypno
Baron) you engaged in battle, they’ll each hand over a piece of Risky’s
belongings (there are four altogether) in return for the items they requested.
When you give Uncle Mimic all of the clues when you return to his workshop, he
hands over the Magical Polarizer to you.  

By the time I knew about the Shantae series, I’m
too late to back the game on Kickstarter. If only I knew about the series
earlier, I would’ve backed the abovementioned game in a heartbeat! I still
regret not backing this game to this day.

Along with the main storyline mode/campaign is the Shantae
Hero Mode where you start the game at the beginning from scratch but your dance
transformations remains intact and the level designs, structures and layouts
are varied. It’s also usually reserved for speedruns. There isn’t much known
about the Risky Boots mode and the other character modes other than Rottytops,
Bolo, Sky etc have their own stories, abilities and endings and these aforesaid
modes might be paid downloadable content. However, the Risky Boots mode will or
might coincide with the main storyline mode and Shantae Hero Mode. Sure, I
loathe speedruns but this aforementioned mode and the character modes provide
the game with replayability and replay value.

Most arguably my biggest issue or gripe with this game is
the fact the physical version of the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U,
Xbox One etc ports are released only in America is inexcusable, unforgivable
and a sin. I can’t justify myself importing the game at an expensive price;
despite it comes with the soundtrack. There’s more to the world than bloomin’
America, you know. Although the digital version of the PlayStation 4 and
PlayStation Vita ports cost £15.99 in the PlayStation Store but that’s nothing
compared to how much it costs on the Amazon and Ebay websites. The Risky Beats
edition costs £39.95 on the UK Amazon website and £25.90 (and £14.64 postage)
on the UK Ebay website for instance. It depends on which price you’re looking
at. To make matters worse, if there are downloadable content, I have no choice
but to set up another PlayStation Store account on the US PlayStation Store if
I imported the Risky Beats edition of the abovementioned game. I hope there
will be a UK physical version of the console ports in the future. I still find
it exasperatingly irritating I have to resort to importing games from other
countries outside of the UK.  

As much as I enjoyed playing the game immensely, it didn’t
have what it takes to win the coveted “Game of 2016” title or trophy. In fact,
my pessimistic criticisms prevented it from topping Ratchet & Clank
as “My Game of 2016”.

As it stands, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is inferior
to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (which is deemed to be the best of the
series) due to the criticisms I outlined earlier. Regarding the series as a
whole, I’d reckon Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse tops the list, followed
by Shantae: Half-Genie Hero in second place. As for third place, it’s
either Shantae: Risky’s Revenge or Shantae. Concerning the
soundtracks, it’s Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Shantae: Half-Genie
, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge and finally, Shantae, in
ascending order.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a retro-inspired
platforming wish come true and a hidden gem among the ever-increasing line-up
of platforming video games filled to the brim with nearly everything a
platforming game fan ever wanted and it’s a breath of fresh air from the samey
Mario and Kirby platforming antics. It introduced newcomers and a new
generation of Shantae fans to the series while at the same time it stayed true
to its nearly perfected gameplay and formula of what made the Shantae games
insanely addictive, bundles and oodles of fun and extremely entertaining in the
first place whilst the characters returned to form only to be let down by the
slightly underwhelming, forgettable soundtrack, the short length of the game,
fairly easy difficulty, the small dips in framerate whenever things become
frantic and a ton of action takes up a lot of the screen, the absence of
physical PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Wii U copies and the
physical Risky Beats edition soundtrack being released in my country and
Europe, the price of the game which is £15.99 in the PlayStation Store, the
incorrect localisation (British English should’ve been used instead of American
English), typos and spelling and grammar mistakes, the lack of a map that
result in little to no direction of where to go and what to do next, the
non-existence of dungeons, the game-breaking items and the list goes on.
Despite the negative criticisms, this game is worth every penny and I never
regretted purchasing it from the PlayStation store. Unlike Intelligent Systems,
Nintendo, Activision and Toys For Bob, WayForward didn’t stray away from the
phrase, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. To end this review on a positive
note, I’m delighted to say Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is one of the few
reboots that’s not abysmal and doesn’t deter both sides of the Shantae fanbase.
Intelligent Systems, Nintendo, Activision, Toys For Bob etc should take notes
from WayForward of how not to screw up a winning formula and to stick to the
status quo.

By Wing See Li for Tomb of Ash

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