Among the indie stars that have graced Nintendo platforms over the years, it's easy to say that WayForward's Shantae is one of the most recognizable. Despite playing the lead role in only three games over the past decade, the scantily clad genie has managed to dance her way into the hearts of so many gamers. The public's passion for the character was proven in the autumn of 2013 when WayForward took to Kickstarter to fund its latest entry in the series and the funding goal was subsequently smashed and nearly doubled. Fast-forward to now, nearly two years after the completed fundraising campaign, and we've finally gotten our hands on an early build of the forthcoming Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.
Don't be fooled if you're one of the lucky Kickstarter backers who have access to the E3 build that went out in early June. The game that we had the opportunity is the same one that you've already seen, but we had the chance try it out for the first time on the Wii U. The stages and content are all the same, but being able to play on Nintendo's home console made the whole experience feel more concrete, pushing us the one extra step closer towards a finished product; it's one that – after playing – we're really looking forward to.
There was very little information available to us regarding the game's plot at the time of playing. We were informed that familiar characters and settings will be present, but this is more of a side-story for the beloved hero. While not necessarily working as a reboot for the series, Half-Genie Hero is designed to reintroduce the world of Shantae to new players, a decision that makes sense when considering how young some video game players today were when the character first made her début. From what we could gather, this title doesn't just re-establish Shantae as a character, but the whole experience has been brought forward and modernized.
It's been shown in gameplay trailers, but Half Genie Hero ditches the series' traditional flat 2D appearance for more robust environments. The gameplay remains a side-scrolling experience, and the flat characters are beautifully animated within them, but this time parallax scrolling has been employed, giving the game a 2.5D appearance. This isn't the first time we've seen this from a WayForward game, however, and we were able to confirm that Half Genie Hero is being built in the same engine that was used for DuckTales: Remastered. Of the three stages that we saw none looked particularly dynamic, but it was nice to see a familiar landscape reimagined.
As is a staple with platformers coming from WayForward, the controls here are exceedingly tight. From jumping across chasms to whipping her hair at unsuspecting foes, Shantae controls incredibly well, making for an excellent action experience. The control scheme has been kept simple, employing the left stick to control movement and the lettered buttons to jump and attack, exactly what we've grown comfortable with in a game from this series. Of the three stages at our disposal, two were more focused on platforming while the third was an action-intensive automatically moving stage, not unlike a Donkey Kong Country Mine Cart level. The controls remained stable and dependable throughout each, despite featuring different forms of gameplay and having varying demands. It's clear that the controls were designed with simplicity and precision in mind.
Being an early build, the Wii U's GamePad functionality wasn't put to any significant use, but we were informed that options are being considered. As of now the only functionality that we saw was off-screen play and the option to use the touch screen when selecting stages, fairly standard yet still appreciated inclusions with most Wii U games. It's unfortunate that we weren't able to see any true Wii U specific functionality, but, as stated earlier, being able to play this build on the home console rather than a PC makes the experience that much more real.
From what we played of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on the Wii U, development looks like it's on the right track. The stages available looked good and played well, but the build that we had our hands on still felt very early on in the process. It's obvious that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done, but we're remaining optimistic. We're now almost a year past its initial targeted release of October 2014, but the good news is that the game hasn't been delayed without reason. The team behind Half Genie Hero is taking its time to make this game as polished as it can be, and we're happy to report that it's shaping up quite nicely.
Disclaimer: The author of this article helped fund Shantae: Half Genie Hero during its initial Kickstarter campaign, but that in no way influenced their opinion of this early build.