Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

WayForward's popular half-genie mascot hasn't starred in a game in since 2014's Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, and now the wait for her next adventure is nearly over. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is due to arrive both digitally and physically this Fall, kicking off something of a new beginning for the series. Given that the development history on this one has been a bit different than its predecessors, many are likely wondering how it stacks up compared to previous entries. Fortunately, this new entry starring the purple-haired protagonist is shaping up to be a lovely continuation of the retro-inspired gameplay that made the series famous.

The demo opens with Scuttle Town once again under siege (seriously, does this town ever catch a break?) and it's up to Shantae to successfully repel the pirate menace, Risky Boots, and her army of tinkerbats through a clever usage of magic attacks, transformation powers, and that satisfying whip attack. So far, so familiar, and this familiarity is something that becomes a pattern throughout the demo, though that isn't strictly a bad thing.

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What's immediately noticeable, and sets this game wholly apart from its predecessors, is the bold new art style. Ditching the detailed and beautiful sprites of the previous three games, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero instead goes down the route of 2.5D, a la Ducktales: Remastered. The characters and enemies on screen are rendered in an impressive 2D cartoon style while the environments and obstacles are 3D. Sure, you still move from left to right, but the developers aren't afraid to make use of the extra space; a few instances saw enemies jumping onto the screen from either the foreground or background. At any rate, colors are more vibrant than ever before and the animation has never looked better, though the new style does lack the meticulous brand of perfection that came with the territory of pixel art. Still, the new style is right at home here, and it meshes quite well with the frantic gameplay.

Those of you that have played the previous games will know exactly what to expect here in terms of gameplay; WayForward doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here, just to buff out a few rough edges that may have been there previously. Controls are as responsive and tight as they've ever been, and it still features the same Castlevania-esque, moment-to-moment action. If whip attacks are too risky, Shantae can keep her distance and use magic attacks - such as a fireball or lightning strike - to even the odds, though it does come at the cost of some magic points.

Transformations have made a return – after going on a hiatus in Pirate's Curse – with new arrivals making their first appearance along old favorites. In the demo, we had access to the monkey and spider transformations. The monkey transformation is the same quick and agile one from before, and can be used to scale walls and make jumps that are otherwise impossible. As for the spider transformation, Shantae can sling a web up to the ceiling like a grappling hook for a quick getaway or shoot venom at enemies. Over the course of the game, new abilities will be gradually discovered or unlocked for the various transformations, keeping an emphasis on backtracking.

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It seems that the exploration will be overhauled a bit more with this entry, straying ever so slightly farther away from the Metroidvania roots. Just like how Pirate's Curse introduced the concept of multiple separate islands that are explored individually, Half-Genie Hero will take things a step further with a level-based approach. Of course, new abilities will still be obtained that will open up new possibilities and secrets in earlier levels, but it seems that there will no longer be one continuous map as the earlier games featured. Some may be disappointed at this news, but it's a change that should hopefully remove tedium and make things easier to keep track of.

All in all, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is shaping up to be another action platformer with all the bombast, colour and humour that fans love. While the exploration elements seem like they may be dialed back a bit in this entry, it's still Shantae through and through, and fans of the past entries won't want to miss out. Still, one can't help but feel that perhaps this entry might be a little too derivative of its predecessors, but all will be made clear in just a few months.