Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was a standout release on the Wii U late last year, bringing an excellent and whimsical Metroidvania adventure to the platform which we deemed to be arguably the best entry in the Shantae series yet. Given the game’s pedigree and WayForward’s great relationship with Nintendo, it seemed a question of when, not if, the game would eventually be ported to the Switch. Now that it’s out in the wild, the question remains: is it worth the buy once again? The answer is of course a resounding yes.
We’ll get something out of the way up front: there’s very little, if anything at all, that separates this port from its Wii U predecessor. If you’re looking for any sorts of upgrades or extras that weren’t included in the original, you will come away from this sorely disappointed. For all intents and purposes, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on the Switch is exactly the same game that was on the Wii U. However, this time around, it has the given benefit of being available in a portable form.
As ever, this is something that simply needs to be experienced firsthand in order to be fully appreciated, but it certainly does make this version the most convenient one. Though a beautiful game in its own right, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was never one that pushed system hardware limits, and as a result there’s no perceptible downgrade in performance or quality when playing away for the TV. In fact, the level-based structure arguably makes it better suited to gaming on the go. Whichever way you choose to play it, know that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is an excellent fit for the Switch and that the option of playing it on either a big screen or on the go contributes greatly to its already high appeal.
For those of you that haven’t played a Shantae game before, it follows the standard Metroidvania format, wherein you explore a grander overworld in search of new abilities and upgrades to power up your character, so you can then go back to other areas and get other new abilities and upgrades. The difference here, is that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero breaks this up into a series of levels, rather than one interconnected world. While some may cry foul at this slightly more linear setup, it actually allows for a much greater streamlining of the experience. It’s much more difficult to be at a loss for where to go next, yet that sense of discovery and mystery isn’t lost. Some of the secrets are exceptionally well hidden — to the point that we had to turn to a guide every now and then — and there’s no shortage of them to find across the ten(ish) hour runtime.
Shantae’s transformative genie powers are back in full force, and there’s about a dozen different forms that she can take. Some of these are given to you as you progress the story and some of them have to be discovered in the levels, but all of them contribute in some way or another to helping you find more secrets and accessing areas that you previously couldn’t. However, some are more effective than others, and we’d even go so far as to say that some can feel downright useless. The Monkey, for example, allows you to jump higher and run faster than Shantae in human form, as well as allowing you to climb walls. That’s one that gets used all the time, even in basic platforming sections. The Spider, on the other hand, allows Shantae to shoot a web up that lets her stick to ceilings. That’s one that gets used in a few puzzles, and is quickly overshadowed once you get an ability that allows you to fly. In this sense, it would’ve been nice to have seen more of the transformations integrated into the main rhythm of levels in a more organic way rather than just being keys to some puzzles, but still, they all get their spotlight, even if some feel tacked on.
Shantae also has a whole host of upgradeable abilities on the side which add an extra layer of RPG-lite elements and progression. As you run through the levels, killing enemies and breaking pots will often net you a couple of gems, which can then be spent back in Scuttle Town at a local store. Here, you can buy haircare products that increase Shantae’s damage output on her basic whip attack, new magic spells that offer her a series of offensive and defensive buffs, and consumables that restore health and or magic at the push of a button. These go a long way towards empowering the player and lending them a satisfying feeling of progression, but the shop goodies perhaps go a bit too far once you upgrade everything. When it gets to the point that Shantae becomes an untouchable killing machine, the fun of the game is lost a bit as you steamroll through all opposition. Fortunately, the developers thought of this, and you can choose to turn off any upgrades like this in the pause menu, to make the game as easy or hard as you like.
Level designs are as inventive and satisfying as ever, spanning a diverse array of environment, such as a magic carpet racetrack or a mermaid infested cove. The controls are as tight as they’ve ever been in this series, if not moreso, and WayForward clearly knows what it’s doing when designing platforming levels. There are some cool ideas that act somewhat as the central themes of levels, such as a periodically returning sandstorm that can blow Shantae into pits, or a factory that has to be traversed by leaping between a series of fast moving rings on set tracks. Hazards are almost always fair, properly testing the player’s skill and not resorting to leaps of faith or cheap enemy placements to introduce artificial “difficulty”. When you miss a jump, and you’ll do that often here, it’s very likely the fault of the player.
The art style ditches the retro themed look that the first three games ran with, instead replacing it with the DuckTales: Remastered look of hand-drawn 2D characters juxtaposed against a 3D background. The animations and expressions of all characters are wonderfully drawn and detailed; in motion, this could be mistaken in some places for being a Saturday morning cartoon. And while the backgrounds could perhaps use a bit more visual flair, they utilize a diverse and rich palette of colours which pop off the screen whether you’re playing this game docked or undocked. You’ll probably find yourself using the capture button for plenty of scenes in this game; there are plenty of moments where the art is on point.
The soundtrack does a great job of rounding out the presentation, providing a series of catchy, bouncy beats that do a great job of adding additional value to the package. Make no mistake, there’s a few tracks here that will no doubt be stuck in your head for hours after playing, but the best part is that none of it is annoying or overly repetitive. You definitely won’t want to play this game muted, as the music adds a certain amount of excitement to the package that just isn’t there when playing silently. Staying true to Shantae’s dancing roots, the soundtrack generally has an Eastern theme to it, but it’s remarkable how much diverse sound WayForward is able to coax out of this template while still staying true to the theme.
The writing is another great addition to the experience, adding a whole new layer of charm that brings the world alive in a very special way. The narrative never takes itself too seriously and often relies on humorous events to drive things forward, such as when Rottytops sells a secret that could destroy the world for a bag of exotic coffee beans, or how a villain summons an eldritch monster so he can have the exclusive merchandising rights to it. The characters are usually written in a quick witted and light hearted manner, and it helps to keep the pace of the story matching the upbeat nature of the visuals and the gameplay.
With all that being said, it does feel like perhaps WayForward could’ve given us an adventure that’s a little bit longer than what’s present here. The introduction of a tough as nails, “Hard Core Mode” helps to add a bit more replayability once you’ve scoured ever corner of the map, but there’s a lingering sense that the game could’ve been longer than it is. Now, WayForward is working on a series of DLC expansions starring other characters which promise to offer campaigns of the same relative length, but these will each cost money to those who didn’t initially donate to the Kickstarter, and aren’t actually part of the base game anyway.
All told, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has never been better; the enhanced versatility of the Switch lends the game a new sort of appeal and convenience that wasn’t there before, and the first DLC expansion is due out this summer. This is a charming, colourful, and sometimes challenging Metroidvania that will no doubt prove to be a memorable addition to your collection. While it could be a little longer, we would give this one a strong recommendation to anyone that hasn’t yet picked it up for the Wii U or any other platform. For those of you that have, know that you’re essentially just paying for the ability to play this on the go, but that’s still arguably worth the asking price. Either way, this is the most polished Shantae game yet, and we can’t wait to see where the Half-Genie Hero goes from here.