Review: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Switch)

Half-genie, all-fun.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/14/2018 10:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Spectacular presentation; fun cast and storyline; tight play control; change from traditional Metroidvania structure allows for a fresh approach to the Shantae formula; DLC isn't necessary but makes this game even better; killer soundtrack and presentation
Poison Mushroom for...
Some fans might not be cool with the cheesecake; a tad short in its base form

It might not be a particularly well-known fact, but Shantae has been kicking around since 2002. Her first adventure bowed on Game Boy Color (and is worth a pretty penny) and she’s predominantly been getting into trouble on almost every Nintendo handheld and home console ever since. With Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, developer WayForward took the series to new heights and delivered an installment that’s hard to not declare the best yet. We were very smitten with Half-Genie Hero when it debuted on Wii U last year. For the full rundown read the original review here. For this review, we’ll keep the basics brief and instead touch upon what makes the game worthy of a double dip on Switch!

As ever, Half-Genie Hero pits the nominal hero Shantae on a quest to save her beloved home of Scuttle Town. Shantae titles are platformers, with the heroine utilizing a number of items, transformations (initiated by belly dancing!), and her signature hair-whipping attack to take down baddies and traverse the game world. Perhaps more than any previous entry, Half-Genie Hero really does its best to eschew the traditional Metroidvania setup the series is known for in favor of a more level-focused style of progression. That might sound like a bad thing to Shantae veterans, but the reality is that there’s still plenty of time spent acquiring new abilities and backtracking to uncover secrets, it’s just handled differently. Indeed, by using Scuttle Town as the main hub which connects to the other worlds and their respective levels, the setup here is really ideal for a hybrid portable console like Switch.

This handheld-friendly approach is ironic considering Half-Genie Hero was designed as the first entry in the series intended for home consoles. WayForward turned to crowdfunding in order to bring Half-Genie Hero to life, and while that doesn’t always mean good things for a game’s development, here it was a definite boon, as the developer clearly took the responsibility of delivering a quality title to backers very seriously. This is easily the prettiest Shantae yet, with gorgeous 3D backdrops juxtaposed against 2D hand drawn characters and enemies. WayForward is renowned for some of the best sprite work in the business, but the style used here is reminiscent of the studio’s other work on DuckTales Remastered, which is a good thing. Throw in one of the most memorable soundtracks in a video game in recent years (it was composed by Jake Kaufman of Shovel Knight fame, so it shouldn’t be a surprise!), and the presentation in Half-Genie Hero is second to none.

Perhaps even more important to this franchise are the characters themselves. Shantae is plucky, heroic, and very different from the usual fatigue-clad soldiers that so many other games lean on. With supporting characters like Bolo, Sky, and even her longtime rival Risky Boots the pirate, Half-Genie Hero oozes personality. It’s a funny game with a cast that’s easy to root for. Interestingly, WayForward isn’t shy about providing fans with ample amounts of cheesecake to enjoy. That is to say, Shantae and the other female characters aren’t sore on the eyes and WayForward has a lot of fun showing off how attractive they are. It might be a turnoff for some, but I think it’s handled pretty tastefully. Still, some folks are sensitive about this sort of thing, so just keep it in mind.

So, what makes this Switch version special? Well… not much! That is, if you opt for the barebones standard edition of the game. Whether purchased digitally or physically, those who snag the Ultimate Edition of Half-Genie Hero will be able to get the entire main game as well as all of the DLC. The value of this will be in the eye of the beholder, of course. For one thing, it’s possible to get hold of the DLC without purchasing the Ultimate Edition, but that means buying the packs individually. Now, before I proceed, let me say that buying Half-Genie Hero without the extra content isn’t a deal breaker. The core game is a fun and full adventure. It clocks in at around eight to ten hours of playtime, so there’s enough content to satisfy players for a decent amount of time (particularly if you’re of the mind to factor in the game’s $19.99 base asking price).

Throw in the DLC, however, and suddenly Half-Genie Hero is an even more varied experience. There are costumes/skins, which are fun window dressing, but the real meat of the additional content comes in the Friends to the End and Pirate Queen’s Quest packs. Friends to the End lets players swap between Bolo, Rottytops, and Sky to save Shantae, who has fallen victim to dark magic. It brings remixed and new levels along for the ride along with different play mechanics for each character. Pirate Queen’s Quest, meanwhile, let’s players take on the role of antagonist Risky Boots, as she attempts to demolish Sequin Land and Shantae. Both of these packs bolster an already great game and make the extra $10 for the Ultimate Edition a veritable no-brainer.

There’s also the inclusion of three arcade-style modes to further flesh things out. Ninja, Beach, and Officer Shantae (which draws from WayForward’s excellent Mighty Switch Force series) all provide modes that focus on fast-paced action with different play styles. So to repeat, what you want from Half-Genie Hero is going to come down to personal choice. I’d argue that the true, uncompromising version of this game comes in the Ultimate Edition, but I feel that no matter which you decide upon, you’ll have a lot of fun. I’d also like to add that if you opt to go physical, there’s the Ultimate Day One Edition to look for. It comes in an oversized box and includes an art book, all DLC, the game, a full-color instruction manual, and the Risky Beats soundtrack CD. That bundle is $39.99 and worth every penny! No matter what, make it your business to download Half-Genie Hero on Switch today, as it’s not just the best Shantae yet, it’s also one of the best platformers on the system, period.

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