Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a bright, vibrant, and energetic action platformer that mixes elements of some of the best from the genre without every really offering a substantial challenge. There are some aspects of Metroid, with new abilities allowing you to retread former ground to discover hidden or locked areas. You can purchase usable items that eat into a magic meter if you ever need help during gameplay. Sometimes enemies will drop items as well, and pottery strewn throughout each level offer up hearts to replenish health or jewels to fill your wallet. Everything is delivered in a very spirited style, but there isn’t much in your way besides time spent fetching specific items to progress.
Everything you do in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has a bounce to it. Your character model is constantly moving even in the idle animation. A main gameplay element, transforming into animals, is done via a dance button. Helping justify this energy is the music which is upbeat and generally prominent no matter your location or situation.
The character model art themselves are always beautiful to look at and well animated. Whether displayed in gameplay or through character art in dialogue sequences, Shantae, her friends, and her enemies are pleasing to look at thanks to their varied, defined, and colorful figures. Nearly every color is used throughout the game’s single-player, in both the surrounding environment as well as characters. Bold reds, purples, yellows, blues, and more are utilized smartly to really attract the eye to all it has on display.
This quality in graphics extends to the environment. While they can be a bit empty sometimes, the game throughout enjoys toying with foreground and background depth of view. Often things will be actively moving in the background, and sometimes even transition into the playable foreground. One such level has clasps that actively move from background to foreground to background again. You have to time jumps and how long you stay on in order to progress as they move along a predetermined route. This helps give some more depth to your environment, as it is not simply restricted to a 2D presentation. While Shantae will only ever move on a 2D plane, the game displays its settings in 3D renders and toys with perspective. During one boss fight, you move around in a small circular area and are able to see the entire circle at once instead of it being displayed as a flat side-scrolling screen.
Most of the time in Shantae you will be platforming, making your way from one flat platform to the next along a left-to-right configuration. While combat is present, and can frequently be ever-present with no break in enemies appearing, it is quite simple. Shantae’s main attack is whipping her hair, which has both speed and power that can be upgraded through the item shop.
Currency isn’t very scarce, and you can even hunker down in certain areas to gather funds from infinite spawning enemies. Each area you clear is replayable, both for secrets to find and due to recycling for fetch quests that progress you further into the story. This also means you can easily replay levels full of pots and vases full of money that will offer themselves to you upon each replay. This makes buying out the item shop an easy and quick option early on. The upgrades found within, as well as the recovery items, make the already laid back challenge roll over flat.
Death only came to me due to platformers, or strange decisions in specific areas. During a tower sequence in which I was tasked with out-climbing an invincible worm I noticed it was not build to follow a certain speed up. Instead it would be ever-present just below the bottom of my screen. This meant if I made good time and progressed upwards at a much faster pace than its natural state, it would simply jump up with me. In some situations this would work due to the pressure of trying to keep ahead of it, but instead here I would die frequently because one avenue became a dead end and I was forced to make my way down and across. However, because I had moved so quickly upwards and the worm keeps up with the bottom of my screen, it was located where I needed to go and so I died.
Missing jumps in this area also caused death, where a set speed would have meant I could try again. Checkpoints are pretty generous throughout Shantae, but this section lasted for quite a bit and would be restarted from the very beginning upon each death. Due to this, it became a frustration to get past.
With that aside, everything else you do is very easy. Thanks to the generous item drops from enemies, as well as their inability to do much damage beyond a half a heart, you won’t be dying very much from combat at all. While the enemies will build up health over the course of the game, it is never a real challenge. It just takes longer to defeat them than previously, unless you take advantage of the upgrades from the item shop. Even the platforming will rarely scale upwards as you progress. Some instant-death spikes are littered about in some areas, but never does the game really bring up a challenge that is satisfying to overcome. Most are at worst passively frustrating if you don’t pass it the first time.
Boss encounters are littered at the end of each major section, and much like the combat preceding it, can be exceedingly simple. At the very least these battles can introduce interesting mechanics of play that are required to defeat the enemy. Other times it simply has you repeating the same phase of gameplay three times and then the enemy goes poof, you get an item, and proceed every onwards.
Shantae’s story is also exceedingly simple. Shantae helps her uncle build a machine over a large stretch of the game, and each piece must be found either by beating a boss or finding [X] of a certain item. Often that item requires a new ability prior to finding them, which generally will require you to backtrack through an area you have already cleared. Repeat this about five or six times and you’ve reached the ending which will unlock Shantae Hero Mode and Risky is teased as a playable character “coming soon.” Sprinkled in are some referential jokes. One of which I enjoyed is the villain Ammo Baron stating, “That airship cost billions of crowd-funded dollars,” referencing Shantae’s status as a Kickstarter from 2013.
While I enjoyed my time with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, I was left a bit wanting in regards to gameplay. It just wasn’t satisfying to engage with the platforming and enemies, it was too simple, too easy. I’m not looking for a punishing experience, but I do enjoy having my skills challenged in platformers. Regardless, the beauty on display and the energy in both the soundtrack and movement of each and every character impressed me. I just wish it had a little more bite.