Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

She whips her hair back and forth.

Half-Genie Hero is a gorgeous throwback to the glory days of the Super Nintendo, but Super Metroid it ain’t.

NOTE: The author of this review backed this game on Kickstarter.

Between their mediocre licensed games and excellent revivals of classic IPs such as Contra 4, Double Dragon Neon and DuckTales Remastered, WayForward’s bread and butter is their long-running Shantae series, which has now seen a semi-reboot in its HD debut, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. This new game, while not quite in line with the rest of the series, may just be most representative of WayForward’s output in general: The game looks, sounds and plays great, but unfortunately can’t seem to decide what it wants to do with itself.

As usual for a WayForward game, Half-Genie Hero looks and sounds the part, with beautiful character and environmental art and great animation that gives the game a cutesy, cartoony vibe. Just like DuckTales Remastered, the game uses a blend of 2D character art in 3D environments, but these two styles gel very well with each other. Likewise, the music is fast-paced and energetic, with series veteran Jake Kaufman delivering a decent mix of reworked classic tunes and all-new compositions.

Shantae also delivers on tight 2D action, with platforming and combat that feels satisfying all the way to the end. Shantae’s trademark hair whip is both fast and deadly, and her jumping is incredibly responsive. The game feels like a love letter to the Super Nintendo era of 2D sidescrollers, and definitely nails this in its 2D action and level design. However, the levels themselves and how they’re laid out is where the game starts to show problems.

Cute characters, cute enemies… yup, it sure is cute.

In typical Shantae fashion, the player can transform into different animal forms to explore the levels further to find power-ups and other doodads to help them on their adventure, giving incentive to replay levels with new abilities to find more stuff. However, the levels are much more linear this time around instead of giving the player a wide-open map to explore. To progress through the game you have to constantly repeat levels you’ve already beaten to collect things you missed the first time around. This works better in an open-ended exploration game like Super Metroid or the previous Shantae games, but having to retread Half-Genie Hero’s linear levels several times feels like hollow filler, a problem that DuckTales Remastered also suffered from.

Half-Genie Hero is a game that feels like it wants to have both linear and open-ended levels, and the end result just doesn’t work if the game can’t fully commit to either style. The end result is a game that feels bloated and middling, even though its fundamentals are all rock solid. Fans of old school 2D platforming will still definitely enjoy Shantae‘s beautiful visuals and tight gameplay, but anyone looking for a more open-ended exploration-based game would be better off with the game’s predecessor, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse.

Developed and published by: WayForward Technologies
Platforms: PC (tested), PS4, PSVita, WiiU, Xbox One
Release date: December 20th, 2016
PEGI rating: 12+