Developer - WayForward Technologies
Publisher - WayForward Technologies
Platform - Windows, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U [version tested], XBox One
Price - £15.99
Genre - Platformer
Back once again for the Shanagade Master
D4 damager, power to the people
This is the fourth game in the Shantae series, arguably WayForward's most popular character. It's the first to be built from the ground up for home consoles instead of a Nintendo handheld and it was also - whisper it! - a Kickstarter baby. Our half-genie hero of choice is off on another adventure, kicked off by her waking from a dream to receive a warning from the Genie Realm of impending doom. Really, does doom ever do anything else? For that matter, does anything else ever impend?
Firstly, this is easily the best-looking Shantae game so far, even counting the recent home console remakes of previous series titles. It looks like a cartoon most of the time - not quite as good as my personal benchmark for amazing animation, the Wii's Muramasa: The Demon Blade, but really close. A good fraction of the budget went to the animation team and it shows. WayForward have raised their own bar - well done, team.
Equally, no Shantae game has ever had better music. Every returning tune has been updated and layered to such a point that it's difficult to see how it could be improved for the inevitable Shantae Five. New pieces hit the same great standard and your ears will be delighted. In addition to the animation team and Jake Kaufman working harder and better than ever before, there's Cristina Vee. The game's sole voice actor pulls double duty - of sorts - by singing the game's theme tune, the slightly catchy Dance Through The Danger.
The gameplay is also the same as ever. It's a pure pleasure to control Shantae - in my humble, unsubtle and often wrong opinion, only Mario feels better to play as in the whole of platforming. Well, the platformers I've played, at least. The genie girl's attacks remain the same as before: she whips her hair out to strike foes and can access various upgradeable magic spells, like fireballs and lightning strikes, in addition to her genie powers. During the course of the game, Shantz gains the power to transform into various creatures, such as a bat, elephant or monkey, which enables you to access more of the game's craftily hidden secret items.
Structure-wise, more of the fat has been trimmed. Risky's Revenge, the second game of the series, had a big-ish, mostly inter-connected world which was unfortunately confusing early on. Pirate's Curse, its sequel, did away with that in favour of levels that started with horizontally scrolling sections that lead to dungeons. Half Genie Hero doesn't even have the horizontal bits to begin with: you select a location and get straight to the dungeon, no muss, no fuss.
That last paragraph starts some of the issues that I have with Half Genie Hero. A lot of care and attention has been lavished on the stages, particularly when it comes to squirreling secrets away, but some of the levels seem to be over quite quickly. It's possibly because I have become Master of the Shantae and just wanted to get to the end, but it did seem a more slight effort than previous outings.
The game also shows some of the problems with companies using Kickstarter. The game has been packed with backer-requested stuff, to the point of overflowing. For example, WayForward have given Shantae too many transformations, in my opinion, one of which is almost totally useless. The aforementioned bat gives Shantae the ability to fly - but only horizontally. This is useful for one or two hidden items and is superseded later on anyway. More irritatingly, there's one pickup whose sole purpose is allowing you to get another pickup, and I managed to finish the game without either of them. It just felt... unnecessary, which is something which no other Shantae game has suffered from. In addition, there isn't as much innovation as I would like in enemies and bosses.
So we're left with a bit of a mixed bag. The fundamentals have never been stronger for the genie girl that could, but the game suffers from those strange flaws. Having said that, much like Shovel Knight, more content is coming soon. The difference is that the original Shovel Knight felt like a complete game in its own right and, in an odd way, I feel like we're somehow ripping off Yacht Club Games when they give us more campaigns for their stellar platformer. Half Genie Hero is, unfortunately, the opposite: we might need those extra campaigns for the game to feel complete.
Final Verdict: Whilst Shantae: Half Genie Hero looks, sounds and plays better than any other Shantae game to date, there isn't quite enough game here to justify the price tag. Yet.