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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review!

Alright so just about everyone knows that while I am an avid gamer who (tries to) cover as many genres as humanly possible, I will admit I am terrible at platformers. Then comes Shantae: Half Genie Hero, a platformer I am not bad at! So yay, the universe has created a platformer that I can play without inevitably rage-quitting!

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Now most people's reactions to the Shantae franchise are either "Who the heck is Shantae!?", "Wow, Shantae is adorable/attractive [depending on what kind of light you view her in]!" or in my case, "Hey, isn't that the purple haired chick that everyone wanted in Super Smash Bros 4 but never made it in because Bayonetta somehow had more votes during the Smash Ballot?". So I picked up this game mostly to see why everyone wanted Shantae in Smash Bros. That and the game's soundtrack is SO. DANG. GOOD!!! But if you want some insight on the Shantae franchise as a whole, originally released for the Game Boy in 2002, Shantae was a Metroidvania platformer (that is, a platformer that encourages replaying completed levels using brand new abilities to unlock previously inaccessible areas/items) starring the titular half-human, half-genie hybrid girl who is tasked with protecting a small village known as Scuttle Town from evil while helping out her uncle with his various inventions. What Kind of evil? Mostly Pirates, although there are also the Barons (think of them as the Shantae version of Mega Man's Robot Masters). Shantae was originally made by Capcom (aka the guys who own Mega Man), but fell into obscurity until Capcom sold the IP to a small ex-indie developer known as Wayforward, who released not one, not two, but THREE sequels to the original cult classic. All of which were met with both critical and commercial acclaim and basically put Wayforward on the map.

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Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (released on almost every video game system on the market back in 2016) is the latest installment into the franchise, but do you have to track down the previous games to understand what's going on? No. Half-Genie Hero was intentionally designed with newcomers to the franchise in mind. I mean, sure, there are some in-jokes and references to the previous games, such as the franchise wide running joke of every Shantae game having the titular heroine get fired from her job as Town Guardian, only to get rehired by the end of the story. Plus, this game was originally planned to simply be a remake of the original Shantae, but Wayforward's Kickstarter campaign for Half-Genie Hero racked in enough money to make it a brand new adventure instead of a simple remake. Which is really good for me because the only reason I know this franchise exists is because SO MANY people wanted Shantae in Smash Bros ever since the Ballot (some folks STILL want her in!) to the point where even a guy like me who has never played a Shantae game knew who the character was.

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It's also the first Shantae game to not be 8-bit or pixelated. Instead, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero uses a cartoon aesthetic that looks like the love child of a Disney film and a long-running anime series, moreso the latter when it comes to character designs, but hey! If you like anime you'll probably like this game. Or Disney. Seriously, Shantae could easily pass for a Disney Princess (let's see, her parents are missing, she's a heroine, she even sort of sings the main theme song! All she needs is a dress and a cute animal sidekick!). Although, do we WANT Shantae to be a Disney Princess? Yes. Yes, we do because Shantae is a THOUSAND times better than Frozen.

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The story of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero follows the latest adventure of Shantae and friends as they go on various mini-adventures (usually involving the Barons) while fetching parts to help Shantae's uncle with his latest invention: A device that can generate ELECTRICITY!!! What? This IS a fantasy game after all. It kind of makes sense that electricity isn't commonplace... Until you realize that Ammo Baron has several VERY advanced looking Air-ships and Techno Baron is running a factory that can transform maidens into, as Shantae herself puts it, "Counterfeit Mermaids". But anyway, the story itself is obviously not meant to be taken seriously (two words: Counterfeit. Mermaids.), but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I really like how self-contained the five different worlds are. It makes their style stand out more (especially the world with the Counterfeit Mermaids).

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However, the thing that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero does best is style. I normally save sharing my thoughts on a video game's presentation for last but it has to be said that this game has perhaps the most gorgeous level designs EVER. The animations for basically everything is also pretty good. Humorously, Shantae will jovially bob her ENTIRE BODY almost in sync with the music when you stand still. Speaking of humor, Half-Genie Hero is really, REALLY funny (COUNTERFEIT MERMAIDS!!!), partly because of the smart and witty writing, partly because of the fact that this is literally the closest thing to a Disney anime you can possibly get. Unless you count Yo-kai Watch but do you really want to count that?

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The gameplay of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero consists mostly of platforming your way across one of five (technically seven) stages, each of which are divided into one of three areas. Shantae herself can attack enemies by literally using her pony-tail as a whip (as pictured above!) or using a variety of unlockable magic spells such as throwing fireballs or summoning spiked metal balls that serve as a make-shift shield. The bread and butter of Shantae's arsenal are her transformations. Basically, Shantae can use her genie magic (triggered by DANCING!!!) to shapeshift into animal forms that either make fighting certain enemies easier or are used for puzzle solving (sometimes both). Now something that might annoy some folks is how you literally have to replay completed levels to continue the main story, but I personally don't have any problems here. One of my few gripes with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, however, is how it under uses some of Shantae's forms while over using others. The most obvious example being her Bat form, which is literally only needed three times out of the whole game, the first of which being completely optional. In fact, most of the time Bat form's primary purpose was to cheat on some of the tougher platforming segments. Meanwhile, there are WAY too many puzzles that involve the Elephant form.

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Being a love-letter to the somewhat obscure 
Metroidvania genre, Shantae: Half Genie Hero has
a ludicrous number of collectibles. Also, Shantae
can become a legit mermaid, which is better than
a Counterfeit Mermaid.

On the subject of negatives, my only other complaints are, unless you are playing the aptly titled Hardcore Mode, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is too easy. First of all, the game auto-pauses every time you use a healing item or a Transformation Dance. Second of all, you can use Bat form to cheat most, if not, all of the platforming the moment you unlock it. But then again, there's that Hardcore Mode if you want a challenge. Although, from what I heard, the entire reason Hardcore Mode exists is because everyone was complaining about the difficulty, or lack thereof. So it was promptly added in a free update. But the biggest flaw of the game? You know how Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was praised for it's non-linearity and how you could do almost anything in any order you want? Shantae: Half Genie Hero tries to do that... And fails. How is that possible? You can get most of Shantae's abilities in any order, but there are several times where the game tells you to go to one location, only for me to realize I don't have the Transformation necessary to reach the required location, thus forcing me to search each and every level until I found it, and meanwhile the entire story comes screeching to a halt all because I OVERLOOKED SOMETHING IN A PREVIOUSLY CLEARED LEVEL. It does get slightly annoying but considering the game has a new game plus mode (in which Shantae keeps the five Transformation Dances she learns from beating the Barons for the first time as well as some upgrades) the game makes it possible to nab everything in one go on subsequent playthroughs. So there's that.

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But even with the lack of difficulty and under/over used Transformations, this game is still fun. The controls are tight and fluid, the visuals, as previously stated, are incredible thanks to the surprisingly cute, part-Mario Bros-part-Pokemon-part-Aladdin-part-Dragon Ball Z art style. The boss battles at the end of every level are also quite fun. Unfortunately, said boss battles can't be replayed unless you start the whole game all over again.

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Something I would like to point out that I thought was actually pretty cool, was they have an Art Gallery. Now I know what you are thinking, "Why is Spencer making a big deal out of something as mundane as an Art Gallery?". Well the answer to that question is the Art Gallery lets you view the concept art for the game, as well as a handful of fan-made artwork. The latter of which ranges from insanely beautiful to hilariously bad (I'm looking at you, Guy-who-drew-Stickman-versions-of-the-main-cast-and-then-added-"Roy, Age 24"-at-the-bottom-of-the-screen). It's a nice touch and I wish more video game franchises these days would have the ability to view concept art/fan-art from inside the game itself, as the former helps to show the thought process that went into the development of the final version of the video game in question and the latter shows just how much people loved the previous entries in the franchise. Unless they draw stickman versions of the main cast and put "Roy, Age 24" at the bottom of the screen. Because cheers to that guy, whoever he/she is, you made me grin from ear to ear by drawing that picture. What? It could be a girl. You never know these days. "Roy" could very easily be a girl's name. If "Bailey" can be a guy's name then "Roy" can be a girl's name. Now watch as the person who actually drew that picture reads this very blog post and rages at how no matter how you slice it, I will wind up misgendering the person in question.

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As for music, it has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a while. From hectic and energetic beats, to more chill tunes, the entire soundtrack is catchy and could easily be put in a dance party (Geddit? Because Shantae uses her magic by dancing? This might be my lamest joke ever). Earlier I mentioned how Shantae sort of sings the main theme song, but let me elaborate on it. Shantae: Half Genie Hero's main theme is "Dance through the Danger". "Dance through the Danger" has vocals performed by Christina Vee. Christina Vee is also Shantae's voice actress. Even though the game lacks full voice acting because Wayforward didn't have a big enough budget to afford having the dialogue be fully voiced so they voiced SOME of the dialogue but left the rest as textboxes.

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Shantae: Half Genie Hero is a fantastic game that I would recommend to anybody that likes platformers or wants to see why everyone wants the purple-haired-half-human-half-genie girl in Smash Bros. However, the under used transformations, the fact that the story grinds to a full stop should you overlook anything, and the fact that quote-end-quote "normal" mode is way too easy makes me lower the score to a 8/10.

P.S. Random fun fact! One of the Transformation Dances is the Spider form, activated by performing the Spider Dance. Ironically, one of my favorite bits of video game music is also called "Spider Dance".

P.P.S. After playing Shantae: Half Genie Hero myself, I kind of wish that Shantae actually was in Smash Bros.

P.P.P.S. I guess Shantae's proficiency with magic is in her gen(i)es.

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