Shantae: Half Genie Hero Review – PS4

Taking the main stage in Shantae: Half Genie Hero is none other than Shantae the genie. Pulled from its Game Boy Color 2002 origins, Shantae: Half Genie Hero hopes to create the same level of Metroidvania polish that made the franchise such a niche hit on the handheld platform. She uses unique dances to get past obstacles and her hair as a whip to defeat enemies, but is that enough to keep you playing?

For those unfamiliar with the Shantae franchise, yes, she uses dances as a utility. These dances transform her into different animals to help her get through tight spaces or climb high reaches. Through different dances found in the game, Shantae can find new ways to get around levels she has already beaten, yielding a healthy sense of replay value with the added opportunities to find more dances to open up even more areas to explore. 

What makes this a bit cumbersome is that there’s no real way to identify where these hidden areas are—or that anything is missing in that level—without either discovering or stumbling into those hidden areas on your own. Completionists may find this rather arduous, but what DOES make this game unique is how having all these extras so well hidden makes a standard playthrough feel like less of a letdown. Without doing much exploring, you find just enough unlocks and upgrades to make the game feel enjoyable, and there’s no real sense that you’re missing anything. 

The visuals in Half Genie Hero channel a cartoony style. This adds to the overall lightheartedness to how the game approaches itself. Nothing is too serious and everything is easy to identify. Plus, animations are lush and vibrant, adding a nice layer of motion to the aesthetic. Enemy variety is rather nice too, with each location featuring its own set of creatures and baddies to overcome. The boss fights themselves are unique as well, with many different tasks to complete in order to overcome the boss encounter. 

The music is a bit hit and miss. There were times where I would bob my head to the poppy jams while other times I wasn’t sure I was playing a “E for Everyone” title. The soundtrack differentiates itself well enough, and each area has a unique track that adds to the setting.

A comparison I wanted to make with Shantae was Rayman, and that’s only because there’s a certain level of charm with the cartoony aesthetic combined with the gameplay style. However, one major factor separates Shante from Rayman: pace. Half Genie Hero is a much slower affair in comparison, but it’s far from slow. This game requires patience over zealotry, or else a misstep is bound to happen. This speed carries over into boss battles as well. This leaves room for trial and error with the fights and leave a rather nice feeling of fulfillment without the frustration of restarting.

This isn’t to say that Shantae is easy either. Early on, the game is rather challenging due to a limited quantity of hearts with comparatively hard-hitting enemies, but with a few upgrades the game gains a balance that helps perpetuate exploration. Upgrades such as stronger armor and shampoos strengthen hair fairly early on, so going into the second half of the game will be a breeze.

Shantae spends a great deal of her time trying to prove herself to those around her by finding items, completing objectives, and defeating enemies. She proves time and again that she’s more than capable of overcoming any task, but she keeps getting disregarded by the townsfolk, her uncle included, as their narrow focuses prove a sense of ignorance to the world around them. This is frustrating, because you, as the person playing as Shantae, are also feeling that sense that no matter what you do your actions do not matter farther than completing the task. Sure, it’s just a game with Metroidvania roots that show themselves in a nice, modern way, but having no real depth to the realm makes every task feel isolated. 

Despite all this, there’s plenty of fun to be had if a clean, engaging platformer is what you’re after, with plenty of upgrades and unlocks to maintain a steady sense of progress. Beware having to backtrack in order to find everything, because there’s a lot to unlock and a lot to discover. Shantae, you stay!



The Final Word

Channeling its Metroidvania roots, Shantae offers newcomers and genre aficionados alike a taste of what made the genre so great back when it was new and uncharted while offering plenty of upgrades to keep the journey feeling progressive.