WayForward’s Shantae series makes its first appearance on Nintendo Switch. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is the crowdfunded magical genie adventure that belly danced its way onto Wii U and numerous other platforms at the tail end of 2016. With the Nintendo Switch already here, and having played Shantae: Half-Genie on two other platforms, I have to say that Nintendo is the way to go if you haven’t already picked this gem up.
The portability of the Nintendo Switch is reason enough to download Shantae: Half-Genie Hero from the Nintendo eShop. The colorful and extremely vibrant Sequin Land pops when playing on both your TV and in the Switch’s handheld mode. On top of that, Shantae plays as smoothly as it ever has. I never witnessed a single frame rate drop in either style of play.
Speaking of which, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero continues to be one of most beautiful platformers I’ve seen in a good while, thanks the gorgeous (and what must’ve been painstaking to create) hand-drawn animations for each of the game’s characters. Sequin Land also persists in boasting amazing music thanks to Jake Kaufman, Shantae’s own longtime composer. How Kaufman continues to come up with new, catchy rhythms for the assortment of lands Shantae explores still astounds me.
For the uninitiated, Shantae is Scuttle Town’s guardian genie (half-genie to be accurate). One day Scuttle Town falls under a surprise attack by the pirate, Risky Boots, who, naturally, aims to take over every corner of the sea. Shantae will have to stop her evil doing by helping her uncle Mimic build his town-saving contraption: the Dynamo, by gathering components to the device spread across Sequin Land.
The game’s main story may be a little short, at five or six hours, if you’re used to the type of platformer that Shantae is. Are you familiar with the term: “Metroidvania”? If not, Metroid and Castlevania made the typical platformer more challenging by requiring players to gather resources and backtrack to areas they’ve already been to. Players backtracked because an item that was found in one place could help them progress to areas that were otherwise inaccessible before. It’s an effort to boost the sense that you inhabit a larger world than you think, and it’s the same for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, as well as the other fantastic Shantae games.
In this case, Shantae will earn dance transformations that allow her to take the form of a bat, a mermaid, an elephant, a monkey, and several more. These forms each have their own methods of traversal and/or combat, and it’s up to you to figure out how you can use their unique properties to continue your adventure. The elephant transformation can ram through obstacles, the mermaid form gives Shantae free movement in water and a bubble attack, and the monkey gives Shantae more verticality in her jumps and enables her to stick to walls temporarily. Therein lies the meat of the game, as does the enjoyment. The levels aren’t that long so you’ll find traveling won’t be a burden if you’re not sure where to go at first.
Several stages lend themselves to the multitude of powers that Shantae will come to possess. These stages can also act as teaching tools in a way. Your newfound power’s ability will be put to the test as soon as you get them, showing you how to use it to your advantage. It’s at times like these when you realize what new places you can now get to. Shantae delights in making the figurative light bulb above your head shine and “aha” vocalize from your lips. I’m so glad these moments are not far and few between. While the game’s story can be brief when viewed from afar, Shantae is certainly not going to beat around the bush. This is a game that’s all about keeping you engaged and moving.
My one reservation with the genie dance mechanic is that the transformations are divided into three pages of tiles. It can be difficult to pinpoint which transformation you want since they appear on-screen momentarily before shuffling to the next. I like the concept and the variety of dances, but perhaps a transformation “wheel” can work instead of pages of constantly changing tiles.
You’ll want to take your time in each world to gather gems because Scuttle Town’s merchant will sell magic genie powers, each of which can stack to create more powerful version of that power. For example, the first tier fire power allows Shantae to cast one fireball, the third tier is a full on flamethrower. Moreover, permanent upgrades to Shantae’s hair whip attack and the speed of said attack can also be purchased from the merchant, along with other magical goodies.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero will keep you coming back for a little more after your initial play through. Completing the game once will enable speedrun mode and hard mode. Hidden keys to Sequin Land’s Art Museum can be found in each stage that will unlock doors to the museum’s art gallery as well as Kickstarter Backer fanart. You might find a certain reviewer’s fanart submission behind door # 9. Just saying.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a short but sweet package. It delivers a satisfying adventure of a platformer within a colorful world carried on the shoulders of an equally colorful cast of characters. They even poke fun at the series’ past as well as gamer-centric humor. If you own a Nintendo Switch, there’s no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of a Shantae experience. The accessibility of Nintendo Switch is another reason. Taking a Shantae home console game on-the-go at anytime? To quote the half-genie, “I’m Ret-2-Go.”