Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

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Game Title: Shantae Half-Genie Hero
Developer: WayForward, XSEED
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 952 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: No

Among platformer games, I hold Shantae in a high regard in terms of being fun.  The Shantae series has been around since the days of the Game Boy Color and is still around today.  Mostly on handhelds, Shantae has also been making the jump to console games in the form of ports some of the more semi-recent Shantae games.  The PS4, for example, has a port of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, made back in 2010.

As far as the PlayStation Vita is concerned, Shantae does not grace the handheld with her presence until today.  The first 3 games of the series never came to the Vita.  However, that changes now.  The newest game in the series comes out today and I have a review for you.  Brought to the world by Kickstarter, here is my review of the PlayStation Vita version of Shantae: Half Genie Hero!

Story

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The story revolves around a half-genie, half-human named Shantae, the protagonist of the entire series.  She is working as a Guardian Genie for a small town, protecting it from invaders and other such threats.  One night, she awakens from a dream about the Genie Realm being in danger.  In the coming days, she is thrown an invasion, being fired from her job, and a host of other things that turn her world upside down while she treads towards that looming threat on her mother’s magical realm.

The story of Half Genie Hero is qujte funny and comical.  Most major characters from previous games show up in this game, and that’s where one thing is thrown at you.  The PS Vita has never had a Shantae game.  Neither did the PSP.  These returning characters don’t really get introductions so you won’t know of them unless you played the previous games of the series.  That makes things rather confusing with how the game shows them coming up.

Gameplay

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Shantae: Half Genie Hero is a side-scrolling platformer with combat elements thrown into the mix.  It is very much in tune with the previous games of the series.  You will be navigating platforms, discovering secrets, and fighting enemies in a side-scrolling manner.  If I had any series to actively compare it do, it might be Kirby and the Amazing Mirror because of the elements of exploration and secret-finding.

As you progress through the game, story events will drive you towards your current objective.  You will explore these objectives through your town that acts as a base of operations and the actual levels out in the world where you fight enemies and bosses.  At the start, you’ll be limited on where you can go, but the more levels you complete, the more exploration and free-roam you’re able to do.

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Speaking of levels, each level will have lots of enemies for you to fight.  Defeating enemies or destroying objects will net you HP drops for replenishing health, MP drops for filling your magic meter, and Gems that are used at the shops to purchase healing items or new abilities.  Finally, each level will end in a fight with a huge boss.  Fighting the boss can be tricky based on their attack pattern, but has a good reward: Transformations.

Transformations are the unique skill for Half Genie Hero.  Each one allows you to turn into an animal form that gives you special abilities.  For example, the Monkey transformation lets you cling to walls while the Mermaid transformation lets you freely swim underwater with no restraint.  Some of these transformations are obtained from bosses, while a few of them are hidden in levels for you to find.

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That is where exploration opens up.  Every level is filled with secrets that require specific abilities to reach.  These secrets range from key items you need to collect for the good ending to the game to optional transformations, powers, and Heart Containers to increase your Maximum Health.  Each new transformation opens up new secrets to discover and the further you go, the easier and more fun the game becomes.

All of this repeats itself quite a bit until the end of the game, where you can continue to unlock secrets to get the Good Ending, or jump straight into the final level and get the ending that will make you very sad.  But, all in all, it gives you a good run of time.  My first time through the game for the Good Ending took about 8 hours.  Once you finish the game, you unlock New Game Plus where you can start the game with all transformations unlocked from the get-go, which is a necessity if you plan on doing the Speed-Run trophies.

Controls

Despite the fact that the game’s Kickstarter page said the game would be Vita TV compatible, it is not.  When I spoke to WayForward, they said they couldn’t make their release date and make the game compatible at the same time.  This was due to some confusion on Sony’s end which I hope I have cleared up.  Compatibility may come in a future patch, but it is not currently PSTV Compatible.

Controlling the game is pretty easy.  No touch controls.  You can move around with the D-Pad or the Left Analog Stick.  The triggers can be used to fire off your currently-selected magic, though the Circle button does that too.  Now let’s talk face buttons.  X is used to jump and Square for physical attacks.  Circle is used for magic attacks and Triangle lets you dance to change forms.  That’s about all there is to it, with the exception of Select allowing you to swap equipped spells without having to go through the menu.

Presentation

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Here is where things get nice.  Visually, the game looks great.  The areas are colorful and the models look very refined and crisp and clean.  All in all, the game just looks beautiful and the fact that there are actively-moving elements in the background of every stage only make that more apparent.

The music is also something to be praised.  The game’s theme song, Dance Through the Danger, is enchanting.  If you’re a fan of female vocals in music, you need to look it up.  Along with that, the in-game music that compliments the main theme fits into not only the genie theme but the overall experience really well.

Performance-wise, I have no complaints but I will tell you about something.  Half Genie Hero runs at 60 fps on the Vita.  The frame-rate does drop a little bit at times during explosions and whatnot, but not huge drops.  The slowest it ever goes is still well over 30 fps.  So, for a Vita game, it runs pretty darn good.

Load times are nice as well.  The longest I ever had to wait on a loading sequence was 5 seconds, so it is optimized quite well.

Summary

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a game that almost didn’t exist, but you should be glad that it does.  The story does throw newcomers under the bus, but the game looks great, runs great, and offers a colorfully sexy platforming experience that lets it nab the title of one of this writer’s favorite platformers of the year. 

9/10

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