I suspect it’s always been a matter of timing with Shantae. The series made its debut in 2002 on the Game Boy Colour – well past the peak years of both genre and platform. Shantae games just never quite seem to fit.
It’s a shame, because quality has never been an issue. That’s why we’re particularly glad that the latest game in the series, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, has found a natural home on Nintendo’s Switch console.
No half measures
This is a bright, beautiful, amusingly written and imaginatively designed 2D platformer with a much more ambitious structure than your average Sonic or Mario wannabe.
It’s kind of a Metroidvania, but without the vast continuous overworld area. You’ll find yourself accruing new abilities that enable you to explore new avenues of previously visited areas, but those areas are distinct levels that are unveiled in a linear fashion.
Shantae herself is a much more potent character than she initially seems. In her regular form she can dispatch enemies with a flick of her long hair, or employ a sizeable armoury of magical attacks ranging from fireballs to storm cloud mines.
But the real fun happens why you turn to he transformation ability.
Lamping your enemies
Start Shantae jigging with a press of X and you’ll be able to turn her into a growing roster of regular and mystical creatures, each with their own distinct move set.
There’s a crab who opens up a whole new watery layer of the levels you’ve visited to date, an elephant who charges through large obstacles, and a monkey who can clamber up walls, to name just three.
When you consider that each of these forms has additional abilities to unlock, you’ll hopefully start to realise that there’s much more to Shantae: Half-Genie Hero than its bright and breezy exterior suggests.
Far from wishy-washy
Still, special mention really should be made of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero‘s delightful presentation. Its world is a real mish-mash of thematic elements, stirring in middle-eastern folklore, Japanese anime, pirates, zombies, and more.
But it all works thanks to a combination of pin-sharp HD 2D sprite work, superbly characterful artwork, and brilliantly expressive animation. Add in a script that strikes just the right humorous tone and you’re onto a winner.
I’ve been pretty glowing so far, but Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is far from the perfect game. There are frequent difficulty spikes that are made worse by some sloppy checkpointing, while traipsing back through previous levels to get to a specific spot can occasionally grow tiresome (you can acquire a dance that mitigates that, but it’s optional).
Some of the general enemy interactions seem a little clumsy too, with new areas yielding bullet-sponge opponents that literally hop out right on top of Shantae, causing almost unavoidable damage.
But there are plenty of distractions to ensure that you’ll never be in danger of throwing the towel in. There’s always a flying carpet race or a screen-filling boss or an exciting new power-up just around the corner to grant your wish for something new.