E3 2016: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is Just Plain Gorgeous

Shantae is one of those series’ out there which has received a deserved resurgence over the years. It seems weird how this once super obscure Game Boy Color title managed to spur a swath of new titles by WayForward, but it has! The latest of them all is Shantae: Half-Genie Hero which exists in large part thanks to a successful Kickstarter from back in 2013. At the time, they raised close to a million dollars and have been hard at work ever since. I was fortunate enough to try an early beta release last year, but at the time, found the title too lacking at the moment to really enjoy the colorful 2D platformer.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was playable at E3 and almost always had people playing away at the booth. After all, it’s tremendously hard to resist a game which looks this good. Instead of opting for 2D spritework like so many indie platformers do, this series has continued to pride itself on cartoon-style graphics. This effect is strengthened here, with amazingly animated characters, enemies, and backdrops which really make this one of the best looking upcoming releases out there. It’s not just the skill of the art itself but the care taken to bring everything to life. Tiny little animations such as Shantae’s crouching wiggle still manage to charm players.

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Since I played it before, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero now features two transformations – one into a purple monkey and one into a spider. Her dancing abilities are all keyed to one menu, making it a simple process to swap between transformations on the fly. Even so, I can’t say that either of them really do anything that entertaining. Sure, the monkey can climb up walls and the spider can climb on the ceiling or shoot, but Shantae herself could have easily been imbued with these powers. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I’m not an existing fan that these things don’t really affect me.

But maybe that’s the point here that I’ll never be able to grasp. The game may have eye-poppingly amazing visuals, but that’s all it seems to have. Platforming is not all that interesting, attacking swarms of the same monsters with your hair whip is hardly engaging either. Nor was the boss battle shown at the show floor which faced Shantae against Risky Boots’ snail boat thing. Sure, it looks super menacing, but the mechanisms for taking it down were the simplest boss battle fare can honestly get. All it required was figuring out an incredibly simple process and repeating it a few times. The boss didn’t appear to have many variations of attack and did not even move from its one spot on the battlefield. Heck, maybe this battle is the first in the game or was programmed as super easy so E3 attendees wouldn’t fail.

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Even when you get beyond my gripes with easy battling and bosses, however, there’s little left to excite me about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. It looks darn good, but the gameplay hardly stands out in a way any better than indie platformers looking to make a name for themselves on Steam. Charm is great but it only gets you so far. For non-fans such as myself, it will take a serious injection of fun to this game’s gameplay to get more people engaged in the adorable world of Shantae. I desperately want to love Shantae — so hopefully the final release is far stronger than what was already shown.