Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PS Vita) Review

By Thom Compton 06.05.2017

Review for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero  on PS Vita

It's time to admit some tough truths fellow gamers. Just like micro-transactions, auto-saving, and weird visual novels, retro inspired games are here to stay. If there's one company, though, that knows its retro influences, it's WayForward. While much of its work is adapting or expanding other studios' IPs, it does have a few of its own. None is more well-known than Shantae and her latest adventure, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PC review over here) is definitely a title only it could conceive. Sadly, it misses the point of being influenced, and instead decides to imitate. It just doesn't know where to draw the line.

Like many of its SNES influences, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is light on story, but it's there: the titular heroine, who lives on an island with her friends, is always trying to save the world, and the player must guide her through said world, saving the day left and right. While the influences are very apparent here, WayForward does a couple of things that feel entirely its own.

The artwork, for instance, is some of the best of its kind. WayForward has always been good at using art to give unique life to each of its pieces, and this is no different. The hand-drawn visuals almost feel impossible, like it had to be drawn onto a 3D animated mesh. Fluid animations are astounding and abound, and every fabric of the game is permeated in these gorgeous graphics.

Screenshot for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero  on PS Vita

The rest of the influences first come with boss battles; boss battles that manage to be both simple and very complex. While you won't be expected to do anything too crazy, it's all about memorising patterns, and this nails that formula. As early as the first boss, the player will need to figure out the steps involved in laying waste to a big baddie, and this sort of memorisation is sadly missing from modern gaming. While most titles expect gamers to pump lead into an enemy repeatedly until their life bar collapses into a see through column, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero remembers when boss fights required some planning.

At this point, anyone could be forgiven for thinking the retro style gameplay would cease, but, unfortunately, it doesn't. It gives way to gameplay long since abandoned, because designers realised they no longer had to punish people so deeply. This either didn't get that memo, or simply didn't care. Enemies, as early as the first level, are absurdly difficult for that point in the ordeal. Shantae's jump is rather meagre, so dodging around enemies is typically out of the question.

Screenshot for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero  on PS Vita

This leads to exploiting the few moments of invincibility that come with taking damage. This was a classic technique used in the NES library that few still give way to. Enemies don't manage to get easier as time goes on, however, and some of them seem downright unfair. There's a mermaid early on that perfectly demonstrates this, having an attack pattern that forces the player to simply run away. The mermaid then drops back into the water, only to re-emerge when thinking it's safe to go back again.

Adding to the feeling of unfair combat is the reward, or lack thereof, that comes with death - younger gamers please take a brief moment to understand this bit. Older videogames didn't used to have checkpoints, and any death was met with returning to the beginning of the level or the world map. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero gives gamers this feeling again, as death is met with returning to an earlier, unskippable cut-scene - oh yeah, you couldn't skip those either.

Screenshot for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero  on PS Vita

Of course, back in the day they weren't usually too long. Some were, but a lot were just long enough for those in control to wonder if Princess Peach was developing Stockholm syndrome. Here, they tend to drag on a bit too long to not be skippable. When the result of death is not only loss of progress, but re-watching a scene for the third time, when you may not have cared in the first place, is a bit steep.

It's not all bad, though. Jake Kaufman returns to put his touch on the music. If he ever tries to leave WayForward, it would be forgiven if they tied him down and made him produce over 300 hours of content they could shuffle through after his departure. He's a fantastic composer and one of the best the game industry has ever had. As you load up a level, the sound of retro inspired brilliance permeates the Vita's speakers, but Kaufman adds his own twist to everything. To summarise, Jake Kaufman may be the John Williams of videogames, and it's never been more apparent than here.

Screenshot for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero  on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is an orchestra for the senses, yet a bully to the mind. While it's a delight to look at and listen to, much of the gameplay feels like it should have been left in the past. Fortunately, clever boss fights that manage to fuse simplicity with depth save this from being an otherwise tiresome affair. If difficulty is a turn-off, though, steer clear. Other than that, anyone could do a lot worse than this little gem.






2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


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