Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

A game by WayForward for PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, and Wii U, originally released in 2016.
The Shantae series got its start on the GameBoy Color in 2002, but it wasn’t until recently that the purple-haired half-genie really made her way into the spotlight. In her original adventure, she used her magical animal transformations and hair whip attack to defend Sequin Land from a nefarious pirate named Risky Boots. But it wouldn't be until 2010 that her story continued with Shantae: Risky's Revenge. In this adventure, Shantae was able to defeat her nemesis once more, but victory came at a price… Shantae lost her magical abilities and was transformed into a human.

In 2014’s Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Shantae found that a new enemy was on the rise, and she formed an unlikely alliance with Risky Boots in order to save the land once again. Without her ability to transform into animals, Shantae instead uncovered Risky’s pirate gear, with each piece granting her new combat and environmental navigation abilities, allowing her to reach previously inaccessible areas in traditional metroidvania fashion.

As you may have guessed by the title of her latest adventure, Shantae regained her magical abilities (well, in the good ending anyway) and returned to her former half-genie self.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is currently under development by the folks at WayForward, but they have released a 3-level beta (UPDATE: There are now 4 levels) to demonstrate what players can expect from Shantae’s next outing… Shantae’s trademark hair whip attack and animal transformations make a return, but the visuals have undergone a significant makeover. Like WayForward’s own DuckTales: Remastered, the latest game features high definition 2D character sprites intermixed with 3D environments. The series' trademark visuals shine in this new format, with vibrant colors, lots of detail, beautiful animations, and loads of personality.

Level 1
In the first level, Shantae finds herself in a jungle, surrounded by ruins and broken columns, with waterfalls pouring down into a river below. Fortunately, Shantae is able to swim, so the water poses no danger for her.

Shantae is greeted by a few enemy types here, including some pretty tough mermaid foes that cast magical orbs in her direction. These mermaids can absorb a lot of damage before going down and their wide attacks can be difficult to dodge. Other enemies include snakes that fall from the ceiling and wandering red crabs. All of these enemies are traditional foes from previous entries in the Shantae series.

Also making its return is Shantae’s classic monkey transformation, which is the first transformation that Shantae learned in her original adventure. As in past titles, Shantae is able to transform into this animal form by performing a belly dance, and she can change back to her half-genie form at will (and she changes back automatically if she touches the water in her monkey form).

This first level is very nonlinear and offers numerous routes both vertically and horizontally. Shantae will need to use her monkey transformation frequently here, as the monkey is able to run faster and jump higher, and it can stick to walls and climb up and down any vertical surface.

As the player moves through the level, he discovers a number of breakable vases, which drop gems or occasionally health restoratives, although it’s unclear how this currency will be used in the final game. Also present is an inaccessible treasure chest, which will presumably become accessible with one of Shantae’s other abilities. When Shantae reaches the end of the level, she discovers a number of women being held in cages, but these cages are whisked off the side of the screen as she approaches, and the level ends without any additional explanation.

Level 2
The second level takes place in a desert where Shantae must deal with an entirely new set of enemies, including green enemies that can shoot their spikes out at angles, and which are occasionally airlifted into the area by armored birds. The area also has segmented purple creatures that rise up out of the sand and must be repeatedly smacked to be forced back down and eventually destroyed.

The desert environment is much more hostile than that of the jungle, with quicksand that pulls Shantae down and harsh winds that shove her backward. In some places, Shantae must whip blocks with her hair in order to reach higher ground, and she must use pillars to protect herself from the wind. The desert also has quite a bit of water, but it is much deeper than the water found in the jungle, and it requires the use of another animal transformation…

New to the series is Shantae’s ability to transform into a crab. Since Shantae can only move across the surface of the water when swimming, she cannot move down into its depths, but the crab can. Shantae’s crab form moves slowly, and it has no offensive abilities, although it can duck to pull its shell over its head and make itself temporarily invulnerable.

When entering the water in crab form, Shantae sinks slowly downward, allowing her to move back and forth to collect gems and avoid some nasty-looking fish with big teeth. The player can also push DOWN to make the crab sink more quickly. By moving under the water, Shantae is able to avoid a wide area of blowing wind that is otherwise impassible. As in the jungle, Shantae discovers an area underwater that is unreachable with the abilities available to her in the demo.

Level 3
The third level is a forced-scrolling stage where Shantae finds herself hurtling through a forest on a gigantic set of metal rollers. As she slides ever downward, huge metal barrels come rolling down with her, requiring that she jump to avoid them. Getting hit by a barrel only reduces Shantae’s health; much more dangerous are the gaps between the rollers.

Every now and again, Shantae encounters a set of rollers that are marked with black and yellow stripes, indicating that a gap is upcoming. Players must time their jumps – and avoid enemies within – to clear the opening and avoid instant death at the bottom of the pit. Often, gems are placed in the air around these gaps to help the player determine the proper jump timing.

Enemies occasionally attack while Shantae is on the rollers as well, notably an alligator who appears on a zipline above her, attacking her with dead fish… all part of the ludicrous humor that the series is known for. Since Shantae can’t attack while she is sliding, the only way to fend off these zip-gators is to jump up and hair whip them with the proper timing.

Level 4
Following the release of the original 3-level demo, WayForward released an update showcasing a fourth area, which appears to be Scuttle Town. Here, a pirate ship moves through the background, firing shells into the foreground. Rather than standard cannon fire, however, these shells are packed with shadow pirates (a.k.a. Tinkerbats).

Six red-hooded creatures pop out of a door on top of the “cannonball” and begin patrolling the environment, and Shantae can whip them into oblivion with her hair. Oddly, the shell itself causes damage when touched, so she must also destroy it before she can move forward.

As Shantae runs through the level, the pirate ship continues to fire, sending projectiles into towers in the background, which break and fall down into the water. Shantae deals with wooden platforms that drop out beneath her feet and send her into the water, as well as a couple of instances where she needs to whip a crate in order to reach a higher ledge, but otherwise the platforming here is fairly straightforward.

Much of the focus is on fighting a continuous supply of shadow pirates that crash down from above, and jump onto your plane from fast moving boats that pull up alongside you.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero remains in development, but the final product promises a number of new environments and enemies, as well as numerous playable characters. As this was a Kickstarter-funded project, backers are taking part in the design process by creating new enemies and transformations, and voting on what will appear in the game.

Many of the game’s stretch goals have been met as well, which means that the game will feature a fully playable campaign for Risky Boots, allowing the player to take control of the pirate through her own full-length adventure – using her scimitar and pistol – spanning the entire game. Of course, her mission is somewhat different, as her ultimate goal is to defeat Shantae.

Additional playable characters include former series NPC’s, including the endearing zombie, Rottytops; Bolo, the mildly incompetent fighter; and Sky, the bird trainer. Each of these characters will have a story mode that makes use of their unique abilities. The game will also feature unlockable costumes that let players return to the game with new stats (just like the Pirate Mode and Magic Mode from previous entries in the series). These costumes include a bikini, a ninja outfit, and Patricia Wagon’s outfit from Mighty Switch Force. There are also backer-exclusive costumes, and a backer-exclusive weapon in the form of the Drifter Blade from Hyper Light Drifter.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign and was developed by WayForward, a California-based company founded in 1990. The developer’s catalogue consists mostly of licensed titles, including Contra 4, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, DuckTales: Remastered, The Mummy Demastered,and the Adventure Time games. In 2009, the company reimagined the NES game A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia with their Wii release of A Boy and His Blob. WayForward is perhaps best known for their original IP’s, which include the Mighty series (Mighty Flip Champs, Mighty Switch Force, etc.) and the Shantae series.

Music for the game was composed by Jake “Virt” Kaufman, who also composed the soundtracks for the previous Shantae titles as well as Contra 4, Retro City Rampage, Ultionus, Shovel Knight, and numerous other games.

The game’s development brings along some notable 2D artists as well… Shantae is being animated by Mariel Cartwright, the lead animator for Skullgirls; the backgrounds are being created by Gigi Digi of Cucumber Quest fame; and character concepts and illustrations are being designed by Inti Creates, developers of Azure Striker Gunvolt and many of the latter-day Mega Man games, including Mega Man 9 and 10, the Mega Man Zero series, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man ZX Advent.

The Shantae series consists of the original Shantae on the Game Boy Color, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, and Shantae and the Seven Sirens.