Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by WayForward for PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Switch, 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.

In Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Shantae’s trademark hair whip attack and animal transformations make a return, but the visuals have undergone a significant makeover with a mixture of 2D and 3D elements, not unlike WayForward’s own DuckTales: Remastered. The series' trademark visuals are readily apparent in the new format, with vibrant colors, lots of detail, smooth animations, and loads of personality. (Ed note: Some screenshots were taken from the game’s Early Access Backer Build).


While the game is technically a sequel, it’s also something of a soft reboot for the series, a fact that indirectly commented upon by one of the game’s NPC’s. This can be seen in the descriptive nature of the game’s title, the return to Scuttle Town as the game’s starting point – complete with the city coming under attack, Shantae’s responsibility to protect it, and the city’s hapless mayor running around making poor decisions – and the reintroduction of practically every major character in the series.


Shantae spends much of the game helping her uncle construct a strange device made up of mysterious relics, which gains the attention of Risky Boots who attempts to steal the blueprints. From there, the boss encounters are a who’s who of the Shantae series, featuring many of the series’ classic (and often humorous) villains. On her journey, Shantae enlists the assistance of her friends Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops as well.


Veteran Shantae fans will find that the game retreads a lot of familiar ground from a narrative perspective. Unfortunately, dedicating a bit of time to every character in the series means that none of these encounters are particularly well fleshed out. For instance, Rottytops, who is one of the series’ more interesting characters, only appears during a couple of missions as an NPC. You do get to interact with her and her two brothers, but there’s not much room for her charmingly inappropriate zombie-isms when so many other characters need their time in the spotlight. Even Risky Boots only makes a couple of appearances to bookend the experience, and doesn’t necessarily stand out as the series’ primary antagonist. Her characterization here is as just another villain and doesn’t delve into the complex history that she and Shantae have shared in previous games.


When the game begins, Shantae is awakened from her slumber and runs out of her small lighthouse home in her bedclothes. She heads over to her uncle’s house where she discovers a strange trapdoor that she’s never seen before, while her uncle sleeps peacefully nearby in a chair. Passing through the trapdoor, Shantae finds herself in a cave filled with cute purple horned bats. She is unable to whip them with her trademark hair-whip attack – perhaps because a certain amount of styling is required beforehand – so she must avoid these creatures or lure them into torches to burn them to a crisp.


Reaching the end of the cave, Shantae encounters a ball of light near a waterfall which warns her that some great enemy threatens both the human world and the genie realm, and only she has the power to stop it. The next day, she finds herself back in Scuttle Town, believing the previous night’s events to be a dream, and even her uncle claims that there has never been a trapdoor in his shop.


For the remainder of the game, Shantae wears her signature outfit, consisting of billowy red pants and a bikini top. The HD visuals allow the player to read Shantae’s expressions, and she is a generally happy and upbeat hero, smiling when she grabs pickups and showing determination as she hair-whips enemies. Even when stationary, she has a very energetic and boppy idle animation. The world around her is similarly cartoony and colorful, with cheerful townsfolk standing around Scuttle town and occasionally offering helpful advice.


Scuttle Town has been simplified a bit from previous entries in the series, as it now offers a simple left-to-right row of buildings, with no additional areas or background layers to explore (although background details are evident in the artwork). Aside from the NPC’s, there are doorways leading to Uncle Mimic’s house, a shop, an energy-restoring bathhouse and hint dispensary, and Sky’s bird sanctuary which acts as the game’s transportation system.


In this game, Sky is able to transform one of her birds into a giant with comfortable seating for two. By boarding this bird, Shantae is able to select various levels from the hub world, and return to the hub by using a whistle in her inventory. At first, only a burning city is available, but new areas open as the plot unfolds, with six large areas eventually becoming available. Each area is made up of two or three distinct sections, and the layered level designs leave plenty of room to revisit areas and seek out new paths as animal transformations are earned (more on these in a bit) in traditional metroidvania fashion.


Several Shantae games have featured Scuttle town under attack, but none have done so with the bombast seen here. Shantae runs through the town as a pirate ship in the distance fires shells into the foreground. Towers are knocked down and sink into the water, and shells land in Shantae’s path, unleashing batches of Tinkerbats that fight her with scimitars… although they’re pretty easy to defeat as they dumbly walk to the left, leaving Shantae to whip them into oblivion. Additional Tinkerbats join the fray by pulling up in boats and jumping into Shantae’s path.


Along the way, Shantae must deal with platforming challenges that require her to jump between crumbling platforms over pools of water. Fortunately, she can swim, so missing a jump is just a minor setback. Completing this section allows her to transition to the next, entering a city on fire, with more platforming challenges and Tinkerbats to fight, including some Wizards & Warriors-style jutting stone platforming sections.


Finally, this opens up to a boss encounter with Risky Boots in some sort of blubbery fish-like creature (a Tinkerslug, apparently) who has come to steal Uncle Mimic’s blueprints for the strange device he is building. The player must dodge incoming cannon fire, and occasionally ring a bell that delivers an explosive barrel to a platform at the top of the arena. Hitting the Tinkerslug several times wins the battle and unlocks Shantae’s first animal transformation: a monkey. This is fitting, as the monkey transformation was the first one that she learned in her original adventure.


At any point during the game, Shantae can perform a belly dance and select one of the animal transformations available to her. The monkey form is very agile and allows her to climb walls and jump much higher with more midair direction control, and it can also be upgraded with the Monkey Bullet, allowing Shantae to dash away from walls in a straight line. In fact, many of the animal transformations can be upgraded with secondary abilities, many of which allow these animals to attack. These are largely optional but do lead to some additional rewards for explorative players, including health extensions and access to concept art.


The next area to explore is Mermaid Falls, and it is here where the layered level designs really become apparent. In her natural form, Shantae can swim across the surface of the water, but there are clearly areas that can only be reached by submerging. In addition, many of the platforms are too high for Shantae to reach, so she must transform into a monkey to scale ledges and ascend this very vertical area. Missing a jump means falling back down to an earlier area, or falling into the water, which will revert Shantae back to her half-genie self if she is in her monkey form.


Later, when Shantae earns the ability to transform into a crab – a new transformation not previously seen in the series – she is able to move underwater to reach some new areas. Still, even in this form, there are areas she cannot access, and red treasure chests lying just beyond her reach. Fully exploring this area requires additional transformations (and upgrades to these transformations). Players are very much encouraged to fully explore areas to not only advance the plot but also to find hidden upgrades, and even some entirely optional hidden transformations.


Returning forms from the original game include the aforementioned wall-crawling monkey, as well as an elephant that can break through certain blocks, a spider that can pull itself up on a web and walk across the ceiling (as opposed to climbing background elements as in the original game), and a late-game flight-based transformation in the form of a harpy... although enterprising players may find the new bat transformation earlier in the experience that allows flight in a straight line to the left or right.


Combined with the mermaid transformation – returning from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – and the new crab, bat, and mouse forms, along with some optional purchasable transformations, Shantae has many ways to explore the environment. In order to locate everything the game has to offer, she will need to return to previous levels several times and use her transformations to reach new areas. Additionally, new and more powerful enemies are added to existing levels upon returning to them.


Level elements that once appeared as innocuous background details become obvious routes to hidden treasures as the player understands how each animal form can navigate the environment. For instance, floors that once appeared to have decorative carvings later become obvious routes for exploration with the mouse transformation, adding new challenges to existing areas. With the spider transformation, every ceiling becomes a traversable path, allowing players to look at levels in new ways in order to discover hidden paths.


Supplementing Shantae’s abilities is a shop in Scuttle Town that sells health-restoring potions (which may be stockpiled), as well as various sorts of magic, including fire-based projectiles, a spinning pike ball, a lightning storm, and a protective bubble. Each magic type is upgradeable, although these abilities become less important as Shantae earns new animal transformations, and most enemies are easily dispatched with her hair whip attack.


Additional purchasable items allow Shantae to attract gems and health restoratives from a greater distance, sustain more damage, increase the strength and speed of her attacks, and warp between levels within a given world (great for re-exploring previous areas). In the early going, when Shantae only has two hearts in her health meter, these upgrades can help to keep her alive a bit longer, but once the player thoroughly explores the environment and has a dozen or so hearts, there aren’t many situations that pose a great threat. Checkpoints only appear at level transitions, but health restoratives may be found by killing enemies and breaking pots.


In addition, several shops are tucked around the levels, operated by sultry snake women in pots. These shops also sell health-restoring potions and the ability to warp, but also some new magic types, including the ability to trade some of the magic meter to restore health, and the ability to cause heavy damage to all onscreen enemies. These shops are also where the player can pick up some of the more bizarre optional transformations.


The game is once again filled with charm and humor, with Shantae getting into silly situations or foiling ill-conceived plans… such as one boss who is kidnapping maidens and joining them with fish to create fake mermaids for use in his canned Monster Chow. This translates to in-level zaniness as maidens are grabbed by their hair, whisked around a factory on hooks while they attempt to wriggle free of their restraints, and pulled over pools of water so that fish can jump up and grab their legs. This leads to a harrowing auto-scrolling sequence where Shantae slides down factory rollers, dodging barrels, enemies, and bottomless pits along the way… and without the ability to transform.


The game’s boss encounters also demonstrate the powerful illustrated visuals, with a number of giant screen-filling creatures towering over our heroine as she works to exploit their weak points and learn their patterns. This bold illustrated style is present throughout, combined with detailed animations, resulting in some striking enemy designs with loads of personality for returning foes and new ones alike.


Enemy mermaids now glare at Shantae as they prepare to strike, and open their mouths in shock as they take damage. Chubby overalls-wearing alligators dash in your direction when they spot you, and then look around with a confused expression when you’re out of their eye line. Fierce-looking archers close one eye when taking aim. And ghostly gelatinous bubblegum-like maidens reach out to grab Shantae, pulling her inside their bodies as they transform into a large pink bubble.



Pirate Queen's Quest
Pirate Queen's Quest is a paid DLC expansion to Shantae: Half-Genie Hero which allows you to replay the game from the point of view of Risky Boots, the series' primary antagonist. The game begins with Risky stating that every story has two sides, and she is about to explain how events really unfolded. The introduction is familiar, with Shantae’s uncle demonstrating his new invention which goes unexpectedly awry once it is powered up. On cue, Risky drops in to announce her nefarious plans, and then disables Shantae escapes with the device, with which she plans to take over all of Sequin Land… as soon as she can collect the remaining components.


In the next scene, Risky is seen sitting in a bubble bath aboard her ship, while her Tinkerbat minions stand around and await her orders. The bubble bath serves as a hub, which Risky revisits between each mission (hey, at least she stays clean). From here, players may select between any of the five areas in the original game, and these may be played in any order. The boss of each area gives up a machine component when defeated.


For the most part, Risky faces the same enemies as Shantae – although there are a handful of new foes introduced in this expansion – and in the scenes where she’s facing off against Tinkerbats, she explains that she is punishing them for insubordination or other perceived misdeeds.


Since Risky is unable to transform into animals like her half-genie rival, there are some changes to the level designs that allow her to pass through with her skill set. These changes come mostly in the form of switches that create hovering purple platforms, allowing risky to cross gaps and reach high platforms. Some of these platforms stay on while activated, while others disappear after a few seconds, and some are standard platforms that rise or fall when a switch is activated.


Risky’s scimitar acts similarly to Shantae’s hair whip, dealing melee damage at close range, but being a pirate, she also has a number of projectile-based weapons. These consist of a weak infinite-ammo pistol that is best used for activating distant switches, along with a 3-way spread shot and homing missiles, for which ammo is refilled by defeating enemies and breaking objects. Risky also has the ability to deploy Tinkerbats that go out and fight on her behalf, but this is much slower than simply walking over to the enemies and killing them. By finding treasure chests containing elements of dark magic, Risky can upgrade each of these weapons, as well as her health meter and secondary abilities.


Each time Risky defeats a boss (and yes, these are the same bosses that Shantae faced), her Tinkerbats gift her a different piece of pirate gear. Some of this gear comes directly from that found in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, such as a pirate hat that lets Risky glide through the air. At first, this ability only allows for a small midair hop and almost no gliding ability, but once it is fully upgraded, players can use it to cross huge gaps.


In addition, Risky can unlock a grappling hook that lets her grab onto the ceiling and even crawl along to the left or right, a kraken ball that allows underwater movement, a bomb shot that lets her fire bomb projectiles that break through destructible blocks, and a cannon jump that acts as a double jump, which can be further upgraded to allow for four successive jumps while also causing damage to enemies standing below and destroying destructible blocks.


This pirate gear is the core of the expansion’s metroidvania design, with each new piece allowing access to side paths that lead to treasure chests. These chests, in turn, offer black magic to allow Risky to upgrade her abilities, or one of 15 genie crystals, all of which must be collected to finish Risky's the machine and access the sixth and final area.


Without the animal transformations, there isn’t as much depth to the levels; Risky simply runs from one end of the level to the other, jumping on platforms and fighting enemies, and occasionally venturing down a side path if she has the appropriate ability to access it. As such, players can run through all five areas in about an hour, earning each piece of pirate gear along the way, and then spend another hour running back through the levels with these new abilities to access side paths and open all of the treasure chests, and then unlock the final area.


There is some humor to be had in Risky’s short and somewhat shallow adventure, as she speaks in her trademark haughty tone while she deals with the fact that her rival is more accomplished than she. There's also a humorous encounter with a character from a previous game, some Plague of Shadows-esque ribbing of former fellow bosses, and Risky even gives a piece of her mind to the giant mermaid that she inadvertently rescues after breaking her mind control spell along with her bonds.



2D CRED
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero and the Pirate Queen's Quest DLC were funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign and were 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, 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 Shantae series consists of the original Shantae on the Game Boy Color, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.

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