The weekend gaming session is in full swing courtesy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. While this 2D platformer series saw daylight already in 2002 on Game Boy Color, I’ve missed all the previous ones due to a severe digital allergy and – as for the very first game – never having owned a GBC. After WayForward finally decided to test the waters by releasing Shantae’s newest escapade also in physical form, I had no reason not to give it a chance. And sure enough, it turned out to be a pretty good call, even if the ride was a tad bumpy.
The heroine of the game, Shantae, is a perky, upbeat dancer stylishly grooving away in harem pants. She’s also the Guardian Genie of Scuttle Town. A demanding post for sure, given that the wily female pirate, Risky Boots, seems rather fixated on terrorizing the citizens of said town. Shantae’s uncle is already working on some weird contraption that should keep Risky at bay but since it’s missing a miscellaneous bunch of parts, it’s up to Shantae to travel the world and pick them up.
Shantae is charming from the get-go. The eloquent, anime-inspired graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the animation of the heroine in particular, with all the fluidity and attention to detail, is absolutely phenomenal. A jolly soundtrack with subtle oriental undertones accompany the action well.
Shantae isn’t as much a straightforward platformer as it is a (silly-)story-driven action-adventure. Even if new locations are unlocked one by one, the hunt for spare parts frequently requires visits to Scuttle Town, which acts as a central hub of sorts. There, conversations with its denizens give hints on what to do next and where to do it. Previously completed stages are constantly revisited but if that sounds like repetition, it’s not like that at all; along the way, Shantae learns dances that enable her to transform into other characters, each with their own array of skills. Monkey Shantae, for example, can ascend vertical walls with ease whereas Mermaid Shantae is a given to explore underwater locations. With skills like these, every vast stage is suddenly rife with Metroidvania-like secrets to unravel.
Shantae might look jovial and easy to approach, but I’d say a word of warning is still in place. At least for a casual gaming pleb like myself, the courtship period was utterly harrowing. Checkpoints are sparse and Shantae’s health just plain pathetic. For the first hour, I mostly ended up repeating the same sections over and over again. After challenging the second boss, I must have viewed the Game Over screen dozens of times in a row. Pure frustration almost made me write off the game as inconsequential rubbish before it had even started.
After bumping into a couple of health upgrades and especially after realizing that the Scuttle Town shop sells all sorts super-helpful items such as healing magic and health potions, my blood pressure started to return to ordinary levels. It’s not that big a deal but these kind of moments are exactly what manuals are meant for. Sadly, even physical copies no longer have those. Actually, this one doesn’t even have an in-game help screen that would show what each button does. Everything has to be learned blind. Manageable, sure, but an unnecessary hurdle nonetheless.
Even if the level designers seem to love exact jumps, disappearing platforms, sudden deaths, memorization, automatically scrolling panic sections, and other cheap stunts like that, the game actually becomes easier as you go along. If you can be at least moderately bothered with the hidden stuff, the roughly seven-hour journey eventually turns quite relaxed somewhere in the middle. While the game might have serious balance issues, it’s actually refreshing to play as someone who has an easier time by growing stronger. Makes sense, really.
Overall, I don’t think I’ll join the cult of Shantae quite yet but it was still an experience I wouldn’t mind more of. I left behind a bunch of collectibles and it looked like it has an NG+ of some sort, so perhaps this isn’t the last time it enjoys coverage. For now, though, I’m happy with its end credits and will move on to ponder what to play next.
A couple of other games have recently found their way into the collection, too. Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, together with its eight art cards (of which the one in the photo is perhaps the least controversial), is most likely going to be as ecchi as it gets. It’s not interesting because of gameplay elements or ridiculously massive boobs but because it’s so hilariously and unapologetically Japanese. If anything, I’m looking forward to hearty, good-natured laughs. As for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I already have the Japanese copy but since it featured a baffling amount of text for a rhythm game, I think I’ll give it a more proper go in English. It’s probably not going to overthrow Hatsune Miku but if this blog will ever feature any sort of blatant bias then you can be sure that all Japanese rhythm games are, by default, pretty much the best thing ever!