With my recent completion of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, I am proud to say I’ve finally gotten all caught up on WayForward’s Shantae series. From the first game via the 3DS Virtual Console, to ½ Genie Hero on the Switch, I’ve played every game in the series all the way through (not counting bonus modes for the half genie’s latest title that is). Those of you who’ve seen my review of ½ Genie Hero know I greatly enjoyed that game, as I do the rest of the series, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take issue with some elements of the games’ design.
Welcome back to Spit Shine! A blog series where I spitball ways to polish games. That means no going back to the drawing board: I have to figure out how to fix the game’s issues while preserving the core design. For this installment, I’ll be focusing on our favorite purple-haired belly dancer’s latter two games: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae: ½ Genie Hero. Fortunately, this’ll be a pretty easy tune-up, as both games already provide excellent adventures.
One of the most notable differences between Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and ½ Genie Hero is that the former doesn’t feature the series’ signature animal transformations. This makes the game feel quicker and more fluid compared to ½ Genie Hero. My hang up with the latter game isn’t that it includes the transformations, but the way the player selects said forms.
The menu features three pages of four transformations each, with each transformation corresponding to a direction on the D-pad. The issue is that to move to the next page the player has to sit and wait for it to advance to the next page automatically. The fact that this pace breaker made it past prototyping—quite frankly—leaves me confounded. I can only imagine it was implemented the way it was to keep with the premise of these abilities being dances, and thus incorporating some rhythmic element. While the attempt to interweave mechanics with narrative is admirable, using a rhythm-based system didn’t work too well in the first two games and—while the best attempt so far—it still doesn’t feel quite right here.
My solution? Just let the player page through the options using the L and R buttons. Heck, the weird rhythm component could even be left in-tack if it’s really that important, just having the option to scroll back if the player spaces out, or the ability to jump ahead would tighten up gameplay considerably.
Oh, and while this isn’t a problem, per se, it’d be pretty cool if each page had a different dancing animation. Just throwing it out there.
My next issue with the latter two Shantae games is the presence of useless abilities. Unlike the previous section, this is something both games are guilty of. The main offenders in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse are the back dodge and the power kick moves Shantae can purchase at the shop in Scuttletown. ½ Genie Hero trims the fat by ditching the kick, but somehow makes the back dodge even less useful.
Let’s start with the power kick. The power kick is—as you’ve probably already guessed—a kick with a long wind up animation that deals more damage than Shantae’s default hair-whipping attack. The issue, however, is that between the speed of Shantae’s whip attack and the damage it deals after upgrades (which you’ll probably purchase first), the default attack can deal significantly more damage per second than the power kick can.
The problem is the default attack can deal significantly more damage per second than the power kick can.
Fixing this is tricky, but I think it can be done. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as scaling the kick’s damage and wind-up to Shantae’s hair whip; the upgrade items are explicitly identified as shampoo and conditioner, which wouldn’t logically wouldn’t affect Shantae’s kicks. Sure, we could just change the identity of the upgrade items to something like a strength potion, but that’s just…boring! The Shantae games are known for their strong sense of personality and theming, so strange as it sounds, I don’t think that’s a reasonable compromise.
Instead, I think it better to ask, “why would the player want to use the power kick over a hair whip and vice versa?” One possible answer is giving the kick a special property such as breaking through an enemy’s defenses or stunning an opponent, thus setting them up for a flurry of hair whips. Alternatively, the devs could’ve just increased the raw damage. The base kick barely does more than a fully upgraded hair whip and is much slower, so why not just increase the amount of damage dealt? If done right, this would give the power kick tactical validity. The hair whip would be more effective when the player has a wide window of opportunity to deal multiple hits in sequence, and the power kick would be the best option when the player only has enough time to land a single blow. That said, the price to buy the technique would probably need to be increased to keep things balanced.
The next useless ability is the back-dodge. As the name implies, this technique allows Shantae to slide backwards, presumably to avoid damage. The problem, however, is that it just isn’t effective. When using the back-dodge, Shantae moves about as fast as she would when walking and she doesn’t even gain any invincibility frames. As such, the player has more control using Shantae’s default movement options. On top of that, the move has a cool down period which isn’t communicated to the player in any capacity. ½ Genie Hero somehow manages to nerf it even further by eliminating its ability to cancel out of attack animations.
So how to fix it? Well, its utility would greatly benefit from getting invincibility frames, a significant speed up, or both. The cool-down should be telegraphed, possibly by having Shantae flash briefly after it recharged (or it could be cut altogether). Lastly, the team could restore the back-dodges ability to cancel out of attack animations, though, I’d say that, if the previous improvements were implemented, it’d be optional.
Just because ½ Genie Hero removed the power kick doesn’t mean it’s free of bloat. Some of Shantae’s transformations just don’t have much use. While it would be easy to say that’s just a function of level design, given the metroidvania-esque structure of ½ Genie Hero, the abilities themselves are just as much to blame. The issue is that many of the late-game abilities make previous abilities almost completely redundant. The two most notable examples are the bat ability and the spider ability.
Let’s start by dissecting the former. The bat ability allows Shantae to fly horizontally, which would be useful if it weren’t for the fact that the harpy ability the player receives at the end of the game just straight up allows Shantae to fly in every direction. There are some attempts to distinguish the two transformations: the bat eventually gets an echolocation ability that’s useful for navigating darkened corridors and is easier to control than the harpy, neither of which matter outside of one or two sections. Because the harpy is simply more versatile in the vast majority of situations, it quickly replaces the bat.
My solution? Remove the harpy transformation. Now, I know that sounds a bit backwards at first, but hear me out. The limitation of the bat power is that it can’t fly up or down, only side-to-side. That could easily be fixed with an end-game upgrade, giving the bat transformation the same utility as the harpy. With that in mind, which is more interesting? The harpy is only good at flying, while the bat has the extra layer that comes from its echolocation power-up, making it the more interesting of the two, in my personal opinion.
My solution? Remove the harpy transformation.
Now let’s talk spiders. The spider is functionally similar to the bat: it can clamber across ceilings to move horizontally. The major difference is that when in spider form, Shantae can use webbing to ascend to the ceiling. This transformation is also made almost completely unnecessary once the harpy transformation is unlocked, but has the added problems of already resembling the bat transformation and there being very few places in the game to use it in general. Ultimately, hardly any changes would need to be made to the level design if the spider transformation was removed from the game altogether. So, assuming the bat transformation’s utility was expanded on as described earlier, we could also just cut the spider transformation from the game.
Unlike my previous Spitshine article on Astro Duel Deluxe, none of the issues I mention lessen the experience of their respective games. Both Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae: ½ Genie Hero are excellent adventures from beginning to end and worthy of your time and money, and I eagerly look forward to whatever next in the series regardless of whether or not they fix any of these issues.
Though I really would like it if they fixed the dance menu.