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Shantae Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition (Switch) – Review

The Switch code was provided by James Montagna. Previously, we’ve interviewed James and he made an appearance in Source Gaming’s 2nd Anniversary Live Stream Party. We’ve also hung out together when he visited Japan.

To celebrate the launch of this title we are holding a contest for a chance to win a copy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition on Steam. Follow the link for more details (after you have read the review of course): http://bit.ly/2rBSTBH

Shantae Half-Genie Hero was a game that released in 2017 for all console platforms, Switch included. Since its release, the developers Wayforward have spent the last year creating and releasing a plethora of promised DLC modes that add in new characters and ways to play, and Shantae Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is the culmination of it all – an all-in-one package. Now that the game has released in full it is time to review it, the main game as well as all the DLC, so we can see whether this game can really live up to its name.

 

Story

The story of Shantae Half-Genie Hero is not a complicated one. The main game has Shantae traveling around Sequin Land trying to find the pieces required to make her Uncle’s Dynamo Machine while saving (& fighting) mermaids, racing on magic carpets and fending off pirates. It isn’t as lore-heavy as the previous game but I believe Wayforward created the first console Shantae game with the idea that this may be many people’s first Shantae game and so it is very basic, which I have no problem with.

That’s the main campaign though, the other modes all follow a different story with the first two taking place during Shantae’s campaign. There is a point towards the end of the game where Shantae is… put out of commission for a short while. I won’t spoil what happens but I mention it here as the majority of this games added story takes place during this part of the game.

The first extra campaign covers Shantae’s eternal rival Risky Boots who takes this opportunity to gather up the necessary materials to make her Dynamo machine complete. She does this by retreading across all of Sequin Land to find the necessary Dark Magic to power-on the machine as well as a location to store it. Her story is ok but I feel like it is the weakest of the three and some of the justification for fighting the bosses again, including her own ship, seems flimsy.

I much preferred the second additional campaign, Friends to the End, where players control Shantae’s three friends Skye, Rottytops, and Bolo as they have to reluctantly work together as they travel across Shantae’s memories in order to bring her back. This story has actual mystery and the chemistry between the three heroes is quite good as they all have issues with each other but a driving desire to save their friend brings them together. It was more engaging than I found either Shantae or Risky Boots stories were.

However outside of these two additions to the campaign, there are three other new stories that aren’t canon, and in fact might be Shantae’s dreams as they contain Dream Squids, which players can work through. These are Ninja mode, Beach mode and Officer mode and all have very simple premises.

In Ninja mode Shantae wants to learn to become a Ninja Master, in Beach mode, she is looking for the best beach in all of Sequin Land and in Officer mode, she imagines herself as a Policewoman tasked with capturing the escaped space hooligans and discovering the true culprit who freed them.

The writing throughout the whole game is top notch, especially in officer mode, however, this is no surprise as the writing in all of the Shantae games is brilliant. So how has the gameplay changed?

 

Gameplay

Shantae is a platforming game and so the gameplay is made up of running, jumping, crawling and swimming but each of the game’s modes adds an extra twist to the mechanics. Shantae can use her hair to whip people and various items to attack but her signature abilities are her dancing. Dancing allows her to transform into another creature like a monkey or spider and she can use the abilities of those creatures as well. But this is an ability exclusive to Shantae and so in all the other modes, it is not available, so what makes them stand-out?

Well, for those who played the 3rd Shantae game, Pirate’s Curse, will recognize the gameplay of Risky’s story mode as she learns all of the pirate abilities from that game, complete with a sword, pistol, cannon and a big captain’s hat. In Risky’s mode, you have the ability to travel to any level you want just like in the main campaign with power-ups and collectibles hidden throughout. Risky also has access to her own unique items courtesy of her Tinkerbats, and can even summon Tinkerbats to fight.

In Friends to the End, you have three characters who you swap between with the trigger button. Everyone shares the same lives but have unique abilities and magic bars, which vary in usefulness. Sky has the longest ranged attack but also the weakest. Her ‘magic’ allows her to summon three birds that act as a shield and her unique ability is the power to make platforms out of birds. These disappear after a time but not if the player is standing on them.

Next is Bollo who had a decent range and a ‘magic’ that allows him to throw steel balls for a ranged attack. His unique ability is the most fun, allowing him to grapple onto hooks and special objects and then swing from them. This gives him insane vertical ability but only in certain locations.

Finally Rottytops. She has barely any range but the strongest attacks. She is definitely situational in her powers as her unique ability has her throw her head and essentially warp to a spot further away. It is required to get past certain obstacles and reach high up places. Her ‘magic’ is the most useful though, as it is the main way players will be healing themselves.

Utilising all three together works really well and later levels require carefully utilizing the unique abilities of each character to get through a stage. There are no power-ups or heart containers to get here making it harder than all the other modes and to match this, Friends to the End is played in an arcade style. You travel through each level in a linear order and the collectibles are based on the Dream Squids that appear in every level. The last three modes are also played like this.

Let’s start with my least favorite: Beach mode. Here Shantae can whip with her hair, has a beach ball attack as her ‘magic’ and the ability to go inside a bubble and float over everything. The bubble is great for basically skipping all conflict when going for the speedrun ending and the beach ball works for certain bosses. The problem arises with Beach modes other mechanic: sunscreen. Apparently just being in a bikini causes Shantae to suffer heat stroke, even indoors, and the only cure is sunscreen bottles and water. Shantae has a timer in the bottom corner and if fills all the way up she’ll begin to lose health. Sunscreen is used to avoid this and usually, it is easily obtainable except during bosses. And that is where the mode becomes frustrating. The Squid Baron boss fight was a nightmare in this mode as the boss spends so much time out of Shantae’s range with no sunscreen that you can easily die of sunstroke.

The next mode is Ninja mode and this was insanely fun. Shantae can now throw ninja stars, cling to walls, disappear and reappear elsewhere, and all while moving at twice the normal speed. She also has a sword used to slice through foes and this leads to a very fun, fast-paced, platformer adventure.

However, Officer mode is truly unique. Another popular Wayforward title is Mighty Switch Force, a puzzle platformer where pressing the A button swaps which blocks are present and this must be used to platform and advance. Players also have a gun to attack but there is no way to duck and very little vertical movement outside of jumping. That is what Officer mode is. It is a Shantae themed Mighty Switch Force game and I LOVED this mode. Instead of squids, you collect space hooligans and the gun makes combat very fun. But what really adds to this mode is how drastically the blocks change the way you tackle a level, making everything into a puzzle. I really hope Wayforward make another Mighty Switch Force game in this style with a proper story and a wider scope instead of the usual short puzzle rooms from before. Officer mode shows that it works.

There are also some extra modes for the main campaign I should mention. Hero mode is essentially New Game + where Shantae starts with most of her transformations and must find everything else again. Then Hard Core mode is a 1-hit KO mode for the true masters.

For all the modes the bosses are identical but it is interesting to see how the new abilities affect the difficulty. I talked about the Squid Baron boss being a nightmare on Beach mode but it was ridiculously easy in Officer mode. This actually helps to stop the repetitiveness of fighting the same bosses over and over again as the way you tackle later bosses changes, even if they do the same thing.

There is also one more unique feature to the four arcade-style modes and that is the Cave Story-esque EXP. Collecting gems will level a character up and getting hit will cause them to lose experience. Experience leads to new levels and increased levels will lead to stronger attacks and abilities. It makes every gem count, although bosses can drain these in some modes.

Overall the gameplay is top notch. Some modes are better than others but I always ended up having a lot of fun, especially in most of the arcade-style modes where I aimed for that speed-running ending.

 

Presentation

I won’t beat around the bush on this one, Shantae is a beautiful game. Hopefully watching this review has shown it but the visuals are pretty fantastic. The background and world are done in 3D while the characters themselves look 2D. This effect was done in the DuckTales Remastered and while nice there were definitely issues but Shantae manages to get around this. While the characters look 2D they are actually 3D models and are stylised in a way to look 2D. But as they are 3D models they don’t look jarring like in DuckTales and it creates a wonderful effect.

All of the worlds are varied with Shantae traveling through, towns, jungles, ships and even a haunted house. It ticks off all the platforming staples, with an added twist. Now there aren’t many levels and each one is repeated in each campaign but just like the bosses, the new abilities change up some of the ways you tackle these stages which keeps them feeling fresh even when they look the same.

Another asset to stopping the stages from feeling dull is the music and I just can’t stop listening to it. Shantae always had really good music and Half-Genie Hero is no exception. The music works in tandem with the models to make it feel like the world is dancing, which is fitting for a Shantae game, and each musical piece fits their environment and tone perfectly.

Shantae excels in the presentation department. It does risk getting too samey after multiple campaigns but the slight changes to levels and the new abilities help to circumnavigate this and keep it feeling fresh.

 

Verdict

Shantae Half-Genie Hero still isn’t my favorite Shantae but it is a very enjoyable one. When the game first came out I thought it was a little short but now with all of the new modes found in the Ultimate edition, I think there is plenty to enjoy. Not only are there three story campaigns but three arcade modes in the costume swap, which Wayforward didn’t need to do, they could’ve just been costumes for Shantae in the main game but each one changes the gameplay in a significant enough way that it keeps older stages feeling fresh each time you play. Shantae Half-Genie Hero is the perfect entry point for anyone curious in the series and the Ultimate edition is the definitive way to play the game. So go play it.