If you’re not familiar with the Shantae series, then I have to ask you where have you been? This series has been around since 2001’s Gameboy Color entry and have been available since Risky’s Revenge on a wide variety of platforms. This entry is Wayforward’s first attempt to change up the art style from the previous pixelated look into what is now fully hand drawn and the result is amazingly gorgeous. While Half-Genie Hero is not exactly a new game anymore (was originally released in 2016 after a very successful Kickstarter funding) this version of the game, the Ultimate Edition, includes not only all the previously released DLC that has come out between the original release and last year’s Friends till the End campaign but also includes bonus content that only backers of the game were able to get all in one complete package for some ultimate in platforming side scrolling action.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is, like the three previous games in the Shantae series, a 2D Platformer with elements of Metroidvania. You jump around, collect items and whip enemies with your hair as has always been the case. You’ll be taking on the role of the titular Shantae as she works with her uncle to create a brand-new contraption that will help protect the town, while also responding to threats to the town and defeating the enemies that come as part of that. The story is told mostly in text during small scenes between characters, with only a small amount of voice work within the game. The story and text that are there are charmingly written, with each character having a distinct personality and a whole lot of jokes thrown in. Characters bounce each other in dialogue, establishing and building on their relationships and Wayforward weren’t afraid to use the characters as an avenue to poke fun at themselves and the industry throughout the story. The story is your main driving force throughout the game, so it’s great that it is well written and fun to read
There are five main worlds to tackle, all linear platforming stages loaded with secrets and collectibles, and there is a hub-world in the form of Scuttle Town, where you go to buy items, talk to people and further the plot in between levels. From Scuttle Town you travel to the world map where you then choose where you want to go among the levels you've unlocked, and you also get a tally of how many of the hidden collectibles you've found in each level, so you can easily track your progression. Like previous installments, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero involves a lot of exploration, item collecting and backtracking. The game's world is similar in size if slightly larger than that of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, which means it's decently sized and packed with secrets. Each level is divided into segments, each separated by a save screen that acts as a checkpoint if you get a game over. In addition to the whistle, you also get access early on to a dance that allows you to warp between the starts of the segments of levels you've already completed. You are also given a whistle near the start of the game that allows you to exit any level at any time and take you back to the World Map. This removes the need for backtracking to town that was handled less effectively in the previous titles.
WayForward nails the basic and introduces great new elements while ditching the older, more negative ones. The controls are enjoyably tight and responsive, and the strategies and abilities required in the diverse array of situations that the game presents allow for constant variety in challenge and gameplay. As a half-genie Shantae has the ability to transform into a variety of different creatures, ranging from a tiny mouse that can squeeze into tight spaces, a monkey that can climb walls and even a harpy that can fly the skies. You mostly unlock these transformations as you complete worlds in the game, but there are 3 that are hidden separately within the worlds. Initially, none of these transformations can attack or do damage to enemies, however, they each have their own unique platforming mechanic that makes them integral to the game. You can eventually upgrade certain transformations to have the ability to attack, but their attacks are relatively weak and aren’t a replacement for Shantae’s normal hair-whip attack. The real strength to each transformation is that every level is designed to take advantage of them, even though you may not have them when you initially play through.
As you gain new transformations you’re encouraged to go back to previous worlds you have completed and look for new areas that you can access within them. All of these new areas invariably include some form of treasure or upgrade, so you’re always incentivised to backtrack. This is good, because you’ll be backtracking quite a bit through the six main worlds in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero as you progress through the story. While there are only six main worlds in the game, plus one final stage which doesn’t contain unlockables, each of the worlds is fairly large and comprises of multiple individual levels. They’re also fairly unique, with each comprising of a different environment type, and a variety of different types of levels and enemies. Worlds also change after your first completion, with the enemies changing and certain elements shifting to account for the new transformation you have just unlocked. Whether you’re facing the P.O.O.P. T.O.O.T., Techno Baron and his mermaid Queen or the Important Squid Baron you’re in for a rough time. Boss battles are akin to what you would find in Mega Man, with bosses following patterns of attack which you need to learn and projectiles which you need to dodge. Each boss has a unique hook to how they work, with some requiring the stage environment to be used as part of the battle and others requiring specific types of attacks to damage them. The boss stages themselves change from boss to boss as well, with some utlitising a traditional 2D closed-in battlefield and others using a full 360-degree field with attacks coming at you in every direction.
The largest change to Half-Genie Hero's gameplay from the previous titles in the series is in the form of the new customizable magic and relic system. Returning from Shantae: Risky's Revenge are the magic bar and staple magic attacks, such as the storm puff and bubble shield. These optional in-game purchases allow Shantae to attack from a distance in a variety of ways or defend herself from different forms of attacks. They also all each have a number of upgrades that incrementally make them all progressively more powerful and diversified. On top of these magical attacks, there are a number of helpful relics that act as power-ups that can be both found and purchased throughout the game. Their uses range from speeding up the time of your transformation dances to reducing the damage you take by half.
The writing and dialogue are also as strong as ever. The conversations between characters can range from serious to confrontational to often outright hilarious, which makes all the characters feel unique from one another as well as add to the game's immersion factor. Aesthetically speaking, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is clean, cute, colorful and charming in its craftsmanship. The use of 2D hand-drawn characters in the foreground against 3D environments is effective at creating a distinct look, and it does a good job of bringing the classic pixel aesthetic of the series' past into a new cartoonish style. The animations are impressive and fluid, the characters are all emotive in their actions, and the whole world feels alive through the simple details of things like rising chests and rustling clothes. Half-Genie Hero's soundtrack is done by series-veteran composer Jake Kaufman. The soundtrack is less midi than previous games' and actually utilizes a variety of real instruments, from saxophone to bass guitar, and occasionally mixes the two genres together to create a very unique sound. Each track is perfectly fitting for each stage and important story moment (it might even be worth shelling out some extra cash for the "Risky Beats" edition of the game that comes with the soundtrack on CD).
The Pirate Queen's Quest DLC gives the opportunity to experience a Shantae game as a different character in the form of Risky Boots; as Pirate Queen's Quest reuses the stages and bosses from the main game, but replaces the player character with the dastardly Miss Boots, who has her own mobility options and attacks to call upon. Completing each world also unlocks further skills, many of which will be familiar to fans of the previous Shantae game, Pirate's Curse. The levels remain largely unchanged, though some areas, tuned specifically to Risky's abilities, have been augmented into Half-Genie Hero's layout. I was happy to see some returning enemies from Pirate's Curse, all of whom are beautifully styled and animated.
The player controls Risky through Half-Genie Hero's five stages, collecting the components necessary to create her new invention, the final boss of the main plotline. The player then essentially re-runs the five stages again, using new-found abilities to gather previously out-of-reach upgrades and to collect fifteen genie crystals, before ultimately tackling a sixth stage and a final showdown.
There is some odd storytelling at work, due to the parallel storyline having to explain why Risky is fighting Shantae's previously defeated bosses, and even her own Tinkerbat army. Other than these features, some new narrative dialogue, and the LEWD bathtub option screen, little has changed. Pirate Queen's Quest is a fun addition to Half-Genie Hero, and fans like myself will enjoy seeing the story from the other side of the moral thermometer.
Friends to the End is set during the final chapter of the Half-Genie Hero narrative. Having been zapped by a machine that has inverted her magic, Shantae has become the cruel and malicious Nega-Shantae. This is where her friends come in, as Bolo, Rotty and Sky leap bravely into the vortex -- essentially Shantae's brain -- in order to save their pal from a fate worse than death. Once inside her head, the gang must travel through their Shantae's memories in hopes to restore their beloved friend to her happy-go-lucky self who is currently unfortunately ad Unwittingly attempting to destroy Scuttle Town with her evil powers proves too much for the young girl, and she collapses, creating a vortex of dark magic around her. As far as combat goes, Sky is weakest with the best range, Bolo is totally in the middle and Rotty is a undead powerhouse with the worst range.Each of them has a unique ability. Bolo can grapple (though with wonky swinging physics), Rotty can toss her head and reappear where it lands and Sky can make temporary platforms and hover. I enjoyed how each of them had a specific purpose and opened up different exploration options. They are all important, and only by mixing and matching can you successfully navigate levels.
Now the ,Costume Pack, introduces three new ways to play – as Beach Shantae, Ninja Shantae or Officer Shantae.
Beach Shantae: Beach Shantae is basically a time attack mode. The reason for this is that Shantae wants to soak up some rays, but forgot her sunscreen. As such, if she spends too much time out of the water, she’ll develop a nasty burn. You will last about twenty seconds before your sun meter gets too hot, and then you’ll rapidly lose health. To prevent this, you need to constantly collect sunscreen bottles sporadically placed throughout the levels.
Ninja Shantae: Of all three of the Costume Pack variants, the Ninja is the most maneuverable. She can wall jump, teleport, back dash, hurl shuriken and she swings a nasty katana.
Officer Shantae: Officer Shantae more action packed than puzzle oriented. As you level up your blaster will get progressively more powerful, culminating in massive shockwaves that will hit foes all around you. The only downside to this powerful bionic genie is that she can’t duck, but it’s a small price to pay.
The average player could likely beat Half-Genie Hero in around 5-6 hours -- if they weren't going out of their way to collect everything -- while players going for 100% might take upwards of 7 hours. The previous game Shantae and the Pirate's Curse was only slightly shorter in an average play through, but as a sequel made from the ground-up for consoles, it only seems right that it would be noticeably larger. The overall length of the game great, as the story is fully told and the mechanics all fully explored within that time So if you’re wondering what all is included in the game this time around in the ultimate edition of this game then let me list it off here straight from the developers themselves as I conclude this review:
Shantae Mode – enjoy the main Shantae storyline, “Half-Genie Hero”
Hero Mode – get a head start with Shantae’s animal transformations already unlocked
Hard Core Mode – the tough-as-nails follow up to Shantae Mode for those craving a stiff challenge
Pirate Queen’s Quest – conquer Sequin Land as the nefarious pirate Risky Boots in an exciting new story!
Friends to the End – Swap between friends Sky, Bolo, and Rottytops to save Shantae from the Nightmare Realm!
Costume Pack – Side story modes with brand new gameplay: Wall jump in Ninja Mode, repel sunburn in Beach Mode, and take down Space Hooligans in Officer Mode!
Extras Gallery – Meet various conditions to unlock artwork in each game mode!
Hall of Fame – View artwork created by the most die-hard Shantae fans!
Tinkerbat Dance – Transform into a pirate and slash through foes!
Includes Blue Shantae Costume and Classic Risky Costume colors
Exclusive Bonus Costume – Blue Bathing Suit - for use in Beach Mode!
“Day One Edition” bonus items (music CD and Art Book) are available in physical versions only
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is a splendid 2D Platformer packed with enough charm and new ideas to make not only the 6-7 hours it will take to beat the main story worth every second but also all the additional content you’re getting for this amazing title will give you over 25+ hours of gameplay and every dollar very very well spent.
Review Code provided by WayForward!