Wow, has it really already been almost a year and a half since the original Shantae: Half-Genie Hero release? Time sure does fly. I remember playing (and reviewing) the original HGH for the Wii U, and here I am now, reviewing Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition for the Switch. I’d say not much has changed since then, but that wouldn’t be true. Although not an entirely new game in and of itself, Ultimate Edition‘s main draw is the fact that it comes with every piece of previously released DLC, and the previously backer-exclusive content like the Tinkerbat Transformation and alternate costumes. And, best of all, the gameplay holds up just as well today as it did back in 2016! A definite win-win situation if I do say so myself.
All in a Day’s Work
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition‘s main campaign, as I’m sure many of you know, follows none other than everyone’s favorite belly-dancing, spell-slinging, hair-whipping heroine on her latest quest to save Sequin Land. One peaceful night, Shantae finds herself awoken by a mysterious voice calling out to her. Curious (and kind of sleepy), Shantae crawls out of bed, only to be led into the basement of her Uncle Mimic’s workshop (a building which is normally quite basement-free) and be met face-to-“face” with a mysterious glowing light. The light informs Shantae that the time to save Sequin Land from evil forces is drawing ever-closer and that, as a guardian (half) genie, it’s up to her to do so. And wouldn’t you know it, that prediction was absolutely spot-on. Don’t go thinking that that means you’ll be dealing with an overly serious story, though. Despite its initial seriousness. HGH is just as lighthearted as every other Shanate iteration.
It’s also worth noting that each game mode comes with its own story as well. Granted, the more arcade-y ones like Ninja Mode and Beach Mode are kind of throwaways when it comes to an actual story (although they’re still funny and well-written!), but the more content-heavy modes like Pirate Queen’s Quest and Friends to the End have a little more narrative weight behind them. I’m happy to say that it seems like a lot of love went into these stories, too. Although not expansive to any extent, PQQ and FttE gives you an extended look into both the primary antagonist and supporting characters of the Shantae franchise, and it’s fun watching the unique interactions between characters which normally wouldn’t occur were you controlling the game’s protagonist.
For the most part, Half-Genie Hero plays exactly like all of the other Shantae games out there. All except for one teeny-tiny thing… it’s entirely a platformer, now. Abandoning its Metroidvania roots, Half-Genie Hero jumps from the likes of Symphony of the Night to the original Castlevania. Well, not in terms of quality. But you get the metaphor, right? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what WayForward was thinking with this. Don’t get me wrong, it still has its charm, but something just feels kind of off about it. HGH is comparably short when compared to its predecessors, spanning only six levels, and can be completed (to 100%, even) in just a handful of hours, even if it’s your first time playing it. To it’s credit, though, it’s not bad. Despite any complaints I have about the game’s direction, the levels themselves were still quite fun to play.
Fortunately, not all of the classic Shantae-ness has vanished. As with every other game (minus Pirate’s Curse, of course), Shantae has the ability to utilize her belly dancing-based shape-shifting abilities in order to turn into a number of different creatures. Most of the available transformations consist of Shantae staples — ranging from the tamer transformations like monkey and elephant, to the more exciting ones like mermaid and harpy — however HGH also throws in a few new transformations as well. In contrast with the older, more multipurpose transformations, HGH‘s new forms generally serve more specific purposes — such as the mouse, which can crawl in and through small surfaces — and aren’t necessarily quite as exciting, but still come in handy during certain points in the game.
Transformations also greatly enhance the game’s longevity. Despite being a straight-up platformer, HGH has a surprising amount of backtracking. Scattered throughout each of the game’s levels (except for the very last one) are a myriad of items to find. Items that you can’t get during your first playthrough of the level. Instead, HGH has players doing a fair bit of backtracking between levels — often times requiring players to visit each level a good 3 or so times — in order to find everything. Forced backtracking is something that I was used to in the Metroidvania-style Shantae titles, but I wasn’t sure how it would play out in a platformer. Fortunately, those uncertainties were quelled. Despite it being an obvious attempt to pad out the gameplay, backtracking never seemed like a chore and was enjoyable overall. It’s fun being able to go back and collect things that you may have missed, and the way in which backtracking is set up almost makes the game feel like a puzzle. There’s just enough of it to make it enjoyable, but never enough to overstay its welcome.
Friends and Foes
Also included within Ultimate Edition are two entirely separate story modes; Friends to the End, and Pirate Queen’s Quest. FttE is… well… have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined Shantae and Lost Vikings together? Or, even more accurately, Shantae and Julius Mode from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow? Well, that’s what you’re getting with this game mode. Taking place during the point in the main campaign where (Spoiler Warning) Risky reverses Shantae’s magic via the Dynamo (End Spoiler), Ftte has players guiding Shantae’s trusted pals Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops (although I don’t know that I’d call her “trusted”) through a world within Shantae’s own mind to save her from herself.
As you might expect, the biggest difference in FttE is the fact that players have the ability to switch between the three characters at will. In lieu of Shantae’s transformations, each of the three heroes has their own set of unique abilities — such as Bolo’s grappling hook and Sky’s ability to summon birds as platforms — all of which must be appropriately utilized to make it all the way to the end of each level. Now, this is a concept that I can get behind. Sure, switching between characters can be a bit tricky sometimes, but it’s fun overall. I’ve seen games do it before, and I think that FttE does it nicely. I don’t know that I can say the same thing about the levels, however. Despite the entirely unique premise, you’re not really going on a “new adventure”. You’re going on a slightly modified version of an old adventure. It’s also comparably shorter than the main campaign. With only a handful of collectibles (none of which actually do anything), and no need to backtrack, you’ll probably get through this really quickly.
Pirate Queen’s Quest — a new adventure which sees players guiding Risky as she attempts to collect all of the parts for her Tinkerbrain — fares slightly better. Although once again a simple rehash of HGH‘s main campaign, PQQ is considerably more fleshed out in terms of content than any other mode (main campaign aside). As with Shantae’s transformations, players are given a new piece of Pirate Gear after beating a level (which can be tackled in any order!), many of which making their return from Pirate‘s Curse. PQQ also manages to pad itself out a bit thanks to the 15 Light Crystals — which are mandatory for beating the game — and 30+ pieces of Dark Magic — which can be used to upgrade Risky’s Pirate Gear — scattered throughout each level for players to collect. Unfortunately, PQQ ultimately runs into the same problem that FttE ran into. Despite its highly unique story and character, there’s no denying that each of PQQ‘s levels are once again just modified versions of HGG‘s.
If all of that content wasn’t enough, Ultimate Edition thows in three self-styled “arcade” modes to enjoy as well, which — and I really feel like a broken record at this point — are just re-skinned versions of the main HGH campaign. Beach Mode will have players guiding a bikini-clad Shantae through each level as she attempts to find the perfect place to tan. However, Shantae also seems to have forgotten her sunscreen in the excitement, meaning that players will constantly have to be on the lookout for bottles of UV protection as they adventure onward. Failure to do so means taking constant damage, making this mode considerably more challenging than others.
Ninja Mode — although definitely a lot of fun to play — is probably the least inspired of the bunch. Completely devoid of any kind of time limit or external gimmick, all Ninja Mode has players doing is guiding controlling a Shantae with a unique skillset across the same levels which they’ve surely traversed a multitude of times by now. Fortunately, Shantae’s ninja abilities actually make up for the lackluster level design. The ability to run fast, stick to walls, and teleport makes controlling Shantae more fluid than ever before. It’s the perfect mode to see how quickly you can speedrun the game (even for people like me, who usually aren’t into that kind of thing).
Finally, there’s Officer Mode, which is the best of the bunch hands-down. Taking on the guise of Mighty Switch Force‘s Patricia Wagon, Officer Mode has players jumping, shooting, and switching their way through a MSF version of the entire game. Out of all of the modes available, Officer Mode was the one that I had the most fun with. Now, to be fair, I’m kind of a huge fan of MSF so I might be the slightest bit biased here. But it’s hard to deny its uniqueness, even when looking at it objectively. A good portion of each of the levels have been entirely re-designed in order to match MSF‘s platform-switching style of play, with MSF-ness even creeping its way into boss battles a little bit. I understand that this mode might have been a little easier to make unique due to the fact that it’s borrowing elements from a different game, but I can’t help but wish that the rest of Ultimate Edition‘s game modes would stand out as much as this one.
A Multitude of Magic
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition doesn’t stand out quite as much as previous titles, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. And, slight repetitiveness aside, Ultimate Edition is only further bolstered in the end thanks to its generous amount of content and unique gameplay modes. If playing through the vanilla version of HGH was enough to satisfy you, then maybe sit this one out. However, for those of you who skipped out in the first serving of this all-new, all-platforming Shantae title, or those who are still hungry for more HGH action, then Ultimate Edition is absolutely worth picking up.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: WayForward, XSeed Games ; Developer: WayForward ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 8, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher