Less than a year ago, I sat down, controller in hand, mastering the art of Shantae’s effective hair whip attack, learning how to best the villainous foes and bosses bestowed upon Shantae’s homeland in order to save the tiny island of Scuttle Town from destruction. But with just nine months passed since the arrival of Shantae and the Pirates Curse on the Xbox One, we’re given a fresh adventure for everyone’s favourite half-genie saviour, with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. It is one that I was more than happy to jump into at the earliest opportunity – but does it live up to the quality we have come to expect from the long-lived platform series, or has it crumbled under the pressure?

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Although many may scoff at a second series release in less than a year, we must let it be known that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is more than a new quest on the quaint little island town. After all, for the first time in the series the entire world we have grown fond of has also been given a new look, with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero being the first title in the series to be fully designed with full HD graphics from the ground up, helping bring the pre-established, and vibrant island to life with some fantastic visuals.

But before I start preaching on too much about just how beautiful this game is compared to its already impressive prequel, let me tell you some more about the story, and just why it is that the town of Scuttle Island is in need of Shantae’s heroics once more.

The story follows Shantae as she is awoken in the middle of the night by a strange voice, one which she follows to an unknown secret cave below her Uncle’s workshop. There, she receives a chilling warning from the Genie Realm, telling her of an impending evil that only she can defeat. Come morning, and following the belief it was all a dream, she goes to find her Uncle Mimic who is working on a new project – the Dynamo, a device that will keep the island of Scuttle Town powered and safe from attack. However, in classic villain fashion, series nemesis Risky Boots makes her return to steal the blueprints for the Dynamo, leaving Shantae as the only one with the know-how needed to ensure the return of the much-needed blueprints.

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Throughout the game, Shantae must deal with a variety of enemies, including several boss battles and the tremendously tricky common enemies of each level that also pose a significant threat to those not watching their step, all as she looks to gather the components for her Uncle Mimic’s Dynamo. Whilst the story may sound much like the typical hero versus villain adventure, watching it unfold never gets dull and makes for some classic storytelling. But with great storytelling, must come great gameplay, and I’m happy to tell you this is another area that Shantae: Half-Genie Hero doesn’t fail its players.

There are several locations for gamers to complete in the game, with each location containing the necessary items needed to construct the Dynamo, or take on several quests that can be picked up by talking to specific characters in need. Quests are mostly optional but will always provide a useful item upon completion, with some of these required to ensure progress.

Clearing each level is as simple as getting to the end, and usually beating the boss, but those expecting an easy ride from this inviting platformer should take note, as neither the levels or the bosses are an easy ask. In fact several times during my playthrough I found myself forced to set the controller down for a much-needed break, simply due to the constant dying from simple enemies or from being crushed by the timing requirements of specific boss battles. Despite the unexpected difficulty, the game doesn’t ever fall into the unfair category, and although it is a challenging endeavour, there is nothing present that can be blamed for failure other than a lack of skill on the player’s part – especially when it comes to defeating one eyed monstrous ground worms that love to throw their eyeball at you.

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After completing a level players are usually whisked back home to Scuttle Town Square, a place which acts as the home hub for Shantae, and where upgrades can be purchased, Dynamo parts can be delivered and hints can be requested. It is also here in which Shantae can hitch a ride from the Hatchery owner to get transported to each new location. Completing a level however doesn’t mean the end, with later upgrades giving players the ability to explore areas previous inaccessible, meaning giving a level the once over won’t be enough for those looking to flush out all the content on offer.

The most important thing to keep an eye on throughout the game is your life bar. Although the game starts you off with two hearts worth of health, they can be very quickly diminished should you fall into the path of a surprising enemy attack, which can often mean needing to restart entire sections of a level that was already hard enough.

The best way to avoid this is to make the most of the upgrades in the Item Shop found in Scuttle Town Square. Here players can purchase a variety of different things from health potions, to new dances that can give Shantae further abilities and more that give Shantae the edge when coming up against the game’s enemies. The buying of items requires a sizeable number of gems to be spent in order to grab that valuable upgrade, but with gems scattered through each level by the hundreds, saving up for that next batch of potions is never a big ask.

So by this point it’s pretty set in stone – the gameplay is certainly up to the standards of a modern platformer and the story is well worth a look, but what’s on offer once you come to the end?

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Well, Hero Mode is the answer and this is the go-to mode for anyone looking to blast down Shantae’s enemies in the quickest time possible.

That’s right, Hero Mode is essentially the mode for speedrunners, where everything is unlocked, including Shantae’s different transformations that are essential for accessing certain areas in the story. Whilst these different forms are unlocked with progression first time through, having them all available really helps shave off the time for anyone looking to post the next ridiculously quick time.

For now, Hero Mode is the only option away from the original playthrough, however those with keen eyes – or just paying attention to the different options, will quickly notice another silhouette with the ‘coming soon’ label attached. Could there be something arriving later down the line? Let’s hope so.

Finally, we have the soundtrack, and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is one title that will see you swaying to the sound of the most relaxing tune you have ever heard. From the intro to the ending, one thing that will surely keep you going is the nonstop enjoyment brought to the game by one of the most captivating and soothing soundtracks we may have seen in a game to date.

Overall and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has all the qualities to become of gaming’s best platformers. With its enjoyable gameplay and classic characters, as well as a fantastic story and exceptional soundtrack, this is no doubt a must play title for anyone who enjoys the platforming genre.