The original Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was released way back in the mists of time, in December 2016. Funded successfully via Kickstarter, raising over $900,00 in the process, the developers, WayForward Technologies, have now decided to release the Ultimate Edition, which rolls the base game and all the previously released DLC into one attractive package. So, given that barely 18 months have passed since the games first release, is this a worthy addition to the genre, or a cynical cash grab? I stepped into Shantae’s colourful world to find out.
On firing up, first impressions are promising. All the cutscenes appear to be rendered using the game engine, and while only certain parts of the dialogue are voiced, the humour that is present in the subtitles is pleasing, hinting at a great deal of personality built into the characters. Even the bad guys have had their characters worked on, with a pirate named Risky Boots being a particular highlight. The graphical style is wonderfully crisp and fresh looking, with silky smooth animation and glorious hand painted backdrops adding to the suspension of disbelief required to step into Shantae’s Half Genie boots.
The sound is similarly top notch, with some wonderful tunes playing. In one section, as Shantae slips down a seemingly never ending slide, the music that plays had my son up off the settee dancing, saying the tune made him want to go surfing! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him sad to see the completion of a section of a game…
Gameplay wise, and the base game remains untouched, so Shantae is still using her hair as a whip, taking out all the bad creatures that attack her. In addition to the hair whip, Shantae can also utilise magic attacks such as fireballs if she wants to engage from a safer distance, but these are limited by the magic bar that is in place. As you progress through the game, Shantae can also unlock various dances that can transform her into various animals, such as a monkey, which unsurprisingly can climb really well, to a crab, which allows her to go underwater and explore deeper sections of the levels.
Using the correct dance at the correct time obviously has an effect on the gameplay, with the climax of a specific chapter being a case in point; Shantae has to climb a tower while a giant worm chases her up the screen… being too slow or falling will result in death. Transforming into a monkey, with its ability to climb sheer walls makes life a lot easier, but as the monkey controls are so different to those of Shantae, it’s not quite as easy as all that. Other dances that Shantae can learn will allow her to heal, as long as she has magic left on her bar, so these can obviously be really useful.
The story is also exactly the same as the original, dealing with a machine that Shantae’s Uncle Mimic creates that is supposed to power the town where they live and prevent pirate attacks. Risky Boots steals the plans for the machine, and when Shantae retrieves them, the machine is completed but redesigned to Risky’s design, causing Shantae to become evil and attack the very town she is supposed to be protecting! Risky steals the machine, planning to use it to reverse the magic of the Genie Realm and turn all the Genies evil. Luckily, Shantae stops her and everyone lives happily ever after. Of course though, there is an alternate ending to discover, but I’ll keep the details of that to myself for fear of spoilers.
The DLC of the original game, which is all included here, takes place in the last chapter of the game, after Shantae has been changed. The first part – Pirate Queens Quest – revolves around Risky Boots and what happens after she steals the rebuilt Dynamo from Uncle Mimic. Risky realises that in order to carry out her scheme, she needs to collect some components to power up the Dynamo, mirroring Shantae’s quest in the main game, even down to the same boss fights right up until the end. The levels are redesigned and feature new enemies and items, and the difficulty also seems to have received a shot in the arm, as the boss fights are now very challenging indeed! I don’t remember previously having had so much trouble with the second boss, the Queen of the Mermaids, but she is a real pain this time around.
The second expansion, Friends to the End, takes place inside Shantae’s mind, and features her three friends – Bolo, Sky and Rottytops. These three characters have different skill sets, as Bolo can use his ball and chain to swing around, Sky calls on birds to act as platforms to cross long gaps, and Rottytops can, well, throw her head to bypass barriers and reach platforms that are otherwise out of reach. There are also three Costume Packs included, with Shantae dressing up as a Ninja, a Police Officer or a Beach Bunny, each of which adds its own story chapter and switches up the way that Shantae plays.
There isn’t much to complain about with this game. It is very tough, and there are sections where the difficulty seems to spike and progress appears to be more by luck than judgement, but overall the controls are tight enough and the collision detection good enough to allow you to keep Shantae alive. I really don’t like the monkey’s jump, as it seems like it is full of helium and is the floatiest thing in the world, but the dances are an interesting addition to the platform genre, almost like Mario’s suits in Super Marios Bros 3.
In news that will be very welcome to the achievement hunters out there, the achievement list for the Ultimate Edition is different from that of the base game. What this means is that the achievements can be earned twice, in effect, so if you have completed the original version there is still a reason to play through this Ultimate Edition. For everyone else who doesn’t care about GamerScore, there’s nothing essentially new here that wasn’t released to everyone before, unless you count a couple of costumes that were previously only available to Kickstarter backers.
So, my conclusion is that if you have never played Shantae and are looking for an old school challenging platformer, the Ultimate Edition makes a lot of sense. If however you have experienced Shantae’s world before, there’s not a lot new here and unless you have a hankering to play the DLC, you may be better passing on this version.