Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 07 May 2018 / 3,579 Views
Pay attention Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze: this is how you do a re-release. Packed with eight modes, costume DLC, and dozens of unlockables, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is a massive, almost overwhelming collection of content for 2D platform-adventure fans. It represents both a perfect starting point for Shantae neophytes and a compelling reason for Half-Genie Hero owners to double dip. The base campaign is as good and charming as ever, and additional modes introduce new playable characters, mechanics, and story beats — even as they suffer somewhat from familiar level layouts and boss fights.
The fourth game in the Shantae series, Half-Genie Hero launched initially in 2016, after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The Ultimate Edition includes the 2016 original, all of the downloadable content released in 2017 and 2018, extras offered previously to Kickstarter backers, and an exclusive bonus costume.
The game's main storyline remains intact. Shantae, the daughter of a human father and a genie mother (hence the game's subtitle), is the protector of Scuttle Town, a sleepy seaside village. When pirates led by Risky Boots attack the town and steal Shantae's uncle's blueprints for an electricity-producing dynamo, the half-genie springs into action to save Scuttle Town. Shantae succeeds but not without a bit of collateral damage, which prompts the mayor to fire her. Now unemployed, the magical do-gooder searches across Sequin Land for the components that will complete her uncle's newest invention.
The campaign is good fun, even if it's on the short and easy side. Players will visit (and revisit) several locales in Sequin Land, including a desert tower, a factory, and a haunted mansion, in the search for missing components. The game plays similarly to Wonder Boy III, where Shantae transforms into several animal forms to enter previously-inaccessible areas. Take the form of a mermaid to explore submerged rooms, for example, or become an elephant to crush stone blocks. It's not quite a Metroidvania — the levels aren't connected to each other and there's no map (a frustrating oversight) — but its focus on backtracking and exploration is self-evident.
Finishing the primary adventure is just the beginning in this Ultimate Edition. After besting Risky Boots and setting things right, players can attack the campaign again in "Hero Mode," which starts Shantae off with all her animal transformations unlocked, or "Hard Core Mode," a faster, more punishing take on the base game. After (or instead of) that, they can try several DLC modes, including Pirate Queen's Quest, Friends to the End, Ninja Mode, Beach Mode, and Officer Mode.
Pirate Queen's Quest is the best and most substantial of the bunch. Here, players take on the role of pirate captain Risky Boots, Shantae's nemesis, in a retelling of the events of the campaign that cast the villain in a much more flattering light. While the level layouts and boss battles are basically the same — this is the biggest drawback to all the DLC campaigns, in fact — Pirate Queen's Quest remixes some of the physical challenges inside each level and introduces new mechanics to keep things interesting. Risky has a wider range of projectile attacks, for example, and increased vertical movement thanks to upgradeable jump and glide moves.
Friends to the End is developer WayForward's take on Trine, where players swap among three characters with specialized skills in order to beat bad guys and navigate each level. Shantae's pals Sky, Bolo, and fan favorite Rottytops enter the half-genie's nightmare world to rescue her. As in Pirate Queen's Quest, the levels and boss encounters are essentially the same but there is enough mechanical novelty to keep the adventure relatively fresh. There's also a unique boss battle, which is a nice change of pace.
Finally there are the three non-canon modes formerly included in the Costume Pack DLC: Ninja Mode, Beach Mode, and Officer Mode. In Ninja mode, Shantae has the skills and gifts of a ninja. She can no longer transform, but she can wall jump, teleport, and toss kunai and throwing stars. In Beach Mode, WayForward's skin cancer PSA, Shantae takes on all of Sequin Land with nothing but a swimsuit and a beach ball. Beware, however; if players keep the pony-tailed prestidigitator in the sun for too long, she'll take burn damage. Pick up sunscreen scattered around each level to keep her safe. Lastly, in Officer Mode, a crossover event with WayForward's Mighty Switch Force series, Shantae can control the position and transparency of blocks in order to solve puzzles and clear each stage.
As with all the extra modes, these costumed capers are held back by a feeling of déjà vu — exploring Main Street or fighting Tinkerslug for the eighth time will wear on you — but elevated at the same time by an interesting upgrade mechanic or an inventive gameplay conceit here and there. That said, brand new stages and boss fights would make this Ultimate Edition truly great.
Apart from several extra modes, this final version of Half-Genie Hero includes a new transformation and a handful of alternate costumes. In addition, there's a Hall of Fame, with artwork created by Shantae fans, and an Extras Gallery where you can view clear screens earned across all of the game's campaigns.
Tying all of these modes, characters, features, and extras together is some beautiful artwork and a catchy musical score. Half-Genie Hero remains one of the prettiest 2D games of the current generation, with high-resolution sprites dancing across vibrant, detailed 3D backdrops. Its soundtrack, composed by Jake Kaufman, is equally wonderful, with the techno-gothic "Hypno Baron's Castle" and the thumping, rhythmic "The Sky Bridge" as stand-out tracks.
Where some re-releases and remasters are content to add a single extra mode or a graphical face-lift, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition aspires to more. Packed with eight different campaigns, five playable characters, several extra costumes, and plenty of unlockable artwork, it's a high-value proposition. While its base adventure is rather short — seven hours for 100 percent completion — and relatively easy, and its DLC campaigns overly familiar, there's enough charm, humor, and mechanical diversity therein to keep players coming back for more.
This review is based on a digital copy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition for the NS, provided by the publisher.