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Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, WiiU
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: May 8, 2018 (US), April 27, 2018 (EU)

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Switch Review - 'Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 15, 2018 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Vibrant, high-definition graphics bring new detail to the series’ charming hand-drawn sprites, which take center stage in this engaging 2.5D entry along with the franchise's signature action-packed platforming and heavy exploration elements.

Buy Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition

Kickstarter has been the birthplace of several successful indie games, but sometimes, it can also turn into their grave. Some projects, like Shovel Knight, have become new old-school classics, while others, like Yooka-Laylee or the infamous Mighty No. 9, have been a letdown for fans.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was born from a Kickstarter campaign and has since been released on PC, PS4, Switch, Vita, WiiU and Xbox One. Three additional DLC campaigns have also been released in the interim. Now, almost a full year since its release on the Switch, we get a physical and digital Ultimate Edition that includes the base game, all DLC, and a few extras at a discounted price. The question is whether Shantae: Half-Genie Hero manages to stay true to its roots and if the complete package is a worthwhile platformer.

It's been over 15 years since WayForward released the original Shantae on Game Boy Color, and two more sequels followed before the Kickstarter campaign for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. Given the generally favorable reception of the title, the latest entry in the series is indeed a fun 2.5D platformer, but we'll take a look at how it fares within the series and within the genre, especially when considering the downloadable content.

In Half-Genie Hero, we take control of the protagonist in her quest to defend Sequin Island from evil forces and her main adversary, the pirate Risky. In this particular instance, Shantae's uncle plans to build a generator to light up the city to keep away ne'er-do-wells, so Shantae's job of protecting the town can be easier. Throughout the game, we alternate between collecting parts for uncle's invention and fulfilling quests until the generator is built. There's a small plot twist that eventually sets up the final world. While it may sound bland, the story and characters are quite charming and well put-together — for a platformer. We meet several allies and villains who are charmingly written and provide some fun dialogue and jokes to foster a fun atmosphere.

In terms of gameplay, Shantae returns to her roots. The prior game, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, got rid of the signature belly dance transformations and emphasized the Metroidvania aspects, but Half-Genie Hero returns to platforming as its main focus. Exploration is still a major part of the experience, but for better or worse, it has been dialed back significantly.

Looking at the main game, we take control of Shantae, who has a diverse skill set of hair whips, magic, and transformations. Our magical hair is used to attack enemies, and it can be upgraded in the item shop to inflict more damage or increase attack speed. In addition to our hair, we can deploy several magical attacks — fireballs, rotating swords, shields — that we can purchase with gems that we collect in the game. Some of the attacks are pretty powerful and can make the game rather easy, especially the boss fights. If you want your adventure to be more challenging, there's an option to deactivate any items or powers you don't want to use.

Shantae's main skill is the belly dance, which she uses to transform into eight creatures that are vital to mastering the game, since they provide additional skills for traversal. The spider crawls on ceilings, the bat can fly horizontally, the monkey crawls up walls, and the elephant can destroy blocks in our way. Completionists should get familiar with all of these transformations to find everything in the stages, which are well crafted and have a multitude of layers that can only be accessed with the appropriate transformation. It's the closest we get to a Metroidvania game, with small incentives on occasion to backtrack into previously completed levels to move the story forward. Instructions about where to go and find things can be a bit vague, but it keeps things fresh and interesting. We didn't encounter any major roadblocks while completing the original game, and we had a blast searching every nook and cranny for collectibles.

The actual platforming in Half-Genie Hero is fun, but it sometimes feels bland. While stages are well constructed to suit different abilities and to hide a few surprises, the platform design often feels uninspired. The difficulty level lies somewhere between easy and manageable, with tougher parts being tedious rather than cleverly challenging. With exploration confined to smaller areas, which indicates a focus on platforming, this is a real shame. It could've been better if the level design were as imaginative as the source material and characters, rather than the average platforming we get in some areas.

As a complete package, the base game is a fun six-hour ride for fans of platformers and Metroidvania-style games. If you want to complete the story again, there is a hero mode with all significant transformations unlocked and a hardcore mode. The Ultimate Edition also includes several DLC campaigns that provide alternative play styles.

The Ultimate Edition includes Pirate Queen's Quest, Friends to the End, and the Costume Pack. Remember the story twist in the base game we had mentioned earlier? Both Pirate Queen's Quest and Friends to the End provide a different view of the events. While that may sound intriguing, be aware that all DLC packs differ in their play style and characters, but not the actual levels. Stages have been changed to accommodate the different play styles of the DLC characters, but they haven't fundamentally changed. Be prepared to see a lot of the same things over and over again. With that being said, there is actually a lot of fun to be had with the multitude of play styles at our disposal.

In Pirate Queen's Quest, we control Risky the pirate, who has a melee attack and several guns. In Friends to the End, we take control of Shantae's three friends, who have different abilities that we can switch to at any time, so we can teleport and have access to floating platforms, grappling hooks and more.

As the name implies, the Costume Pack DLC provides three costumes for Shantae in their respective campaigns. A ninja costume comes with a dash and quick movement speed, shuriken and teleportation. A beach outfit comes with a beachball and the constant risk of running out of sunscreen (which will eventually kill us), and the police costume references WayForward's Mighty Switch Force with its gun and platform-switching abilities. 

As a whole, the campaigns and costumes are hit-and-miss, but there are some fun experiences, like the police uniform and Shantae's three friends who make platforming more of a puzzle to solve. All of these DLC adventures taken together probably provide another 10 hours of gameplay, making the Ultimate Edition quite a long platformer that clocks in at 15-20 hours. Be prepared that it may become a tad repetitive after the main game is over, with the major draw being renewed platforming abilities due to new characters. In addition to the DLC, some previous Kickstarter-exclusive costumes and fan art are included, but generally, the Ultimate Edition is a cheaper option of buying the game and DLC in one shot. You probably won't play them all, but you'll find a few costumes and skills that are fun to use in this solid platformer. The Ultimate Edition boils down to approximately $10 more when purchased digitally or $20 more when snagging a physical copy.

Visually, the game looks incredibly gorgeous, with clean and colorful visuals that run perfectly on the Switch no matter how you choose to play it. HD Rumble support adds to the immersion, but if you already own Shantae Half-Genie Hero, be aware that the Ultimate Edition will create a new save file that is not cross-compatible. It's likely a concern for only a few gamers.

As a whole, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is literally the complete package for fans of the series and genre enthusiasts. It's not the best platformer around, but it is a fun journey, especially with the additional DLC characters. I wish the developer would've embraced the Metroidvania aspects more, gotten more creative with some platforming segments, and included a few more environments for the DLC, but there is not much else I can hold against this truly fun platformer.

Score: 8.0/10

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