Review by Matt S.
This, right here, is how you do a complete package of a game, and give people who purchased the original title more than enough reason to double-dip. This is how you give people who missed the game the first time something so loaded with content that they’ve got almost too much to do. WayForward has produced something truly special with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition.
The package has the full version of Half-Genie Hero, of course, and that was already one of the best platformers that I’ve ever played. But even before you get on to the other bits and pieces that have been added into the Ultimate Edition package, the base game offers a lot. There’s the standard quest, but also a ‘Hero’ mode, which makes things a bit easier by unlocking all of Shantae’s animal transformations from the outset. There’s a ‘Hard Core’ mode for people that want an extra challenge, and an entirely separate story in which you get to play as Shantae’s frenemy/ antithesis, Risky Boots.
All of that by itself is more than enough to drown hours of your time. But the Ultimate Edition also adds to much more. A new story mode features Shantae’s buddies, Sky, Bolo and Rottytops as playable heroes working to save Shantae from the Nightmare Realm. Then there’s the costume pack. With most games, especially those that feature a really cute girl as the protagonist, alternative costumes are there for fan service and little more, but not when WayForward does it. Oh no. There are three alternative costumes that you can give to Shantae, which dress her up as a ninja, a Mighty Switch Force cosplay, or strip her down to a bikini, and in each case, the gameplay is reworked significantly to suit that costume.
So for example, the ninja costume gives Shantae the ability to wall jump. When she’s wearing her bikini, she needs to pick up sunscreen lotion at regular intervals along the way to prevent burn from damaging her health (a great message to the kids if ever there was one). The stages are the same, but these different mechanics add to the experience substantially. Being on a strict time limit with the beachwear mode, for example, adds a sharp challenge to the game, forcing you to effectively try and speedrun something that was already challenging enough.
It’s also worth noting that the developers went as far as to add little snippets of narrative to put Shantae’s new costumes into some kind of context. The bikini costume, for example, throws in a bit of a narrative arc around Shantae’s trip to the beach, and throws in some light self-aware humour around fan service and swimwear DLC. It’s not much, but it’s just enough to, again, be left with the sense that some genuine effort went into these costumes, rather than what happens in almost every other game where the characters just start wandering around in a two-piece, even in the dead or winter, without the slightest hint of an explanation as to why. And it’s effort that is genuinely appreciated, because it does add to the overall sense of fun with the overall package.
There’s a pile of little bonuses too, which are all very welcome. There’s a Extras Gallery in which you’ll unlock all kinds of official art from the WayForward team. There’s a Hall of Fame which contains a lot of fan art. There’s a bonus dance that you can unlock – Tinkerbat Dance, which turns you into one of the series’ iconic enemies (for people who haven’t played Shantae in the past, she can do a little belly dance and turn into a wide range of different characters, which she can then use to access previously inaccessible areas). And, finally, there’s some bonus cosmetic costumes too, which don’t add anything to the gameplay, but let you dress Shantae up in a more fetching blue colour, at which point you can squint your eyes and almost pretend that she’s Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, with really cool hair dye.
It’s a lot of extra stuff, right? And it’s all good, too. Pulled together, Half-Genie Hero offers ridiculously good value, and is a stark contrast to the other 2D platformer that released this week; Nintendo’s own Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. That game is fine in and of itself, but after also playing this, it’s hard to see that game as anything but a lazy port from the Wii U, whereas this one has been treated with all the respect for existing fans that it deserves.
And, while I won’t go into a full review again (because I have already reviewed Half-Genie Hero), I will say that, all these years later after playing my first Shantae game, I still love everything that this setting stands for; it’s got charming, like humour by the bucketful. It offers tight platforming and superb level design which will really test your skills without necessarily becoming frustrating, and it has the most delightfully exotic world to explore. For years fans waited for WayForward to take the series into high definition, and it didn’t disappoint on any level. Environments drip with colour and enemy design is vivid and imaginative. We don’t get to enjoy many games set in a fantasy Middle East, but that doesn’t matter so much when they’re as enjoyable as Shantae.
The Ultimate Edition will no doubt draw to a close this particular chapter of Shantae, and as I’ve said in the past, I really hope that WayForward start to look to different ways to use the character. A 3D adventure, perhaps, or (better yet) an RPG or similar. Shantae is a character that I’ve come to love, even though she has always been restrained by the minimalist approach to characterisation and narrative that comes with the platformer genre. It’s time to broaden the horizons, but in the meantime, Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is as good as platformers get on the Nintendo Switch.
– Matt S.
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