Shantae has been around since the original Game Boy Color release so many years ago. She’s a genie that’s known for her unique attack: whipping her hair. Even though the series has spanned multiple platforms and a slew of games, up until now I had never played more than a few minutes of any of them. When a review code showed up in my inbox out of nowhere, I figured it was a sign that I should finally give one of these a try, and boy am I glad I did! Shantae Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition is packed with content and its bright visuals, upbeat soundtrack, spot-on gameplay, and humorous dialog make for one amazing experience.
Now, Shantae Half-Genie Hero is no stranger to the Nintendo Switch. In fact, the original game launched almost a year ago: June 8, 2017. So, if you already own that version, it’s probably not worth double dipping for the Ultimate Edition, as the main quest will be the same. However, you do get all of the DLC packs in this new edition, which includes about $26 of content. The physical game runs $39.99 and comes with some extra goodies, like a soundtrack and a 96-page art book. The digital version has a suggested retail price of $29.99, although as of this writing it was listed at $27. No matter which way you prefer your games, this version’s a no-brainer if you don’t yet have the original, especially since the extra content is a lot of fun to play.
Before we get to the extras, let’s discuss the main game. You play as Shantae who is on a quest to help Uncle build a new contraption that will light up the town 24/7 to keep the evil pirates at bay. There’s a bit of a Zelda II vibe at the beginning, with you walking around a small town and chatting with the various NPCs that give strange hints. Once the main quest kicks off you’re treated to a traditional 2D side-scrolling affair. The first level has you defending the town against incoming attacks from pirates. You’ll have to jump around from platform to platform and whip your hair to defeat the various enemies.
As you progress through the stages you’ll learn new dances. These allow Shantae to transform into another creature, each of which has its own special power. For example, the monkey can climb walls and jump higher to reach new areas whereas the crab can sink underwater and allow Shantae to explore secret areas that she couldn’t swim to before. Along the way you’ll collect money that can be used to purchase new upgrades to make your journey easier. These include things like Shampoo to increase the damage dealt by Shantae’s hair and Bikini Armor to take half the damage. Other items like fruit can be collected throughout the levels as well, allowing you replenish Shantae’s health anytime you choose. So, although the game is setup more like an action game, the submenu gives the game a slight adventure aspect to it as well.
All of Shantae’s gameplay mechanics work great and the controls are fantastic. That’s not to say the game isn’t challenging, because there are times when I wanted to chuck my Pro Controller at the wall. There are some insanely challenging jumps and timing that has to be mastered to get through some of the levels, and it’s not a cakewalk by any means. Still, with perseverance most players should overcome the challenge and the game never feels too unfair (although I especially hate levels that force you to basically speed-run through them – one mistake and it’s curtain time).
Of course, this being the Ultimate Edition there are a ton of other modes to play. You can play them in any order at any time, so you don’t have to beat the main quest to get started, although I think it’s best to begin with the standard mode to get the story beats down. Hero Mode does give you an edge by starting off with all of Shantae’s main transformations out of the gate, so this might help beginners get through the game easier. If more challenge is your jam, then play the hard-core mode for even more difficult levels. If you’re after new story and characters to play, then you’ll want to check out the other modes.
Pirate Queen’s Quest: Play this alternative storyline as the nefarious Risky Boots. She has swapped out the blueprints to Uncle’s invention and now she can change anyone that’s good into evil. She sets out to make the machine even bigger by finding five key parts scattered around the land so she can finally take over the Genie realm.
You’ll visit the same stages, but they have been remixed with some new hazards and variations. Risky Boots has a sword at her disposal as well as infinite ammo for her single-shot pistol, which does very little damage to enemies. Speaking of foes, in the first stage she fights her own crew because they decided to attack the town without her. It’s an interesting story conceit to allow the player to attack the same enemies like when playing as Shantae. In fact, the developers have even shrunk the first boss from the main quest and made it a tough regular enemy! This was very cool to see and reminded me of the larger Mega Man 2 enemies that were placed in a few of the stages. Oh, and if anyone knows me – if I’m comparing a game to Mega Man 2 (one of the greatest games of all time), then that’s a good sign!
The enemies will drop power-ups this time around, which is basically ammo for Risky’s other guns. One is a homing missile and the other is a spread shot. You’ll have to shoot special objects to create new platforms that only appear for a limited time, so the guns aren’t just used to take out your adversaries.
Throughout the quest you’ll discover treasure chest that can be opened to reveal Dark Magic. Each one you pick up allows you to level up Risky’s abilities (up to three times), which include increased health, higher damage for the scimitar, greater pistol damage, pistol speed, more ammo, and more. So, if you want to make your adventure more manageable, seek out these hidden treasures to upgrade your character. Then again, if you want a bigger challenge, you don’t need to spend the Dark Magic on any upgrades.
Friends To The End: Play a new adventure as Sky, Bolo, and Rottytops. The same storyline takes place and Shantae is turned evil, except this time the power overloads her brain and the three friends, Sky, Bolo and Rottytops, jump inside her mind to rescue her. The three of them will have to cooperate to survive this nightmare realm. Each character has special abilities. Bolo has a Spring Claw that allows him to grab onto pegs and swing around, all Bionic Commando-like! He can also smash huge blocks with his bare hands. Rottytops can rip off her head and throw it throw energy barriers (she’s a zombie so she won’t miss her brain). You’ll be able to aim her head and throw it, and wherever it lands the rest of her body will warp to the head and reassemble. Sky can throw an egg and it’ll hatch into a bird, which becomes a platform for her to jump on to reach new areas. She also has a handy jump glide maneuver that will extend her reach.
After a lengthy tutorial showcasing each character’s abilities, you will finally get to play through the main levels that are present in other modes. Of course they are again remixed with new obstacles and enemy placements. You’ll have to switch between the three heroes to utilize their special powers at exactly the right time to navigate through the stages.
Ninja Mode: An all-new Arcade Style adventure. Dash and slash with ninja speed. Shantae gets her ninja suit and with it comes a bunch of new moves and techniques. He can attach to a wall and then jump away from it to reach new platforms. She even has the ability to teleport short distances. As you defeat enemies they’ll drop jewels that you can pick up and if you collect 100 you can power-up Shantae, but if you get hit you lose some jewels so be careful!
Beach Mode: An all-new Arcade-Style adventure. Hit the beach and work on that tan. Shantae goes to the beach! Well, she tries to, but first she has to make it through monster-infested levels. The sun is so intense that she has to constantly apply sunscreen or her health will rapidly diminish. Sunscreen bottles are placed strategically throughout each stage and you’ll have to rush to find the next one before she starts burning up. Luckily, once you’ve found a bottle you can hang around that area for a few moments and it will reappear again so you can apply more before heading deeper into the level. Collecting jewels once again levels her up so she becomes stronger. This time around she has a beach ball attack to take out foes all over the screen and a bubble that she can float around in to reach higher ground. This mode isn’t the easiest, since you’ll have to constantly be moving and on the lookout for more sunscreen.
Officer Mode: An all-new Arcade-Style adventure that lets you switch-up your surroundings. This is probably the most outrageous mode of the bunch, with Shantae getting a cybernetic body that gives her the power to shoot energy pellets at enemies as well as change the position of blocks with a click of a button. This one reminded me more of a Mega Man mod than anything else, but there are more puzzle elements in place due to having to change the position of blocks in and out of the screen. One of the first deaths I encountered was accidentally shifting the block forward when I was standing in front of it. I was treated to Shantae being flung forward and hitting the switch Screen, sending cracks all the way around the impact. It was a really cool effect that I haven’t seen since TMNT: Turtles In Time on the SNES. It brought a grin to my face, that’s for sure! Oh, by the way, if you time your block movements just right you can do the same to the enemies, which is oh-so satisfying.
As you battle through the stages you’ll once again collect jewels from broken pots and enemies. You can level up your gun so you’ll have more spread to defeat enemies even faster. This mode focuses a lot more on strategy, so you’ll need to be quick on your feet with shifting the blocks in and out of the screen to make platforms on the fly. You have a more restricted move set, so you can’t duck or swim, so if you fall into the water you’re toast. Along the way you’ll want to be on the lookout for five missing maidens that you can rescue. Finding all of them will unlock something special. I found this mode to be one of my favorites because it focuses on jumping and shooting and was very entertaining, despite having already played in these environments several times before.
Finally, I must give special praise to the audiovisuals throughout the game. Not only are the backgrounds gorgeously drawn with an almost-impossible amount of parallax scrolling (or whatever technique they’re using), but the animations are top-notch as well. Every character in the game looks fantastic and the enemy designs are quite original, especially the bosses. The music is upbeat and catchy and fits so well with the colorful stages. Some lines of dialog are spoken, giving just enough voice to the characters to paint a picture. WayForward have proven they’re masters of their craft with previous games like DuckTales Remastered, and Shantae has never looked better, offering crisp visuals in handheld and TV modes.
It’s safe to say that the developers have won me over with Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition. The graphics are fantastic, the gameplay is smooth, the music is catchy, the challenge is satisfying, and the story is compelling. The extra modes add even more depth to the experience, and although they reuse the same stages, there’s enough changed that I never grew tired of revisiting the locations. I kind of regret taking this long to play this excellent game, but then again it’s a more complete package with a ton of content so now’s the perfect time to check it out!
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.