About a year ago, WayForward released Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, the fourth entry in the studio’s popular platforming franchise. Since then, the developer has been busy working on various side campaigns that were promised during the original Kickstarter run, releasing a new one every few months. Now, WayForward has bundled everything together in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero – Ultimate Edition, the 'complete' version of the game. For the purposes of this hands-on, we’ll be focusing on the DLC expansions that were added over the months, but if you’re looking for our original review, you can find it here.

Pirate Queen’s Quest is the first expansion, seeing you take control of the villainous Risky Boots in a side-story that smartly weaves into the narrative of the main game, filling in the gaps of what Risky was doing behind the scenes of certain parts. Those of you that were fans of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse will particularly enjoy this campaign, as Risky’s moveset borrows plenty of elements from Shantae’s own in that adventure.

She plays mostly the same as Shantae, with moves such as a sword swipe replacing the hair whip, but she has some additional moves to mix things up, including the ability to summon Tinkerbat minions to fight your enemies, or to fire a gun that can utilise several different kinds of ammunition. What’s nice about this gameplay style is that Risky’s abilities all feel organic and seamless in how they’re employed. Here, every weapon and traversal method is just a quick button press away, rather than having to stop the game like with Shantae’s dancing.

Risky’s goal is to obtain five Dynamo parts from the five main bosses in the initial campaign, and you can tackle the stages in any order that you wish. Upon defeating a boss, Risky’s Tinkerbats will give her a new weapon or tool that expands her abilities and ‘unlocks’ more opportunities to find secrets. The main collectibles that you’ll be looking for are chests filled with dark magic, which can be used to upgrade Risky’s attacks or abilities. For example, her pirate hat glide can be upgraded to go farther, or her gun can be upgraded to fire faster. This overall design is a welcome change, as it gives the experience a more open-ended approach, rather than the controversial linear(ish) design of the initial campaign.

Risky’s adventure doesn’t bring her to any new levels, but instead it remixes the existing ones with newer and more difficult enemy placements and obstacles. At the start, the difficulty of these levels can feel a little bit too high at times given Risky’s underpowered state, but it doesn’t take long for things to quickly tilt the other way once you’ve collected a few dark magic chests. It’s a little disappointing that the stage designs don’t seem to take full advantage of Risky’s unique moveset - as each of them has to be beatable without any special abilities - but retreading the levels to collect all the chests can be quite satisfying when you’re fully loaded out.

The next expansion is Friends to the End mode, which sees you simultaneously playing as Rottytops, Sky, and Bolo in a group effort to save Shantae at a certain point in the story. Each character has specific abilities, like Rotty being able to throw her head and teleport or Sky being able to glide with her bird, Wrench, and gameplay requires you to continuously be swapping between the three of them to overcome unique obstacles. This swap mechanic is clever and fun to use at first, although over time it becomes a bit cumbersome and one note. Each character feels like a one-trick pony, and many of the obstacles make it blindingly obvious which character needs to be used. We would’ve liked to have seen a bit more exploration of the mechanics that are introduced with these characters; the obstacles you come across tend to level off in creativity and challenge after a few levels.

Like Pirate Queen’s Quest, Friends to the End sees you taking the trio through the same levels and environments of the core campaign, but with new layouts to freshen things up. The main issue with this is that Déjà vu begins to set in all too quickly, and it can become a slog to see the story through to the conclusion. It’s not that any of the content or levels here are bad, but you can only fight the Giga Mermaid so many times before it becomes repetitive. It’s a much leaner experience than Shantae and Risky’s modes, too, removing all the Metroidvania elements and replacing them with dozens of collectable (and mostly useless) Dream Squids and a Cave Story-like level up system for each character’s attacks.

All told, Friends to the End feels like a rather tacked on affair. It brings a few interesting new ideas to the table, but these ideas are underutilised and overshadowed by the lack of any major new additions to this campaign. This is, unfortunately, a textbook example of filler content, added just to keep players engaged and to up the overall playtime of the complete package, something which is shared by the next expansion, too.

Costume Mode is the final expansion, adding in three different variants of Shantae’s run in which she dons a different costume and the gameplay changes to match. Ninja mode sees the purple-haired genie pursuing mastery of the mystic arts, and gives her a moveset that lets her throw kunais, swipe a sword, stick to walls, and vanish. Beach mode sees her donning a swimsuit and searching for the perfect beach, while under a glaring hot sun. A sunburn meter on the bottom of the screen is constantly filling, and you must collect sunscreen bottles scattered around or jump into water to stay cool and lower the meter. Officer mode is a crossover with Mighty Switch Force!, and sees Shantae wielding a pistol as she platforms her way through stages built around the Switch mechanic from WayForward’s other popular series.

Costume Mode suffers the same problem that Friends to the End does, but worsens things by being drawn out over three different campaigns. Each campaign has some fun twists on the core experience, but none of these twists are compelling enough to sustain one’s interest for a full run. Now, if you haven’t already played through a few of the other campaigns, your enjoyment will likely increase; the issue is simply that there isn’t enough here to necessarily justify a new mode. Each mode could’ve just been a brief chapter or level in the main campaign, and not much would’ve been lost in the process.

Although these DLC additions can be rather hit or miss in terms of quality, the core campaign is still the same awesome experience that it was when we first reviewed it. Hero mode and Hard Core mode are fun difficulty modifiers for it, too, although with all the retreading that goes on in the DLC, you might not want to burn yourself out with a relatively unaltered run through the main game.

Aside from all the game content, WayForward has also tossed in plenty of fan art that was contributed through the Kickstarter, and you can also collect all the win screens from the various modes, with a different picture being awarded to the player depending on how fast they cleared the mode and how much they collected along the way. Naturally, this is just supplementary content, but fans of Shantae will no doubt appreciate that the developer thought to include this.

So Shantae: Half-Genie Hero - Ultimate Edition is the same amazing game that it was at launch, with a slew of additional content tossed on top. Granted, this additional content borrows a little too heavily from the main game, but there’s still plenty of cool ideas and gameplay styles introduced to warrant a few extra playthroughs. The DLC campaigns may be a little disappointing individually, but they together add a meaningful element to the game, and the disappointment is perhaps a consequence of them existing alongside such a strong core campaign. We’d give the Ultimate Edition a recommendation to those who haven’t yet tried out Shantae: Half-Genie Hero; there’s something here for everybody, and dozens of hours of content mean that you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck. However, if you’ve already put plenty of time into the original game, you may want to think twice before double dipping.

Let us know what you think of this collected edition from WayForward in the comments below...