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Shantae Half-Genie Hero; TOMODACHI DENSETSU

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Funny... I had almost forgotten about Pirate Queen's Quest altogether until I saw the post in this thread and refreshed myself.

I do agree, though. these DLCs feel developed more for the crowd that backed the kickstarter then they do for the mass public who'd buy it afterwards. I kinda feel like the opposite is true of Shovel Knight, which is why that's so puzzling that these guys with the right idea laid a good template for their previous employers to follow, and they missed the mark so hardcore on Pirate Queen's Quest being such a dud. :C

That's why Yacht Club is made of ex-Wayforward employees.

I think a big problem comes from the art direction of he game, believe it or not. It's harder to reuse assets when you have backgrounds in 3D, so it's easier for Wayforward to reuse the same level templates with minimal changes rather than make new sections. Which is kind of a shame. I was hoping the Friends' Quest would be a bit more S3&K-ish in design, but I doubt that will be the case.

I'm fully expecting Julius Mode style from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.

Hey, Folks. sorry for the double post. just updating to let you know I FINALLY got my download code for Friends to the End. it's been out for a bit, but my backer code only now just came in. I already have pretty strong opinions of this. I can already say this is a hell of a lot better than Pirate Queen's quest was, but I still have issues. I'll also say that I might have had a higher opinion of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero overall and thought it was brilliant if it would have been a spin-off game that used Friends to the End as it's foundation.

This took a bit to get to between sick and Wayforward taking a while to get the Backer codes out, but it's time for the next part of the Shantae Half-Genie Hero review! Without further adieu, it's time for Friends to the End! Spoiler Alert, I'm very polarized on this.

Let me get this out of the way; This left far more of an impression on me than Pirate Queen's Quest. Heck, I'd even say it ALMOST flows better than the base game. Actually, I think if Friends to the End would have gotten the bulk of the Kickstarter budget and the TLC it needed, it'd probably be the brightest spot in this whole package. as it stands, it errs on the end of 'frustrating difficulty spikes' and 'mechanically unpolished', which are things I would seldom associate with Wayforward games of the modern era. Let's get the good out of the way first, though.

Level design is once again recycled from the base game with a few minimalistic changes to level geometry here or there. This time, however, a lot of it is redone to take advantage of our heroes' unique platforming abilities. this means that Friends to the End can actually have a difficulty curve and the levels aren't filled with bullshit meant to make you replay them, and the platforming goodness can take advantage of it knowing you have all the tools you'll ever need at any given time to complete the levels. there are little Memory Squid collectables in each stage, but those are easy enough to collect along the way. the lack of padding here is SUCH a breath of fresh air. There's also a couple of completley new levels in the form of  tutorial areas and the final stages, which... I'll be talking about later in this review.

This means that effectively, Friends to the End turns half-genie hero into the sort of linear action game that the level design hinted at this whole time. again, there's no town. heck, there isn't even any sort of between level breaks of any sort besides cutscenes and a visit to the black void that the save guy lives in. This structure makes for a pretty satisfyingly paced game in theory.

I feel that they did a fairly good job at balancing the heroes as well, in both their platforming and combat abilities. there's nothing that's really overpowered between the three, so that means you actually have to play the game and pay attention to boss and enemy patterns.

Bolo is our medium range fighter that does decent damage and has good options for attacking foes at angles between his grapple hook and his rebound stone-like spiked ball that he can throw. he overall feels the best of all the unupgraded heroes, and his swinging around is a lot of fun, if a bit nonsensical in how some of the mechanics of it work (Such as him losing his grapple if he bumps into collision of any sort or how he can effectively suspend himself vertically upwards at the peak of a swing.)

Sky's birds she throws do next to no damage, but are good at taking out threats from afar, and although her glide is weak and the little egg toss platform feels akward and slow, I still got a lot of use out of her birdspam if only because it lets you take out enemies at safe distances, even though she's weak. her sub-weapon is basically a neutered version of Shantae's pike balls.

Rotty is the close range fighter of the group, with slow, damaging, short ranged attacks. other than that, she's got a brain she can eat to heal the party's shared health bar, and her head toss, which freezes time (for the most part) while she takes aim and lets her teleport to her head, all while giving her body I-frames.

it must be said though that this game incorperates a Cave Story style level-up system. Gems, when collected with each hero, cause them to level up when you reach certain threshholds. While they share a health bar, they have their own individual pool of gems, and when they take damage, they drop some gems, and a few scatter around, but not enough to recover everything you lost from the hit. this means that taking hits will downgrade the party's power, attack speed, or other properties such as the range on Bolo's attacks or the number of birds Sky can have on screen at once. This system worked well in Cave Story because you had a hero who's weapons were all ranged, varied in number, multi-directional, and in some late game instances, either ignored the EXP system or were more powerful downgraded. as it stands, I found myself reloading saves when I'd take too much damage through a stage, or I'd go back to the first level if I had collected tough memory squids to save my progress collecting those and farm to get back to max EXP level with the party again so I'd have a chance at fending off the more dangerous threats in these levels with Rottytops' highly damaging leg-cudgel.

the levels for the most part also tend not to iterate on the platforming abilities of our heroes until late game. Rottytops' head throw is pretty much exclusively used to pass by inpassable laser barriers or maybe to make a jump that not even sky's Bird platform and glide can get to. Sky's glide is never used for things like the gusts of wind that the pirate hat in pirate's curse is used for. Bolo's grapple is used exclusively to swing from posts or ride on moving posts. there's never things like say... throwing switches, pulling in enemies, latching onto other bits of level geometry that isn't the one specific type of post that he latches onto. I suppose this is criticism that can be somwhat leveraged on Shantae's various animal transformations, but they gradually add to her versitility and the levels evolve with her growth. I realize I'm nitpicking something that's my own expectations instead of the game's own shortcomings, but wouldn't it be cool if the platforming challenges were the things that evolved instead of the character evolving to the levels? I digress.

The BIG thing is that there's also some serious lack of polish with some of these abilities. I found myself more often than not falling because I'd bonk on something while trying to swing with Bolo or a leap being essentially blind with trying to use Sky's bird platform in conjucntion with the head toss to try and make it to platforms. Both Bolo and Sky can activate their sub-weapons with the R button, and that's how the tutorial tells you to activate these. however, Rottytops' brain can't be used unless you specifically hit the A button. that made the earlier parts of the game really rough in that not only was the game punishing me for each hit I took in the form of dropping gems and powering me down, but also I effectively had 3 hearts to get by on... which granted is like... 12 HP, but some of the enemies start taking a whole heart away later. In Hypno Baron's castle, there's an instance where there's a fairly large circle of light around the characters meant to obscure the periphery/add atmosphere/hide just how labyrinthine the level design is in that part a bit, but the light doesn't follow Rottytops' head when you toss it, which... again, leads to the 'leap of faith' sort of thing going on. in the final stage, there's a part where you play as Rottytops solo, and you have to do the head toss onto moving platforms, but in this one place, time doesn't stop when you're aiming and it makes everything unreasonably more tricky then it needs to be. it feels really, REALLY unpolished when it doesn't need to be. Unlike the original Shantae on GBC, which had serious problems with leap of faith style platforming, there isn't items that can be bought to mitigate this or the excuse of a low resolution screen making the quality of the platforming be the compromise for graphical fidelity. This is just pure sloppiness, and it made me frown.

All the music used here besides boss battle themes and the Dance through the Danger track playing in the credits, is lifted directly from Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. Again, it's a little disappointing they couldn't get Kauffman on the horn to compose a little bit of new music, but I suppose that's a product of their budget. as usual, the art all animates really well, and I feel like everyone is really expressive, from Bolo's really dorky victory pose to the squash and stretch on Rottytops when her body teleports to her! the levels are the same besides for the Final one and the tutorial, as those are basically tiles from the genie realm all dark and corrupted, which makes me think maybe there was going to be a level like that in between the first and second phase of the Tinkerbrain in Shantae's story.

Unlike Pirate Queen's Quest, the story here is cannonical to Half-Genie Hero, and takes place in the gulf of time between Risky Boots stealing the dynamo to make the Tinkerbrain, and Shantae overcoming her Nega Shantae half. It turns out her friends all dived into her head and used the magic of friendship and the elements of harmony to save Shantae from being teh ebilz! But first, they have to learn to get their heads out of their own asses.  The party of Bolo, Rottytops, and Sky all play off each other incredibly well. you get the sense that these three only play nice off of one another in front of Shantae because they really care for her personally, but secretly despise one another, and that boils to the surface in their interactions. yeah, it's a bit cartoonish how mean they are to one another the moment they don't have to worry about others watching them, but it gave a chance for some funny dialogue. we don't really go deeper than the surface with these characters like say... the sort of things we learn about them in pirate's curse, but I appreciate them far more than I did Risky in her story. Shout-outs must be had for the trio of NateWantsToBattle, Cherami Leigh, and Karen Strassman for the wonderful voice work too.

This DLC I can reccomend a little bit more than Pirate Queen's quest. yeah, it doesn't have backtrack padding and it's not unreasonable to brisk on through in an hour and a half, but just be prepared for a LOT of frustration. The second area of tassle town, all of hypno baron's manor, and the rottytops segment of the final level made me put the game down for long stretches because of spikes in the difficulty or mechanically unsound platforming challenges. I almost feel like most of the budget here went to royalties to pay the new voice performers and to modeling out the new endgame area. I think it speaks wonders to the fact that they couldn't even be bothered to make new renders for Sky and Rottytops for your speedrun Bikini wallpaper ending reward. It's all very... slap-dash, and I hope Wayforward returns to the idea for a stand-alone game about these three. There's potential here.

Also, totally called it feeling like a "Julius Mode" from dawn of sorrow with the switching between characters and the fat cutting.

... oh, right. I also got a code that makes Shantae Blue and Risky look all red and black like her GBC Sprite. I mean... they're palette swaps. I do like seeing Shantae in blue, I guess?

I'll be back here one more time once the costume modes get released and if they add anything substatial. I'll then be able to give my final thoughts on the whole package, but... really, you can probably guess from my posts here what my final thoughts will be.


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