Shantae: Friends to the End is the second story expansion for Shantae: ½ Genie Hero, following Pirate Queen’s Quest. For the first time in the series, you can finally play as Shantae’s friends, Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops. Together! This game is basically a Shantaefied Castlevania III. It’s available for $7.99 as DLC for Shantae: ½GH.
Friends to the End starts off in the middle of the Dynamo reveal scene from ½ Genie Hero. Uncle Mimic uses Risky Boot’s Dynamo blueprints, and builds a machine that turns good into evil. Risky uses it on Shantae, and turns her into Nega Shantae, so Sky, Bolo, and Rotty go into Shantae’s mind to try and save her from being overcome by her evil self. As you play through the game, they go through Shantae’s memories of the events of ½GH, while trying to get along and work together. Apparently, they’re not really friends with each other, just friends with Shantae.
I think the closest thing I can compare this game to is old-school Castlevania. It’s a pretty straight-forward action platformer. This is not just ½GH or PQQ with different characters. All the fetch quests, towns, NPCs, and items are gone. You do get a stage select that you can use at any time to go back to any level you’ve beaten, but the game’s progression is linear, and you’re not forced to go back to previous levels. You’ll more than likely want to, though.
In Friends to the End, you play through most of the same levels from ½GH and Pirate Queen’s Quest. Like in PQQ, the enemies, obstacles, and platforming have been tweaked to fit the new character’s abilities. Each stage also has 3 Dream Squids to collect, like coins in 2D Mario games. If you collect them all, you get a special picture at the end. There are also a few new levels, which take place in the “Nightmare Realm”, Nega Shantae’s mind.
The main new mechanic in Friends to the End is switching between Bolo, Sky, and Rottytops. There are times when there is more than one way to get past an obstacle, but not always. You’ll have to switch to specific characters to get past some obstacles, and even combine abilities to progress sometimes. The switching is not instant, and you can’t switch in the air, so it never gets too demanding or complicated. You’ll never have to use more than 2 characters, or switch more than once, to get past anything.
Bolo is kind of like Simon Belmont. He wields a chain whip with a morning star on its end, just like the Vampire Killer. His unique abilities include breaking blocks with the whip, and swinging from pegs. Your main attack can only whip forwards, and doesn’t grab onto things. The grabbing attack is on a different button, and you can only aim it straight up or upwards diagonally. It’s not exactly Super Castlevania IV, but it’s the same idea. Bolo’s magic ability has him throw morning stars, which bounce around like Super Mario Land fireballs.
Sky reminds me of Maria Renard from Rondo of Blood. Her main attack is throwing seagulls at enemies, like how Maria throws doves. Sky can also use her pet bird, Wrench, as a platform. She can jump on Wrench, and then switch to another character to use their abilities. When you use the platform ability, you throw an egg in the air, and then press the button again to hatch it where you want the platform. Sky can also use Wrench to glide, like Risky Boots glides with her pirate hat. Timing the hatch just right, and using the glide are crucial to making some of the toughest jumps in the game. Sky is the go to character for platforming. Sky’s magic ability is a damaging bird shield, like Shantae’s scimitar item, or the fire wheel in Ninja Gaiden.
Rottytops has an arsenal of zombie themed moves. Rotty can detach her head and throw it, like how Yoshi tosses eggs, and then teleport to wherever the head landed, like with the Puppet Master soul in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. For her main attack, Rotty pulls her leg off and hits enemies with it, like a mallet. Rotty’s magic ability has her eating a brain to fully refill your hearts. Some of this stuff will surely be censored somewhere.
There are no items to buy in Friends to the End, but enemies and jars still drop gems. In Friends to the End, gems act like experience points, and will level each character up to level 4. Every level increases each character’s combat abilities. For example, each level lengthens Bolo’s whip, increases its speed, and its damage. Each character has their own gem count, so they level individually, and you’ll have to play as each one to have them all at max power. You'll also lose gems whenever you get hit, so it’s not like you can stay fully leveled at all times, unless you're just that good.
Friends to the End doesn’t have lives, like old Castlevanias did. Instead, you can keep retrying from the last checkpoint as long as you have hearts left. If you run out of hearts, you’ll have to continue and restart the level. Your hearts are never refilled after dying or continuing; however, you’ll have the same hearts as the last time you saved, when you continue. The only time the game refills your hearts is after beating a boss, and you can only fight bosses once. This means that if you want to refill your hearts, or be at max power before a boss, you’re going to have to go back to an earlier level and grind for hearts and gems. I think I would have rather had lives than this. The grinding took a little too much of my playtime.
I’m impressed by the amount of love and attention each character got. Rotty, Bolo, and Sky have a bunch of unique animations, new character portraits, and even new voice acting. They all feel just as fleshed out as Shantae and Risky Boots. Their voices don’t sound quite like I thought they would, but they’re alright. They're just not as good as Shantae and Risky Boot’s voices.
Shantae fans have been waiting a long time to play as these characters, and I think we’ve gotten a good first adventure for them with Friends to the End. The game is not very long (took me 5 hours), and there is some grinding, but the platforming is fun, the characters have cool moves, the story is cute, and it’s great to finally see these characters get the spotlight.