Boss fights being more difficult because of the absence of health upgrades is a reasonable way of creating a sense of difficulty. After all, players are likely to have gone through these fights several times already in both the base game and Pirate Queen’s Quest, so it’s not too much to ask them to get through these encounters without getting hit too many times. Then there’s the traditional Shantae endgame difficulty spike full of instant-death hazards, and the new mechanics simply don’t hold up. Their inherent awkwardness becomes a huge burden, with certain sections feeling more luck-based than anything. You’ll likely see it coming if you’ve played a Shantae game before, but this compares to Shantae and the Pirate Curse’s abysmal endgame section in terms of fun-spoiling “what the hell is this garbage”-ery.
Which is to say that this will be negative
If you’re looking for positive impressions, please return to the first progress log where valuable story things happened and fun was had despite a few cheap shots. Progress Log #2 is not for you, because I have nothing good to say about Friends to the End here; the final boss fight is identical to the one in Pirate Queen’s Quest, the endgame sections leading up to that fight are awful, and the Dream Squids do nothing outside of triggering an achievement and 100% completion art.
The problem with Bolo’s section
All three characters end up split up and have to go through their own little gauntlet designed around their specific gameplay gimmick, often highlighting problems with their design in the process. First up is Bolo’s solo section, which means lots and lots of awkward grappling around. By default, he shoots up at a 45 degree angle, but can also shoot directly up if you hold that direction before activating his grapple. The problem is that the chain doesn’t extend as far as you’d hope or expect, so there are a bunch of occasions where the awkward swinging mechanics keep you just far enough away from the next grapple point that there’s no way of reaching it.
The problem with Rotty’s section
Rottytops’ head-throwing ability was more consistent during the base game than grappling around, so I really thought that this would be easier. Then I realized that the game suddenly changed the rules so that time doesn’t freeze while you aim anymore. Suddenly changing the way things work like this isn’t a valid way of creating difficulty, and moving platforms combine with her head’s tendency to bounce to create something nightmarish. Worse, the aiming icon reflects the center of her head, so even if the shot seems to work out, the side of her head can bounce off of something and screw you over. Finally, there’s one point (~1:36 in the video) where you have to cause her head to bounce in such a way that it skips over a pit, and you’re aiming while the platform you’re on is moving up and down. Also, there are spikes. The entire thing is a giant groan and facepalm in game form.
The problem with Sky’s section
Sky’s section is the point where I had to take a break and come back later. Not only are there points where you have to throw an egg, jump forward into the pit, and then hit the egg-throwing button again to create a platform under you that’s high enough that you can reach the next platform (it’s very easy to screw this up, but the whole thing isn’t cheap so much as merely difficult), but there are points where you have to glide at a frustratingly specific point to land on a platform with spikes above it. If you glide too late, you miss the platform entirely, even if Sky’s legs are visibly above the platform and she’s casting a shadow on it. If you glide too soon, you hit the spikes and die anyway. It’s also easy to go to glide, only for the game to interpret you holding the button when you land as a subsequent jump—they’re the same button—and cause you to leap into overhead spikes (~3:20 in the embedded video above).
Dream Squids serve no purpose
Okay, I do have one good thing to say about the game. I appreciate it being possible to enter the stage select screen even during a boss fight, as I was able to finish the game and then jump back to get the Dream Squid I left behind to figure out if that changed the ending at all. It doesn’t. Apart from giving you an achievement (which I don’t care about) and some extra art at the end (which is literally the same as the normal game completion art, but with the characters moved around slightly—they’re even in the same poses), it does nothing. No extra ending text. No extra scene. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. When the game said that “you never know what might happen” when you collect a lot of them, it really meant “we had no idea what to do with these things, so they’ll do what collectibles always do, except this time without the usual gameplay benefits!” The whole thing is hugely disappointing and misleading.