Hard Core Mode is not a cakewalk, however not impossible, even for beginners. If you thought the original story mode is just hard enough then you may have serious problems with this, so here are a few tips to make it obtainable for everyone.
The differences in HC mode:
- enemies deal much more damage
- enemies have slightly more health (in my experience)
- you never get your health back, even if you die and reload, you have just as much health as you had before
- stronger enemies are frequent early on (for example you'll meet spiders in Tassel Town Tower) and their number is increased
- when you fell from the level you start the entire section from the start (the enemies stay dead however until you lose all your health)
- the Magic Tiara (for collecting 10 keys) won't give you infinite mana anymore, just charges it slowly when you don't use a spell (maybe part of the patch, didn't test it in normal mode)
The only real difference between HC and the original mode is the damage enemies deal. You can die in a few or just one hits if you don't upgrade your most important attributes (health, damage and a few spells).
Good news that Wayforward didn't patch the most important in-game "cheats" (GemJug spell, Dryad spell) so the weakened Tiara isn't such a big deal.
GemJug spell "cheat": The Jug is obtainable at the end of the Mermaid falls factory. You'll see a purple vase in the middle of the way (unmissable), if you whip the vase, Tuki the snake lady comes out and sells you extra spells. If you have 200 gems you can buy the "warp" dance from her and trade it for free to the "gemjug" dance. The dance lets you transform to a jug and you spew gems out by just mashing the buttons or the left analog on your stick. If you sit in the bath in Scuttle Town you can make infinite gems, so infinite money and you can upgrade yourself to the max early on.
Dryad spell "cheat": Obtainable at Tuki as well for 100 gems, this spell makes you produce fruit the same way as the Gemjug spell but the real importance is it makes you completely INVINCIBLE against every attack in the game (except falling) until you chose to turn back to Shantae. This wasn't such a big deal in the original game, but it is a tremendous help in the last boss battles because it let you charge your mana back (if you have the Tiara).
In my experience you must have the following upgrades to beat the game in Hard Core:
- 6 potions for most of the game, anyone except the last bosses can be forcefully beaten by whipping / scimitar them to oblivion while drinking 2 or 3
- all health containers
- the Magic Tiara (for collecting 10 keys)
- the Scimitar spell (lvl3 pike spell, Scuttle Town Item Shop) 30 > 100 > 300
- Invincibility (lvl3 bubble spell, Scuttle Town Item Shop) 50 > 100 > 300
- Magic Bracelet (Scuttle Town Item Shop) 200
- Bikini Armor (Scuttle Town Item Shop) 200
- Mega Silky Cream (lvl3 cream spell, Scuttle Town Item Shop) 100 >200 >300
- Mega Shampoo (lvl3 shampoo spell, Scuttle Town Item Shop) 100 >200 >300
- Warp Dance > Gemjug Dance (Snake Merchant) 200 > Free
- Revive Dance > Super Revive Dance (Snake Merchant) 250 > 500
- Dryad Dance (Snake Merchant) 100
- Flamethrower (lvl3 fire spell, Scuttle Town Item Shop) for the escape at the end
I don't see any reason to write a walkthrough for the entire game here, if you finished the 100% you already know what to do. Here are the trickier parts:
Prologue (Scuttle Town main Street): Since you can't upgrade anything now, you must survive at all cost. Walk forward slowly and run back as you see enemies, since the game like to throw them behind you as well. Two hits and you are out. The Tinkerbat spewing enemy bombs can be beaten by running back, whipping the 3 enemies then running up and whipping the bomb a few times (repeat as much as necessary). The bomb throwing enemies can be skipped easily if you start running as soon as you see them. Try to get as much gem as you can (at least 200). You can get the health permit by whipping 30 enemies at the restaurant right now. (great way to heal back too). The Tinkerslug is still an easy enemy, I only got hit once I think. After you finished the slug buy the bikini armor ASAP then go back with the monkey dance and get the monkey bullet spell and the health container not far from it. You have near 200 again, buy the lvl1 shampoo and cream to up your damage a bit. Maybe the shield spell and make sure you have more than 200 (or better 300) at the end of mermaid factory
Mermaid falls: it is much easier to collect gems on the first part so get as much as you can, preferably 150+. The factory part can be very hard because the gators are not worth to kill with low damage and health. Get the bat dance before you reach the top. Just skip as many enemy as you can. Hide from the gators in the floor at the last corridor and speak to Tuki (snake lady), buy the warp > gemjug dance, and the dryad as well if you can. I didn't have much problem with the Giga Mermaid. Destroyed her chains at the top first, then drank a single potion, whipped her head gem and she was down on the first try.
Scuttle Town Gemjug farming: now comes the boring part, farm enough money (buy attract spells first) in the bathhouse. After you bought everything from the shop it is worth to farm enough and go back to Tuki for the revive spells and the dryad if you didn't do it either. The game becomes much easier from now on.
Tassel Town: not much here except you must use monkey on the Tower run and turn invincibility on and off when you need it against bombers and archers while jumping through the platforms. Wilbur is not much of an enemy, just turn on invincibility when his eye try to catch you.
Cape Crustacean: You can fly through the entire race with the bat dance, just turn back and jump higher every time you see an airship made of wood blowing up. If you fall fighting Twitch and Vinegar you need to go through the entire race again so I suggest turning on the scimitar and not taking risks. Ammo baron can be defeated as well by scimitars and drinking potions.
Hypno Baron's Castle: again, not worth fighting the enemies, skip as many as you can in the castle. When you are outside you can skip plenty of the platforms with the bat spell (you can get higher by jumping on the eye statues when they look up). The double barons can be bested by the old scimitar / whip / drinking potions combo.
Before you go to Riskys hideout you should collect everything I listed, especially the health and the tiara. The health is very important because the swimming part at the beginning can take its toll very fast and you must use quite a few food items while unable to heal back with the dances.
Risky's hideout: The swimming part is obvious, you will get hit a lot. Try not to fall out of the screen because you will lose your starfish companions and you will surely die. The second part is simple, just use invincibility then let your magic regenerate, use revive dance as well if you got hurt. The Harpy parts can be hard to time right but eventually you'll get through. Before Risky you get your last save and the three boss obviously wants to bleed you out so from here on if you are low on magic, instead of using a potion, always turn into Dryad and let your magic regenerate. There isn't any timer so you can do this as many times as you want.
- Beat Risky by switching scimitars on and whipping her, if you are low on magic then turn into Dryad. Her dashing strike deals a huge amount of damage even with every item on, so I suggest Dryad form until she gets bored and switch.
- The Tinkerbrain form 1 is just turning on invincibility when you run left or right and whipping the cores. I don't remember the cores making electric walls on normal but you just need to jump on the top of a core.
- Tinkerbrain form 2 is all about patience. Dryad until the shield slowing down, whip a genie with invincibility on and whip the white energy in the core.
- As for the escape part I didn't see the hud but I was on the invincibility bubble in the boss fight and pressed RB once (to switch to the flamthrower spell). Magic isn't infinite now but for the trickier parts (where you need to jump on rings to get through) I could still jump in the air, holding down the spell button and never falling down skipping the rings.
In the base game you got the achievements after the credits, but You will get this at the beginning.