In 1989, Shadow of the Beast debuted on the Amiga and due to its roaring success, was ported to nearly every other available system at the time. It spawned two sequels, the second of which was equally revered and its legacy has been a fixture in gaming ever since.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m afraid I can’t talk as highly on this years remake.
Someone at Sony deemed Shadow of the Beast worthy of a remake and with good reason too. Enlisting Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs to develop it, the idea, as par for the course, was to craft something modern that still honoured the original. While it certainly used its story and characters, the current version is still a very, very different game.
The first problem here is the the story. It isn’t particularly deep but that isn’t the issue. You play as Aarbron, who is kidnapped as a child and forced to do his masters bidding. The game sees you chasing said master down through each level, presumably to something or other. You see, for some asinine reason, the dialogue in Shadow of the Beast is subtitled, but the subtitles aren’t deciphered. You need to purchase each species’ language in order to know what they’re saying… I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
I can only assume this is some extreme attempt at promoting replayability but when the game is a struggle to get through the first time, leaving you no desire to play it again, it really just pisses you off even more.
There are orbs that can be smashed through each level that unlock background information on characters and events but you need to find them and have a certain ability to break them so it doesn’t help much.
The bulk of Heavy Spectrum’s time and effort has been put into combat but even that is lacking. Shadow of the Beast is a sidescroller and you’ll come across certain areas that become blocked off by portals that send out enemies. Beat them all, move on. Sounds simple but combat is so aggravating, you’ll end up dying, a lot.
Aabron has good variety of attacks. Square for a main attack, circle for throw, block and counter buttons and holding R2 and another button launches a quick time event. One can be used to sap some health while another is great for scoring. Chain attacks can be used with R1 and L1 and if you time it right you take out everyone in a single sequence. The better you do in each battle, the more points you get which in turn are used to unlock things back at the main menu (you know, like subtitles), but more on that later.
The issue here is a two parter and they are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. On one hand you can get through some of the battles by pressing square over and over again. On the other, you get creamed due to lack of fluency and clunky mechanics. Block is temperamental and works when it wants to and rolling just negates all other prompts until its finished its animation so you usually get hit.
Some enemies are invisible and the game isn’t designed well enough to evade their attacks, some have shields and getting behind them is more difficult than it should be. The only time I really enjoyed fighting – in a fighting game mind you – was boss fights. They come off as God of War-lite in their execution and they can be pretty fun.
However I feel like they have pushed the violence here to a point that comes off childish. There are some cool animations like grabbing an enemies sword and lopping his head off but other moments like the QTE’s, Aarbron isn’t actually doing anything but the result is a fountain of spouting blood. It’s boring and actually reminded me of when the viscera would fly in the old Mortal Kombat games for no real reason.
You can upgrade Aarbon’s abilities to give him more blood slots for more special attacks, draining more health from enemies and simplifying QTE’s and counter attacks. The system isn’t bad and it’s pretty extensive for such a short game. You can also equip tailsmans that offer bonuses like less fall damage. Which you’ll probably need because climbing in this game is more convoluted than it has any right to be.
The unlock menu is probably the best thing about the package really. Aside from the upgrades to Aarbron’s character, you can unlock soundtracks and even fork out some currency for the original 1989 title. That may be worth the price alone.
Shadow of the Beast is what happens when style takes precedents over substance. Glossed over with gratuitous violence instead of fluid combat and boasting replayability instead of making the first playthrough engaging is a perfect example of a novelty wearing off very quickly. Instead of transitioning a brilliant game into a contemporary field, Heavy Spectrum have instead built something jarring and ultimately infuriating to play.
Review Score: 5.0 out of 10
Highlights: Fun boss battles; Cool unlock system; Original 1989 game
Lowlights: Literally an incomprehensible story; Short; Clunky, frustrating combat; Movement isn’t smooth
Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: May 27, 2016