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Shadow of the Beast? If you live in North America, you’re forgiven if the title doesn’t strike a chord. Launched on the Commodore Amiga in 1989, Shadow of the Beast was a hit in Europe, but made a relatively small splash on the other side of the Atlantic. That puts this new PS4-exclusive reimagining of Shadow of the Beast in a bit of a tough position. The game needs to live up to the expectations of die hard fans, but also has to stand on its own for the many who never played the original.
Does Shadow of the Beast pull off this tricky balancing act? Or is this remake a mere shadow of the original? Let’s find out…
Shadow Of The Beast (PS4)
As in the 1989 game, you play as Aarbron, a fearsome beast tasked with doing the bloody business of a cadre of dark mages. After being sent to abduct a baby, Aarbron suddenly recalls he too was kidnapped as a child and transformed into an instrument of death. He’s a tad irked about that, so he sets out on a quest across a trippy sci-fi landscape to get revenge against the bad magic men that wronged him.
Shadow of the Beast uses few words to tells its story, and you won’t understand the handful it does employ. You actually have to unlock the ability to understand the game’s various languages, which may sound like an odd choice, but it works here. Sure, the game is occasionally confusing, but the world of Shadow of the Beast is supposed to be strange and enigmatic. Sometimes knowing less is more.
This game has a real prog rock album cover thing going on.
Shadow of the Beast is no technical wonder, but its visuals, inspired by legendary sci-fi artist Roger Dean, are polished and varied. Shimmering dunes, massive rock spires, mysterious towers, noxious swamps and shadowy nether realms await, and they’re filled with all manner of strange creatures. Tentacled robot walkers, translucent insect queens, floating eyeballs, towering hydras (and the list goes on).
These 1970s album cover visuals are set to a suitably epic, otherworldly soundtrack. I actually like the synth-heavy tunes of the original game a little better, but the new orchestral music is almost as good. And hey, you can actually play the new game with the old music if you want! Shadow of the Beast does a fine job of bringing its unique world into the 20th century.
Shadow of the Beast isn’t quite like anything you’ve played before. A lot of that just comes from the game’s peculiar alien world, but it has its share of original gameplay ideas, too. In between the stabbing and slashing, the game doles out some surprisingly clever level design and puzzles. In some stages you may have to lure angry fireflies to certain spots to proceed, line up shadows to open doors or unravel a complex array of teleporters. Most stages area also topped by satisfyingly inventive bosses. Best of all, Shadow of the Beast never overuses its concepts, moving onto the next idea just as the current one is starting to become tiresome.
The game also has an interesting socially-interactive life system. When you die, you can use an “innocent soul” to revive yourself on the spot, but if you use too many you’ll be locked out of seeing the game’s best ending. The alternative is to use a life elixir, but those can only be gained when you come across a “glimmer” where another player died. When you find one of these spots, you can choose to gift the other player an elixir, or consume their soul for points. There’s no real reward for giving somebody an elixir, but then there rarely is for doing the right thing. Altruistic players sent me a fair number during my playthrough. I definitely didn’t expect a game called Shadow of the Beast to include a successful “be nice to your fellow player” mechanic.
Most of your time with Shadow of the Beast will be spent slashing enemies into gory strips, and the game’s fighting system is thankfully pretty solid. You can brutally dispatch enemies with a simple push of the square button, but soon enough you’ll encounter foes that require more advanced tactics. Thankfully you can also block, stun, counter, roll, grab and throw, and pull off slow motion, multi-kill combos.
Time to swat some flies.
Shadow of the Beast‘s baddies aren’t exactly smart – most just run at you spamming their one attack. Instead the game hikes up the challenge with quantity, often throwing dozens of enemies in a row at you. Sometimes this can feel a bit cheap, particularly when you’re repeatedly attacked from behind, but if you put in the effort to master Aarbron’s various abilities, you’ll find yourself slicing through even the most intimidating hordes.
The game’s platforming is less successful. Aarbron automatically grabs ledges, but that doesn’t make up for the rather pitiful length of his jump. The game also contains a lot of blind drops – usually you’ll only fall a few feet and be fine, but occasionally what looks like a regular drop will send you falling several screens to your death. Successfully battling through a challenging enemy encounter only to die due to a random fall is more than a little frustrating.
Shadow of the Beast is a brief game – its six stages can be completed in four or five hours. That said, there are plenty of collectibles to double back for, and the game is well set up for those who want to perfect their skills and gun for high scores. I’m not really that kind of player, but at only $20, I wouldn’t have felt shortchanged by my one play-through.
A straightforward game, Shadow of the Beast doesn’t feature any DLC or microtransactions. Hell, it even includes a full emulation of the original Amiga game for free. It’s also remarkably polished considering how few people worked on it (the studio behind the game, Heavy Spectrum Labs, has fewer than a dozen employees). This game may have been published by Sony, but it’s clearly a labor of love.
Shadow of the Beast has its share of rough edges, but they can be fairly easily overlooked in light of the game’s impressive variety and inventiveness. Like most good remakes, Shadow of the Beast retains the unique spirit of the original, while ably updating things for the modern player.
If you were a fan of the 1989 original, Shadow of the Beast should be a nostalgic blast from the past, while most new players should find it a weird, but not unwelcome, breath of fresh air. Like most shadows, this game is fleeting, but cool while it lasts.
Verdict: Worth a Chance
This review was based on a digital copy of Shadow of the Beast provided by Sony.