Released in 1989, Shadow of the Beast is one of those games that toys with nostalgia. It’s one of those games that’s remembered as being far better than it actually was. Simple platforming and the drudgery of punching giant wasps and bats out of the sky was a lot more fun and engaging in 1989 than it should have been, and were it not for the fact that the game, especially on the Amiga, was a technical showcase it probably wouldn’t be quite as revered as it is today.
With some of the most stirring polyphonic audio and incredible 12 plane parallax scrolling, Shadow of the Beast was a sight to behold before the 90’s came along, but I don’t think it was ever really all that much fun to play. Unfortunately, I feel much the same about this modern remake.
Beautiful to look at, and brutal in its violence, this re-imagining of the first game is a visual treat, and tries a few interesting ideas to spice up its more modern blend of platforming and punching – but never really becomes engaging enough to recommend as more than just an odd curiosity.
Once again, it tells the story of Aarbron, a once human creature held in servitude by dark and evil forces. Looking like the aborted lovechild between a Xenomorph from Alien and Mortal Kombat’s Baraka, Aarbron is a vicious and highly efficient killing machine; mindless but effective. Out on one of his killing sprees, Aarbron kills a human man who’s trying to protect a baby. That action triggers a memory that has Aarbron realise he’s just committed patricide, and sets out on a grand adventure, with his mind set on revenge.
In between mildly entertaining platforming that’s reminiscent of Prince of Persia, Aarbron has to kill hundreds and hundreds of enemies; regular humans, evil minions, and yes, even some giant flying wasps. At his disposal are his pointy fists, which he must use to very violently and bloodily dismember his foes. It’s supposed to be a rhythmical brawler, with a cadence and timing that’s mean to be fun, but really just isn’t. Performing well in any of the game’s encounters racks up score and a medal ranking, sometimes unlocking more encounters with the hopes that you’ll replay levels over and over again chasing a higher score.
Unless you’re a masochist at heart, it’s unlikely that’ll happen, because it’s barely fun enough to play through once. There are a few moves in Aarbron’s repertoire to attempt to make it fun; he can parry and do dodge rolls, he’s got different attacks that help fill up his blood meter so he can dole out larger attacks or unleash a rage attack that has you exchanging button taps for murder, like some sort of psychopathic rhythm game. The timing is quite tight, and it takes quite a while for the combat to click – but even when it does, it’s just not fun.
It’s the sort of inanity that continues through to the platforming, which is perpetually held down by horrible controls and the sort of input lag that makes it so that you’re never really certain what Aarbron will end up doing, resulting in far too many unwarranted and unnecessary deaths. The platforming just feels horrible, which makes it unlikely that you’ll even bother to find each level’s myriad of hidden secrets. These secrets, I might add, are necessary if you’re interested in the story as you’ll need to find them to unlock bits of the otherwise decent narrative.
Shadow of the Beast features a few interesting puzzles and some platforming sections that start bordering on the interesting, but there’s one section near the end that had me very nearly throwing my controller in frustration. Guided by nothing put pinpoint eyeballs in the darkness, Aarbron needs to find a light source to continue – with said McGuffin being hidden far better than any of the game’s hidden collectibles.
The problem with it is that each time you touched a sparking and visible electrical plate on the level, you’re transported right back to the beginning. Coupled with the shoddy timing and general floatiness of the platforming, it was an exercise in pure frustration. I have no problem with difficulty, as it’s usually becomes immeasurably rewarding. When that difficulty is artificial or borne out of piss-poor game design though, it’s just annoying.
At the end of each level you’re scored, earning mana which you’re then able to use to buy things, like talismans which can make your runs a little easier, and other novelties like the original 1989 game. You’ll need to replay the game many times to unlock everything – including subtitles for the in-game languages spoken by characters, because heaven forbid you actually know what’s going on in the story the first time around.
Shadow of the Beast is back – but it probably should have remained a historical gaming curio. Fond memories and nostalgia only go so far.
Last Updated: May 16, 2016