When the original Shadow of the Beast was released in 1989, my video game library was made up of titles teaching me basic math and how to spell. Shadow of the Beast didn’t quite fit that criteria, but the 2016 release gives me the opportunity to place a new version of it, as well as an emulated version of the original.
Shadow of the Beast is a side-scrolling brawler packed with blood and violence. You assume the role of Aarbron, a killer on a leash – think Danny the dog – that soon turns against his master after his past comes to light. What follows is a chase across a variety of stunning and vast environments with Aarbron tearing through enemies of all shapes and sizes.
Aarbron is a killing machine with one successful attack capable of taking down all but level bosses. You can senselessly mash the attack button, but this won’t prove too successful. Instead, you must make use of Aarbron’s arsenal of attacks and combat moves, including grabs, parries, counters, stuns, and special moves that can recoup health.
Timing is important; in fact, Shadow of the Beast feels like a rhythm action game at times, particularly when Blood Rage is enabled. This turns combat into a quick time event with players choosing left or right and hitting the attack button at the right time to unleash a visceral attack on an enemy.
If you start mistiming attacks or counters, Shadow of the Beast can be quite a punishing experience. However, you are much beefier than your enemies, can find health around maps, and can do a special attack to regain health as a trade for some of your blood meter if push comes to shove.
Initially, enemies are quite simplistic and run at you in waves, but they become more interesting over time. Some are capable of evading your attacks, while others will test how well you recognise patterns and whether you dodge or block as a result.
It certainly looks stylish and cinematic, but it doesn’t quite feel as fluid as you would hope. If you took the incredibly tight controls of One Finger Death Punch and substituted them in here, you can’t help but feel that it would be a much more enjoyable experience. As it is, you can get hit from one side, while trying to dispatch an enemy on the other side, and inputs seem delayed occasionally, especially following a special attack. General movement can also feel clunky with rolls looking a little jarring and the simplest of jumps requiring a running start to have any hope of making it to the other side.
Shadow of the Beast suffers from style over substance in many ways. The environments look incredible and there are some amazing sweeping shots that showcase them well. But they are quite sparse at the same time; there is some degree of exploration encouraged to find secrets, but the path forward is quite clearly marked. And, as highlighted, combat looks bloody and cinematic, but doesn’t quite evoke that same feeling of satisfaction, particularly after a few hours of play.
It’s quite a short game, though the developers have tried to encourage replaying it. For starters, you can use points acquired based on your performance to unlock subtitles for the various races that you encounter so that you can flesh out the story. Then there is also the constant performance tracker. Like many modern games, you are judged on your performance and this is compared to friends and other players around the world. So, if you are the competitive sort, you can certainly go back and play some more.
The potential is certainly there, but the execution falls disappointingly short at times. Those hankering to rekindle memories of yesteryear may enjoy this trip down memory lane, but it could be a tougher job to convince those who missed it the first time around.
- Mark O'Beirne