Back in the late 80’s – during the era of the all-too-forgotten Amiga computer – a certain game called Shadow of the Beast was released, creating a multi-parallax side-scrolling adventure that looked far too impressive for its own good. The game became a cult classic, and even prompted Electronic Arts at one point to release the game for the Sega Genesis, where it found an even bigger following.
Now, what prompted Heavy Spectrum to give the franchise another try 25 years later is beyond me, but now we have a contemporary version of Shadow of the Beast, with a modified combat system, deeper levels, and some story to go along with the adventure to give it some substance. It’s a gamble that certainly pays off, even if everything doesn’t quite go as smoothly as planned. No matter – this game lives up to its Beast moniker.
The tale follows Aarbron, a man made into a monster at the hands of an evil sorcerer by the name of Maletoth. At first, this behemoth is under Maletoth’s control, but once he goes on a rampage and uncontrollably kills that turns out to be his father, he breaks free of his shackles and pursues the sorcerer, who’s taken off with a mysterious child. What follows is a whole lot of bloodletting, as Aarbron cuts down anyone in his path with some stylish kill techniques.
Of course, you could just breeze through the game’s seven levels mashing the single button and cutting them simply to pieces. But Shadow of the Beast is a deeper experience than that, thanks to its scoring system. You can take chances and earn more score by countering kills or going for a deep score lunge, which in turn can transform your bronze award into platinum. It’s a system that can take some getting used to, but is very rewarding, especially when comparing your point totals with others.
For that matter, the ability to earn additional health with key kills is great too, although it’s balanced by a blood meter that you have to build up with quicker slaughterings. There’s a fine system at play here, and the better you get at it, the higher your score becomes.
Shadow of the Beast also has a bundle of hidden secrets to uncover, like orbs that tell more behind the game’s storyline, as well as the ability to transform alien language into English once you build up enough mana. You can also unlock the original Amiga game that started it all, and play through it – an ideal history lesson that goes hand-in-hand with the modernized version.
That said, it’s not entirely perfect. The levels are a wee bit large, and while that will help you find more of its secrets, alternate endings and orbs, it can take a bit to figure out where you are and backtrack a little. The platforming isn’t quite perfect either, as we ran into our fair share of accidental falls and screw-ups. You’ll eventually get used to it, but be prepared to be slightly annoyed at first as you get the hang of it.
Once you do, you’ll find the game to be extraordinarily rewarding. Sure, there are only seven levels, but with alternate pathways, extra endings and more goodies available (including that cool original game), there’s a lot to come back to. Plus, you just might be tempted to come back and beat your best score, just to show you can.
Plus – how about that presentation! Heavy Spectrum has done some mesmerizing work here, polishing the game to a tee with beautiful side-scrolling visuals and some great cinema work. Plus, the enemies show a great deal of variety, human and monster alike. The music is also engaging, with a dark tone that plays throughout each of your adventures. Aarbron doesn’t have that much to say, but, honestly, that’s the way it was with the original game, so why change now?
Shadow of the Beast is a terrific recreation of a long-lost classic, a game that takes the theme of the original and expands it with a wealthy amount of content in a surprisingly small frame. Sure, you could just rummage through it in a few hours, but you’d be missing out on the bigger picture that awaits within its cracks. Once you get used to the clumsy platforming and getting lost in some scenarios, you’ll find that this Beast still has plenty of bite – even after all these years.