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May 29, 2016 | by  | in Games |
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Shadow of the Beast

★★

Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform: PS4

 

If anybody reading this is over the age of 30, you may well recognise the name of this game. Long before the dawn of modern PC gaming, Shadow of the Beast—released in 1989, was one of the Commodore Amiga’s most iconic games; a side-scrolling fantasy action-platformer for the 16-bit multimedia powerhouse boasting revolutionary graphics, a dark atmospheric soundtrack, and brutal difficulty. Spawning two sequels, the series has been dormant since Sony’s acquisition of original publishers Psygnosis. Since nostalgia is an easy way to get people to part with their cash these days, someone obviously thought it was time to bring it back.

I, however, have no nostalgia for the original game; the Amiga was practically dead when I was born, with all attention squarely focused on the consoles and IBM-compatible PCs. Thankfully, my adoration for platformers knows no bounds, so I was willing to give it a shot.

Playing as Aarbron, the titular beast seeking revenge on his former master, this reimagining takes a modern cinematic approach to its gameplay and narrative, with plenty of cutscenes spinning together a tale once relegated to the manual and a couple of intro screens. It gets off to an interesting start, with Aarbron having a particularly tragic meeting with what turns out to be his father, but much like the original it is not the focus. The world is very alien and has the potential for deep exploration; and while there is a fair amount of lore, here it feels rather shallow and isn’t worth diving into unless you’re dedicated to the series. With just seven levels, you can complete the game in about five hours, even if you decide to take the time to explore.

Fitting for a re-imagining, the game contains some of the puzzles and platforming elements of the original, but there is a new emphasis on combat, taking inspiration from the likes of Bayonetta and other spectacle brawlers. The brawling encounters have a surprising amount of depth to them, with building up combos and executing special moves quickly becoming necessary. At the harder difficulties, button mashing will get you killed, so learning to block, dodge, and parry is a must. It can feel satisfying at times, but if you’re not an idiot button masher like me the visuals can somewhat overcompensate your input if you judge carefully.

I play platformers for, well, the platforming, so being stuck in a brawling section just made me want to move on quickly. Sadly, the few platforming sections I did get to play are even less satisfying. The controls are clunky and unresponsive (an absolute killer for platformers) and you will face unfair death drops on more than one occasion. It doesn’t really help that the original game was also fairly sub-par in this regard, but blind nostalgia can only get you so far—even if this wasn’t deliberate.

The original game was legendary for its graphics; it was a game that was perhaps more fun to look at than it was to play. The reimagining does have a pretty veneer with a definite sense of scale giving way to dark gothic tones, but as alien as the world is it’s nothing particularly unique or mind-blowing, even taking the low budget into consideration.

Shadow of the Beast sadly has little to offer anyone who has never heard of the originals on the Amiga, and even those who adore them may leave a little disappointed. Even if this was a labour of love, you can’t help but feel that they should have left this series in the vault.

 

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