Better off hiding in the shadows.
Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Everything deserves a chance. Over the years I’ve come to learn that some of the best media is easily overlooked because it didn’t leap out to grab its audience’s attention right from the get-go. We of the internet are an impatient bunch that demands entertainment and satisfaction to be delivered to us in a very limited window of time. So when something comes along to reveal its value at an odd pace, we can sometimes end up passing on what may have been our new favourite movie or game.
So these days I like to use a little rule of thumb when it comes to movies, games and TV shows that don’t quite grab my interest right off the starting block. I give TV shows generally about five episodes, depending on their length; Movies around thirty to forty minutes, especially if it’s a B-Movie; and I generally give games two to three hours, possibly stretching it to four if it’s a little grind-heavy. I found that by doing this, I’ve managed to come across some serious gems that I would honestly have passed over because it either took too long to get interesting, I thought the premise sounded stupid, or I didn’t like how it looked. In terms of movies, this rule allowed me to witness a moment in superhero movie history so awesome that I will pass it down to my nieces and nephews so that its legend will continue to live on:
And when it comes to games, this rule helped me uncover an awesome story mechanic in the first game I reviewed, Stories: The Path of Destinies. Without this rule, I would have missed out on experiencing that mechanic entirely due to the game’s awkwardly written and paced first hour.
So when it comes to the recently released PS4 remake of Shadow of Beast, a game that was originally released in 1989 for SNES, Genesis and about eight other platforms I had no idea even existed, I find it funny that it lasted as long as my grace period. I also find it funny that by the end of the game, I wished that I had instead used that time to punch a hive full of angry bees to learn if I was allergic to bee stings. At least that would have been a more productive and worthwhile way for me to spend the three hours I’ll never be getting back.
This game is bafflingly bad in terms of just about everything but the graphics, which would probably have been the only good thing this game had going for itself until it decided to blow its load on the first level’s beautiful colour pallet before sticking primarily to various shades of brown.
You know how sometimes you’ll come across games like Ride to Hell: Retribution, which have design decisions so befuddling that you can’t help but laugh at them. Well when it comes to Shadow of the Beast, every design decision made for this game is so bad that it’s not even funny. It just feels like watching someone almost drown in a bowl of soup. Confusing as to how it even happened and kind of depressing at the same time. But I’ll come back to that soon enough.
You play as Aarbron, a magic baby turned demon warrior under the control of an evil wizard who breaks loose after killing his human father and sets out for revenge by hacking, slashing, jumping, climbing and unfairly dying through the game’s seven levels. This, by the way, is about the only story I could wring out of the game. Not because it’s more of an arcade focused game mind you, it continuously points out there’s a potentially interesting story on offer. It’s just that, much like that friend who claims to be “working on an app”, the game refuses to give you any actual details.
This is because the game’s story is unlocked piecemeal via glowing spheres hidden around each level. Finding these spheres and breaking them by wasting one of your very limited and extremely useful screen-clearing special attacks will unlock a chunk of story from the game’s prologue or one that explains in part what is happening in the level you are currently playing through, both of which can be viewed after finishing the level. While I admit this approach to story-telling is an interesting idea in theory, it falls flat here for various reasons.
First of all, the prologue doesn’t feel like it even needs to be included. It gives some small details to a few character’s motivations I suppose, but beyond that the general concept could have been either left out or very easily left up to interpretation. I got the general idea of what was happening, what lead up to where the game’s events start and Aarbron’s motivations thanks to what the opening level showed me without needing to watch the pieces I had found relating to the prologue.
Secondly, when it comes to story pieces that relate to the events that transpire during the levels you complete, it would have been more effective to explain what you just did and what will be coming up next by using pre-level cutscenes. Not only would they add some kind of character set up or suspense for the game’s boss fights, but the story would also flow much more organically without a sizable chunk of it missing because you didn’t look hard enough. These also would have done a much better job of explaining what was going on throughout the game when you consider that the in-level cutscenes on offer are awkward affairs with dialogue you don’t understand. This is because every character in this game that gets a speaking part talks in one of five different fantasy languages that are captioned in various runes that the game refuses to translate unless you spend way too much of your earned experience to separately purchase the ability to read these rune-captions in English. Without this, you spend up to two minutes awkwardly watching a character monologue in a language you have no hope of understanding on your own.
Finally, the gameplay that is on offer here is just so badly done that not only did I not want to go back through previous levels to unlock more story pieces, but it also made me miss most of their hidden locations because I just wanted to finish the levels as quickly as possible just so they’d be over with. This is primarily because the controls for the only gameplay on offer, platforming and combat, are about as smooth as a cement milkshake.
Once again, in concept the combat sounds really interesting: Enemies pour in from either side of the screen and in a rhythm-game fashion, you prioritise which enemy you’ll use a specific move on depending on which enemy is coming at you next. However, for me there wasn’t really any penalty for screwing up the combat. This is because your performance in battles will affect your end level score which is then placed on a global leaderboard. I’m sure that if I gave an owl’s hoot about online leaderboards, I would have made more of an effort to try and mix up my moves to get a better score. But since I live in a reality where I’m trying to play a 2D platformer instead of participating in a pointless dick measuring contest with strangers, I ended up mashing the attack and throw buttons to get the combat over with as soon as possible.
That’s not to say I didn’t try to use special attacks during the game however. I was pulling them off in the early parts of the game and enjoying the incredibly satisfying and beautifully gory combat animations. But as the game went on and the enemies got more and more accustomed to giving me little breathing room to pull off basic attacks, using the previously mentioned clunky controls to pull off a useful special move was about as helpful as putting up a welcome sign on my ass and politely asking the enemies behind me if they could be gentle. Not that it mattered if I died during combat anyway when all it does is just send you back to the beginning of the fight with all your health. Beyond affecting what ending you get, which in the best case is just a tease for a sequel by the way, death has no consequences.
Considering how much combat is in this game, I kind of expected the platforming sections to serve as a refreshing change of pace between the increasingly frustrating battle segments. But since the button used for hanging onto walls is mapped to the same one used for jumping, the platforming sections were mostly an agonizing affair that usually resulted in me falling off a wall I was hanging onto while trying to jump to an opposite ledge. As a result the game ends up bouncing you between bad platforming sections and terrible and clunky combat. And when you combine that with the game’s uninspired level design which ranges in quality between passable at best and infuriating at worst, we’re left with a package that has nothing appealing or challenging to offer in terms of its gameplay or story. Honestly, the only compliment I can really pay to Shadow of the Beast is that it has an interesting art direction, but unfortunately its multitude of problems makes that difficult to pay attention to.
Overall, it feels to me like Shadow of the Beast is a game that was remade for the purpose of nostalgia without being given any of the love and care that has been given to other recent remakes of classic titles like Strider and Bionic Commando Rearmed. It sings its praises to the original game by offering quite a bit of historical content in its unlockables, but then it throws a bunch of completely new ideas into the original design without thinking how they’ll clash in practice as it tries as hard as it can to be edgy and fit in with modern games. In my opinion, all of the time and money that went into this remake would have been better off being used to make a remaster of the original game in the same way that Out of this World did. All this remake does is taint the original’s well-remembered name for the far-too-expensive price tag of $22AUD.
Final Score: 1.5/5