Review: Shadow of the Beast (PS4)
Shadow of the Beast is a remake of a 1989 classic game of the same name. It follows the story of Aarbron, a ferocious beast that’s hell-bent on tracking down and killing the evil Maletoth. It is a 2D action side-scroller with combat heavy mechanics and some light platforming.
Revenge, it’s always about revenge
It has a very interesting premise and has a lot of potential, but it falls way short in terms of storytelling and plot. The game has some very cool plot points right off the bat, but it ultimately gets forgotten only a few moments later as Aarborn hacks his way through countless enemies all in the name of revenge, which you kind of forget about shortly after you start the second chapter. The story is very vague, and the fact that you can’t understand anyone or anything, doesn’t help. Human soldiers and creatures all speak in grunts and growls and whatever sound insects make, and although they all sound differently, it makes no difference since even the subtitles are just squiggles. This can be improved by spending the game’s in-game currency, Mana, to make the subtitles legible.
Short but somewhat sweet
The game is incredibly short, which might be a blessing, since you, and those who made it really don’t care about the plot anyways. First playthrough takes about three hours on normal mode, and if you know what you’re doing, you can probably get through the game in about 90 minutes. The game does have some replay value, since you cannot possibly unlock all the move sets, magic and talismans through the first playthrough.
Almost like Resogun, (weird comparison, I know, but bear with me) the plot means almost nothing, and you grind the levels to improve your score. You make it easier through unlocks and obviously learning the skills required to succeed and get higher scores. But unlike Shadow of the Beast, Resogun doesn’t pretend to have a plot, which makes Shadow of the Beast disappointing. It’s still worth giving it a few goes, since you do get some cool unlocks, and watching your name climb the global leaderboard as you improve can be quite satisfying.
Some decent combat
Shadow of the Beast has some light platforming and puzzle solving elements to it. The puzzles are hardly worth mentioning, but it is there, and the platforming is more a matter of traversal, than anything else.
The game is all about the combat. The controls are very basic and easy to learn, and Aarbron responds very well to inputs. You can hack your way through most of the game by spamming the Square button, but you will get owned by the hordes of enemies later on in the game. Blocking with R1 and counter attacking with L1 becomes essential. You fill up your blood meter, which gives you access to some special attacks as well your Wrath of Aarborn area power and the awesome Rage Chain. When you activate the Rage Chain, you go into a chain combo that cannot be blocked by the enemies, and basically keeps going until you run out of enemies or you miss a button press. It can get very satisfying to pull a Rage Chain off and get a decent combo going.
Each enemy encounter is almost like an arena fight – the map closes, and a set number of enemies approach you from left and right. Each hit is basically a kill, although there are some enemies that require a different tactic to take them down. Getting a respectable high score requires you to keep the combo multiplier going, which resets if you take a hit, so blocking and countering becomes very important. Enemies can even hit you in a mid-kill animation of another enemy or from behind, so timing your blocks, attacks and counters becomes vital in order to get a a good score. Getting through some of the encounters later on in the game can be very satisfying though, especially if you take minimal hits and end with a Gold overall rating. You can only take a set number of hits before you die, and have to resurrect using an item, which does bear some type of penalty, or restart the level. Ultimately the combat of Shadow of the Beast is fun, and it can be both challenging and rewarding, especially if you like chasing leaderboard scores. Boss fights are laughably easy. It’s also disappointingly forgettable and boring.
A little bit of RPG elements and multiplayer… kinda
You level up though the Wisdom of Shadows using Mana, which is just a fancy word for your scores. Everything caries over, so it is possible to grind a level to get what you want or need and move on. There’s quite a lot of stuff for you to upgrade, but there’s not all too much layers to it.
The surprising thing is that Shadow of the Beast has a multiplayer element about it. You can find a location where another player has been killed, and either destroy their soul as fast as possible or gift them elixir. If your soul is destroyed by somebody else, you can exact revenge on them. It’s a matter of seeing who can bash buttons the fastest. A bit strange, but in a way cool as well. A proper PVP system would’ve been epic, but it might be asking a bit too much.
Wonderfully designed world
Karamoon is a very well designed world, and it is clear that the designers spent a lot of time on it. The game looks stunning, and everything from the environments, to character design, to particle effects looks amazingly rich and colourful. The game follows a very old school level design. Each level feels unique and fresh, and it’s fun to explore it on the very linear path that’s set out to you. Combat animations looks good and is very smooth.
Sound design is somewhat lacking however. Often something that should’ve been loud in and your face was more of a background noise, and it can pull you out of the atmosphere of the game. There’s one instance where something should’ve been deafening, but ended up being very underwhelming.
Falls short on so many fronts
Shadow of the Beast is very much a love-song to its ancestor, as well as 2D platformers of the early 90s. It unfortunately also plays a bit like one, but not in the good nostalgic kind of way. It draws inspiration from many other games through the concepts and style it employs. In a way, it felt like Abe’s Odyssey, but with a weird God of War vibe about it. It’s more to do with style than anything else, especially with some of the levels, that felt like I was playing a different version of the aforementioned games. It’s not a bad inspiration or comparison to have, but I fear the execution is somewhat lacking.
The game is not just a remake of a 27 year old game, but also plays and feels like one. It is a decent enough game, and it does offer a fair amount of content, but it ultimately falls short on so much potential. The developers’ intentions are definitely pure, and you can see a lot of effort went into making the game, but it lacks something. I don’t mind the length of the game, but I cannot get over how disappointing the plot of the game was, especially after a decent setup in the first chapter. Shadow of the Beast’s gameplay is solid and works very well, but that alone is unfortunately not good enough.
Shadow of the Beast is a missed opportunity, and a lesson at how a remake of a classic should not be done.