I still remember the first time I saw Shadow of the Beast. I was in my early teens, and visiting my grandparents. We went over to a family down the street, and when I said I was into videogames I was shown their latest purchase. It was an Amiga, which I had never heard of before then. The same could be said about the game they then started up for me – Shadow of the Beast. I don’t remember seeing much of the actual gameplay, but still remember being very impressed by the game’s graphics and musical score – played through some external speakers (also a first for me). A little later, I finally got the game myself, once it had been ported to the Atari ST. Fast forward to 2016, and there’s a remake/reboot for the 2016.Does it wow as much as the original did?
My intro above highlights the fact that the original game’s strongest asset was its audiovisual presentation, and standing out in that way is a feat that’s a lot harder to reproduce in 2016. It has to be pointed out that the original came out when 3D in games was rare, and crude at best. Shadow of the Beast was a 2D side-scroller, and impressed mainly through its level of detail, use of colors, art style and smooth scrolling. All are aspects of game development that we now take for granted. Still – the development team at Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs didn’t go crazy and shift in a completely different direction. Their remake is still a 2D platformer/brawler, even if it takes place in a 3D environment. The camera angle sometimes switches to an isometric perspective, but you’re never moving around in 3D. The art style is recognizable – making this a true and faithful update to the 1989 classic and one of the best looking side-scrolling brawlers available.
What my intro didn’t point out is that the original game had a few flaws when it came to the actual gameplay. Exploring optional areas in a semi-non-linear fashion was always considered somewhat groundbreaking, but no one remembers Shadow of the Beast for its combat. This is because it’s rather simple and crude in nature. The remake tries to rectify that, but misses a couple of steps along the way. The controls tend to feel imprecise, so at times it feels like simply bashing buttons is the best way to go – which is obviously not what was intended. This is a real shame, because Shadow of the Beast’s typical confrontation plays out with enemies storming at you from either side of the screen. If Heavy Spectrum had managed to implement a combat system somewhat similar to, say, the Batman Arkham games – then this would have been right at home in this game. Instead, the combat can feel unfair when you try really hard, and feel unrewarding when you resort to button mashing.
The platforming elements feel equally average in nature, again mainly due to imprecise controls. In between the combat scenes and platforming (which involves subtle puzzle elements), you’ll also be facing off against large boss characters. This was part of the original, but seeing these bosses rendered in 3D with smooth animation is definitely a treat. As is the inclusion of the original Amiga game as an unlockable item. It’s not quite as stunning as I remember it, but it sure brought a smile to my face.
Despite the criticism, I really enjoyed Shadow of the Beast. I wonder if that’s because I have fond memories of the original game though, and doubt that many gamers who don’t share those sympathies will be as forgiving. This is a shame, but in terms of visual style – this remake shows that Shadow of the Beast is still relevant, even today. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Beast.