Shadow of the Beast review: side ways hack ‘n slash
Meet Aarbron. That’s him on the right. He’s the chap lifting some poor sod up in the air. He’s a vicious killing machine that likes nothing more than slashing things to pieces with his razor-sharp talons. He’s the main character in Shadow of the Beast, the re-make of a game of the same name made waaaaay back in 1989 and originally appeared on the Amiga. This new one’s on the PlayStation 4.
Aarbron wasn’t always like that, though. He used to be a normal man. With a normal life. He probably did the gardening every weekend. Took the recycling bin out on Wednesday nights. Took the dog for a walk. That was until Maletoth came along. Maletoth isn’t a nice chap. He turned Aarbron into, well, a blood-crazed monster with razor-sharp talons.
This new Shadow of the Beast is made by Heavy Spectrum Studio, a small seven person team. I never owned an Amiga so I never played the original. I hear it was quite tough, although the music was great. The remake follows the same storyline as the original, though: Aarbron was captured as a child and turned into a vicious monster through magic and becomes the servant of an evil creature called Maletoth. The game deals with Aarbron chasing down Maletoth in an effort to make him pay for what he has done.
I’d like to say Shadow of the Beast is purely a side-scroller game, but it’s not. Not really. In some levels, Aarbron is able to teleport forwards and backwards but the bulk of the action happens on a horizontal plane with Aarbron moving left to right. Encounters with enemies involve a small area being blocked off by laser barriers, forcing Aarbron to fight the materialising hordes before moving forward. In his quest to defeat Maletoth, who conjures up enemies by throwing his green blood about the place, Aarbron faces off against the dark lord’s foes using a variety of attacks using his razor-sharp blades. There’s plenty of blood on the ground, that’s for sure. There are buckets of blood. Pints of blood. Oodles of blood.
Aarbron can block enemy attacks, he can stun enemies, he can order spikes to rise out from the ground, impaling enemies. He can even, if you time it right, jump onto enemies and stab them repeatedly with his razor-sharp talons, spewing forth precious health. You have to pound the controller’s square button to do this move. Aarbron can also do a rage attack when his three-bar blood meter is full. The rage attack is a mini Quick Time Event where if you press the square button at the right time Aarbron slices and dices enemies. Chain attacks together and you earn more mana points which can be used to unlock special moves or the original version of the game and soundtrack.
I’ve got mixed feeling about Shadow of the Beast. On the one hand, it’s a marvellous effort from the seven-member Heavy Spectrum Studios, with great visuals and production values. It’s a reasonable price, too: It’ll set you back $NZ23.95. On the other hand, I found the combat got tiresome rather quickly and the combat doesn’t often flow as nicely as I’d like it to. If you time things right, thought, the combat is visceral and brutal.
Shadow of the Beast is entertaining and it’s a passion project for the small development team that have done a masterful job in re-imagining the game for the modern age – I take my virtual hat off for that – but I just can’t see it holding your attention for too long. I’d imagine that many fans of the series would play it just so they could unlock the original game and listen to its pretty neat soundtrack.