With Shadow Of The Beast (PlayStation 4), the good people at Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs have resurrected a cult favorite that dates back to the era of the Commodore Amiga. Even cooler, they’ve made an compelling and addictive 2D side-scrolling hack & slash action game that doesn’t require you to be familiar with the original, or even the Commode Amiga, to get a kick out of. Or slice out of, as the case may be.
When Shadow Of The Beast begins, you find that you’re some kind of creature who resembles a Xenomorph from Aliens if they walked upright, grinned like The Joker, and had claws like Wolverine’s clone, X-23. You’re also being led around on a leash by some guy wearing a deer skull with tree branches for antlers. But when you realize that you used to be a human, and were stolen by that bonehead when you were just a baby, you turn against your oppressor and chase him into his underground lair, where you run into all the bug- and lizard-like creatures he calls friends.
As you can probably imagine, you’re going to have to kill a lot of that guy’s friends in Shadow Of The Beast. Which, for the most part, will require you to use a combination of slicing attacks and stun moves, though you can also do special versions of those attacks that, while effective, are also somewhat costly, since they require blood you only get from killing enemies the normal way. You even have a super special attack causes spikes to shoot up from the ground, skewering nearby enemies like they were shish-kabobs.
On the flipside, you have some defensive moves as well. Besides blocking attack, which you’ll do a lot. you can also dodge them and, later on, learn a cool James Brown-like slide move that puts you behind an enemy so you can cheap shot him in the kidneys before he realizes where you’ve gone.
While Shadow Of The Beast has you slicing and dicing your way to victory, this isn’t just a simple button masher. And not just because every chapter ends with a boss whose weakness has to be deciphered before he or she can be defeated. For starters, you only have ten health points (more if you upgrade), and can only be resurrected if you have an elixir or an enemy soul you can eat. Thankfully, you can restore some health by doing that special attack move I mentioned earlier, though this doesn’t restore all of your health, or even a bunch of it; it just restores one point. It also requires you to do mash a button like you’re Kratos in God Of War trying to open a door.
The fights in Shadow Of The Beast are also somewhat varied. For starters, while most 2D side-scrollers, especially older ones, only have you moving left to right, this has you going to right to left sometimes, backtracking at other times, and also doing some vertical moves (which I’ll get into in a moment).
In addition, while you will run across lone bad guys for you to whack, you’ll also sometimes find that the way forward and back have been blocked off, and that you now have to contend with a bunch of enemies before these barriers disappear. Though the game does do you the curtesy of telling you how many enemies are in need of smacking.
If only your enemies were as polite. When engaged in one of these encounters, the bad guys don’t wait their turn or make sure you’re paying attention before attacking. They’re not polite, honorable, or, apparently, big fans of kung-fu movies. Instead, they come at you from both angles, often in rapid succession, which is why it’s not uncommon for you to be struck multiple times before getting enough blood to do one of those special attacks.
Aiding you in all of this combat is a between chapters upgrade system that lets you improve your heath as well as your attacks, though each can only be improved three times, and these enhancements ain’t cheap. Just don’t waste your money on such useless items the Forbidden Tomes that will translate the otherwise unreadable language of your enemies, which you don’t need to understand what’s going on. Especially since you can spend your in-game currency to unlock the original 1989 version of the game, a version of it that gives you infinite lives, and even the option to play the new edition with the original one’s music.
For the most part, your time with Shadow Of The Beast will be spent plunging your claws into your enemy’s soft flesh. But there’s also a bunch of platforming and problem solving to do as well. While you mostly use your claws to kill, you can also use them to jump up or slide down sheer walls, even jumping between them if they’re close enough. You also have to contend with teleporters and door-activating switches, which you sometimes use in conjunction to circumvent barriers. Oh, and as if solving these situational puzzles wasn’t tough enough, you sometimes have to complete them before time runs out and everything resets.
Working together, the mix of action, platforming, action, situational problem solving, action, action, and, oddly, some action make Shadow Of The Beast a compelling and engaging game. Though, thankfully, not a frustrating one. While this is challenging, and you do have to stay mindful of your health and blood levels, this isn’t as intentionally tough as, say, Dark Souls III or Bloodborne. Well, at least not on “Normal” or “Easy”; I can’t speak for “Hard.”
Shadow Of The Beast also does some interesting tricks with the visuals, especially in how it uses sunlight to put your character into shadow, much like Quentin Tarantino did in that scene with the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill: Volume 1. There are even times, deep in the game, when you can make your hands glow, and this helps you navigate areas where there are no other lights. Though, annoyingly, there’s also times when they go a bit too far with the shadows, making it really hard to see what you’re doing.
This, sadly, isn’t the only problem I have with Shadow Of The Beast. While most of the bosses are tough, and require some thought to beat, some of those are kind of dumb. Take the first mid-level mini-boss you meet, who gets so flustered and open to attack when you block his shots that all you have to do is hold down the block button and wait for him to disorient himself.
There’s also an exploitable flaw in the resurrection system. At one point I fell down a chasm to my death. But when I resurrected myself, I didn’t come back at the top of the cliff, but at the bottom, thus bypassing whatever hazards I might’ve faced if I’d gone down the rock face normally.
Even with these minor issues, though — and they really are minor — Shadow Of The Beast is still an engaging and challenging game. I just hope it’s not the game in this series that Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs decide to ressurect.