Shadow of the Beast II Review
Writers Notes: In an attempt to make my comeback in game reviewing I wanted to get nostalgic again and revisit the first video game review I ever wrote. But since film and game developers seem to love to remaster everything, I thought I would jump on that bandwagon and re work my old review. Enjoy and hopefully you will see more content from me soon. Today I am going to revisit the 16-bit hit Shadows of the Beast II on the Sega Mega Drive developed by Reflections Interactive and published by the late Psygnosis. I decided to return once again to this brutally challenging game and see if I still remember how to play through what is a relatively short experience (if you know what you are doing).
I still have my copy of the game exactly how I purchased it back in the nineties. I was originally attracted to the game by name alone though I always wished I could find the original boxed version but alas I still have never found one at least for a reasonable price, and with the way retro prices are going now I probably never well. The game to this day is kept in a rather shoddy EB games box that does not leave much to the imagination, but it is my only memento from the store which is now extinct in the UK and I kinda like hanging on to it even if it is a pain to store away since the box is a couple of centimetres taller than a standard Mega Drive box (yes, we use the metric system here). When I popped this game in for the first time I was totally blown away by the sound track which is composed by David Whittaker and Tim Wright. Even listening to it today, it still holds up and sounds incredible. Before you even start the game itself you take a moment just to take in the truly gorgeous title music. If you never play this game I highly recommend you check the soundtrack out online it is beautiful.
Starting the game you are dropped straight in with no back story and no clue what your mission is, just the way old school games know how. The Amiga version, however, did include cut scenes detailing the story. For the Mega Drive however, the manual it did explain the story briefly in a few paragraphs of text. You are Aarbron the hero from the first game who has partly regained his human form on a quest in to rescue your sister from the evil demon Zelek who is holding her on Kara-moon. Though the backstory is interesting and detailed, nowhere does the manual point to where you need to go in the game itself. Yes, I understand this is normal for a retro game but the world that’s been created here just deserves some narrative to suck in the player.
Aarbron, your character looks like a buff Tarzan maybe Conan like character who doesn’t need armor to hunt demons just a loin cloth, saying that armor was later added to the character sprite in the Mega-CD version, an unusual cosmetic change but I guess the developers felt it was warranted like George Lucas feels every Stars Wars film needs pointless changes. All you are equipped with at the start is a ball and chain like weapon. You have no idea which direction to head you can go either left or right, there are no tutorials and no one is going to help you. This is provided you are playing Shadows of The Beast II blind, without help from the internet.
The design is an interesting dark almost gothic cave man feel to it, lots of dark colours, lots of stone and tree branches, and even though its dark and depressing it looks great. Sadly the design does not change dramatically throughout the game, you tend to see the same background and platforms will at most have a slight colour change in different areas.
Throughout the game you will encounter a variety of beasts with very creepy designs to them and it suits the dark tone of the game and you can’t help but be sucked into the experience. You’ll meet equally dressed people like yourselves with spears and beards as well as giant men with ball and chain weapons, dragons, sea monsters and even men flying wasps. I noticed some enemies show a score when you kill them, but at no point during the game do you find out what score you obtained are what relevance it has to gameplay. You never see a high score table whether you die or complete the game. It almost feels the developers realized this during the making of the game as enemies you kill towards the end of the game show no score. It’s possible the the Amiga version does and this is just leftover code.
In addition to bad guys you’ll also meet some friendly chaps like nice dragons and talking snails that will assist your quest however, most will require something in return for the assistance, you know like every NPC in gaming. The game seems to cross loose puzzle elements with an action platformer. Playing the game you first feel a sense of freedom as you can go any anywhere you want but you’ll soon come to realize the game wants you to go in a specific direction to succeed. You can collect several items in the game, you need to be very careful when you use some items as all except your weapon are single use only and if you accidentally use them at the wrong time there is no way to progress and only death awaits you. The game gives you no indication when to use them, it’s very much trial and error and learn through several death screens, which would not be so bad if there were checkpoints but if you die its right back to the start for you buddy.
Equally frustrating is you may walk into an area you’re not supposed to because you have not collected X item yet, again only death and a possible gamer rage quit will follow. The game has a specific way it wants you to play through it and no way will it throw you a bone at any point in how to accomplish this. The funny thing is death is not always as bad in this game as you are treated to possibly the best score featuring some nice electric guitar sounds as well as displaying a very nice looking piece of artwork.
Despite the difficulties Shadow of the Beast II plays solidly and the controls are tight and you really feel a sense of achievement when you figure out stuff without the use of a guide. Now if you have the patience for this game you will find yourself eventually finding the correct route through it and once you have mastered the correct route through the game you can easily finish it in under 25 minutes. Certainly when you get to this point the only really challenges are the platforming and the enemy encounters, and if you want you can increase the difficulty in the main menu. It’s actually very satisfying to play through the entire game knowing the route off the top of your head, makes you feel like a gaming speed runner.
Shadow of the Beast II is a great looking game with fantastic musical score though is incredibly difficult without help. It really is a love it or hate it game. I definitely recommend it to any retro collector or any fan of this particular art style. I especially recommend it anyone who complains about how easy games are today if you want a taste of what it was like back in the day where you were dropped into a game with no help or tutorials.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
Shadows of the Beast II originally came out on the Amiga, this version maintained the difficulty but did include cut scenes and some puzzles require you to type a password. The Mega-CD also had a port which included cut scenes and toned down the difficulty significantly compared to the original. The score was also redone and the graphics sharpened up. Just for reference I have not played the Amiga or Sega-CD versions though after watching footage online I would like to.
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