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Shadow of the Beast (2016) Review

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Shadow of the Beast is a reboot of a 1989 Amiga title that I’m not quite sure ever released outside of Europe until the Genesis port hit North America in 1991.  Even then, the port wasn’t given the proper shift from the base 50hz of Europe to the 60hz of North America, so this already difficult game ran 20 percent faster and was nearly impossible.  I bring all of these factors up because it’s a weird title to reboot and an even weirder title to have the backing of a worldwide release from Sony, but that’s exactly what happened.  I think I can see why.  Shadow of the Beast is a timing-intense action title that manages to balance the nostalgia for the original while also retaining the changes in game design over the last 27 years to make a standalone experience everyone can appreciate.  This is what it means to reboot a franchise and make it better than the original.

At its surface the game does retain its origins – and my American may be showing a little, but these are origins I was completely unaware of and I was still able to appreciate.  You play as Aarbron, a warrior with an unknown past (you can unlock) that seems linked to the worlds you are exploring, however you have been changed.  Now you are unable to understand the language of the beings that speak to you (also an unlock) and the only common tongue seems to be violence.  You are a tall, fit warrior with twin spikes protruding from your hands that appear to be made of bone.  Despite having modern 3D rendered graphics, Shadow of the Beast is a 2D side scroller that will frequently put your navigation and combat skills to the test in a balance of the left and right sides of the screen.  I was impressed with how basic the combat system was until your realize that this game, like its protagonist, isn’t bogged down with complexity but rather tactics.  You will have to think in the moment to react with the wave of enemies approaching you or you will suffer being volleyed back and forth from a series of foes.  It’s daunting at first and by the end of the first level I thought I didn’t stand a chance against the reboot of a title already known for having a punishing difficulty and unfair traps.  That’s not the case here, but you will need to practice and learn the full spectrum of your move set through advancement of the campaign and unlockables you purchase between levels.  I wasn’t pleased with this decision at first – one my biggest gripes with the MetroidVania formula is that it gates you for not having what you don’t know exists – but these levels are brief and exciting enough that I managed to excuse this decision.  By the end of the second level you won’t have the full body of options, but you’ll be robust enough to tackle a majority of the game’s challenges.

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Written by Fred Rojas

May 23, 2016 at 11:00 am