Shadow of the Beast
Kidnapped as a child, Aarbron was transformed into a servant beast warrior by a group of evil mages. Players take control of Aarbron as he is reminded of his past, and seeks revenge against his former masters.
Explore the alien landscape of Karemoon, a world filled with beauty, brutality and mystery, on a lone quest to overthrow the malevolent tyrant Maletoth.
Survive epic boss battles and tackle hordes of enemies in ferocious adrenaline-fueled action. Develop abilities with skill points earned from the death of your opponents, unlocking increasingly brutal moves as you draw power from the blood of your foes.
9 Hours for Completionists
May 17th, 2016
Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs, XDev
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Platformer, Action-Adventure
Rating: M for Mature
There is a lot of history behind Shadow of the Beast. Seasoned gamers should know the name, but it’s not from a Playstation platform. The franchise began on an old PC system called the Amiga, then was later ported to systems like the Sega Genesis. I personally did not have any history with the franchise until I experimented with roms and emulators in my middle school and high school days; that was when I first discovered the original Shadow of the Beast. Though very difficult, it was very unique.
Though it emulation was not the proper way to experience such a classic, without having played the original, I would have been less interested in this 2016. At $20, the price tag still held be back from making the purchase, but thanks to Sony’s 2017 mid-year sale I finally got my hands on it. I look back on when it first released last year and regret that I had not picked it up sooner.
Spiritual Content: Shadow of the Beast deals with many references to magic and sorcery. The main character was captured by an evil sorcerer and turned into a warrior beast via ritual at a young age in order to do fight their enemies.
Violence/Crude Humor: The gameplay consists of close range melee combat. The player-character Aarbron slashes and rips apart his enemies, causing large amounts of blood to spill on the stages and even on the camera. In a later stage, Aarbron follows his master to a place where his enemies are put when killed. There, he finds the heads of those he killed on pikes.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Sexual Themes: One of the boss characters that Aarbron fights is an insect-like creature who is female, as indicated by her armored carapace featuring the shapes of hips and breasts.
Positive Themes: Not much can be said due to spoiler territory, but in the last act of the story Aarbron’s cause is recognized. Ripped of his powers, forces join to give him enough strength to aid him in his redemption and the defeat of evil.
The combat of Shadow of the Beast feels and looks very much like God of War in terms of both visuals and controls, in which the violence is obviously unrealistic and over the top. Two buttons are used for combat, one of them a standard attack and the other to stun enemies. Blocking is also mapped to R1, one of the face buttons can be pushed while blocking to parry or counter an enemy’s attack. Lastly, holding R2 and while pushing square will have Aarbron jumping on an enemy and biting him to regain health, while pushing triangle impales enemies with his claws for a score multiplier.
Along with countering attacks and dodging with the right stick, there is one more mechanic that is essential to survival. There are occasionally black wisps on the ground which are the souls of where players have died, and yes this mechanic seems to be loosely inspired by Dark Souls. I had a decision to make: give this player an Elixir ( an extra life) or devour the “Innocent Soul” for myself. The souls act as extra lives as well; the hook is that a player may need to devour another player’s soul if they have no elixirs to use next time they are defeated. In beginner mode, this mechanic is useless since there are unlimited lives.
Speaking of difficulty, Shadow of the Beast is indeed difficult. There were many times where I found myself completely surrounded, and was hit from behind as I was trying to counter another player. I felt that things would be different if I had a little more room to breathe, which is not exactly facilitated the 2.5-dimensional side scroller presentation. There are segments where barriers are put up, forcing players to clear waves of enemies before progressing, I found them to be very closed in—I’d get hit even after dodging since there isn’t very much room to escape. However, the difficulty is there because Shadow of the Beast does not take very long to finish. Since it is a remake of an older video game, it was a reminder that harder difficulty was often used to increase the longevity on shorter titles back in the day.
Though it may be short, the storytelling is one of my favorite aspects about Shadow of the Beast. The developers creatively tell the story in-game without any dialogue, a feat that is only achieved in a handful of video games. What minimal dialogue is present starts of as foreign and alien, including the subtitles. We are given the opportunity to go even deeper into the story by unlocking subtitle translations for that in-game dialogue along with pieces of the timeline that are told via stills and narration. The fact that a story is conveyed in such a minimal style while at the same time giving us an opportunity to go deeper is brilliant.
In today’s industry, many have proved that jaw-dropping visuals are not always essential to create a great video game. Shadow of the Beast was built by an independant developer, but had Sony’s full support. The visuals are absolutely stunning, Sony definitely went “John Hammond” on this product and spared no expense. Though gameplay occurs on a 2-Dimension plane, there were many instances where beautiful scenery accompanied me as I traveled through the stage. Included in this well-crafted presentation is a great soundtrack, I found myself listening to the music in the game’s menus and during some quiet moments in-game.
Though Shadow of the Beast is fairly short, the developer cleverly gave us a ton of content to keep playing through it. Throughout the levels there are orbs that reveal more of the story’s timeline and can only be collected by using a specific ability that you may not have had the energy to use when finding these the first time around. Karma Points are earned by playing through the stages. These points can upgrade Aarbron in various ways or assist in unlocking extra content. The extra content includes those subtitle translations, the option to use the original game’s OST, including a playable version of the original Shadow of the Beast video game.
I found the platforming to be the weakest aspect of Shadow of the Beast. The hazards and traps were very much a nuisance than challenging, and the climbing and wall traversal felt very uncontrollable at times. The game unfortunately encourages you to travel down the walls and grip onto them. It was during these moments when I often fell to my death rather that gripping onto the wall and sliding down it like a professional. These platforming segments did help in slowing the pace as the game would feel much shorter if it was entirely combat focused.
Shadow of the Beast is indeed a piece of gaming history even it is not largely a prominent one. Even so, the developers did superb in paying homage to the original version while successfully re-imagining the franchise. After my initial playthrough I regret that I did not play the game when it released last year. For a small video game it is put together as if it were a triple-A title; most indie studios don’t have the backing of a publisher to see this level of polish on their projects. Shadow of the Beast may be slightly flawed, but I am completely confident in saying that this is one of my favorite exclusive experiences I’ve had on the PS4.
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+ Stunning visuals
+ Enjoyable Combat
+ Creative storytelling
- Too difficult at times
- Sub-par platforming segments