Shadow of the Beast - Review

I feel I have been put into a difficult spot here in regards to Shadow of the Beast, mainly due to how excited I was for it. In opening, Shadow of the Beast is a Playstation exclusive developed by Heavy Spectrum and published by Sony. Shadow of the Beast is a remake/re-imagining of the 1989 side scrolling action slasher of the same name. From all early reports this remake was to be the pinnacle of side scrolling 2.5D action adventure games. Unfortunately within a mixture of positives it just comes up a little short.

Once again like in the original, we take control of Aarbron, who was kidnapped as a child and corrupted through magic into a monstrous warrior-servant, who very early on comes to know the truth of his existence and embarks on a quest of blood revenge. Trying to describe the plot is where we come up to first speed bump. Without playing multiple levels multiple times you can’t decipher any of the communications between Aarbron and any of the other characters in the game. The translations need to be bought with in game currency in order to understand what is being communicated. At 2,000,000 in game currency for each race, this becomes quite an expensive endeavour, therefore falling short of trying to convey the whole narrative in a single playthrough.

On normal difficulty, each playthrough sadly only last about three hours. Now this by on large for most titles around this price range is not a problem, but when we are drip fed a narrative that could have possibly held it all together and put some shine on it is held back from us, is a little concerning. I felt a little cheaped out by the fact I had to earn the narrative and fair to say the immersion was not there. Every aspect of the game relied on you spending your style points in order to unlock the game's true potential but with so much emphasis on your accumulation of these style points one felt like they needed to upgrade Aarbron’s attacking abilities in order to obtain the obscene amount to unlock the complete experience.

Combat for the first hour was pretty cool. It delivered on what was promised from the game's announcement. We got blood, gore and violence. There was a heavy emphasis on the timing aspect of battle, not only for maximum style points but in order to stay alive. It was the inconsistencies of combat animations that brought this unstuck in a major way. Often time would slightly slow down when you launched into what can only be described as a 'normal' attack, only to be undone by the fact the enemies attacking from behind never had this hindrance. The fact that when a battle sequence was initiated, two jelly like walls would appear forming a tight arena where enemies would spawn left and right and force you to try and combat them from the middle. This would have been okay if we could move around a little more but if you get too close to one of the walls you will be attacked through it from spawning enemies with very little choice but to take the attack on the chin.

Level design is the game's highest point, providing at times brilliant graphics and beautiful backdrops. It was also the treasure hunt feel to the game that broke up the mundane combat. Trying to find everything was at most times quite enjoyable. The first time I was introduced to a puzzle I felt a sense of relief due to fact that there was another gameplay mechanic at play here. Only to be disappointed when the same mechanic was used a handful times with no real variation, in turn marring the puzzle solving aspect of the game.

One of the neat features to present itself came in the form of an emulation of the 1989 title which is completely playable, not to mention very hard. The bestiary was also very informative and the ability to follow a history of the narrative via collectables through the levels was also a nice touch. On the flip side if it was not a collectible in-game it was something that required purchasing again. It was the need to purchase large portions of the game via in game currency that really did hurt it. Replayability should come from enjoyment and not out of necessity to understand what is going on. There is a little bit of a competitive edge to this title in the form of global and friend leaderboards where you can challenge your friends, not only in overall score but also via a speed run for each level.  

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