TAY Review: Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast is a side scrolling action game with very mild puzzle solving elements. You play the role of Aarbron, the Beast throughout 7 levels. Throughout the levels you will engage in encounters wherein Aarbron’s left to right movement will be restricted until he has defeated a requisite number of baddies. These encounters are then scored based on style and how much damage Aarbron takes. This score is used as currency to purchase upgrades and various unlockables in between missions. The game currently retails for $19.99 and is available via the Playstation Store or Amazon.

Update: As AmeriCanuk77 points out you can also buy the physical copy of the game from PlayAsia here:

http://www.play-asia.com/shadow-of-the-…

Pretty game

While not what you’ll see on the trailer (I mean c’mon, those kind of graphics on a budget title is unheard of), the game is indeed very nice to look at. Aarbron animates fluidly, and enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting. I did not encounter any noticeable slowdown while playing even when many enemies were on screen at once.

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Interesting aesthetic

I separate this from the graphics as this is more the game’s setting. In this universe a mage named Maletoth has created a beast that contains the souls of thousands of fallen warriors - making him the ultimate weapon. This sounds like the set up to countless fantasy books, but here it all plays out against a backdrop of interplanetary travel and sci fi trappings. The mix of sci fi and fantasy works extremely well so that when you’re jumping from grazing robotic arthropod to giant spaceship you really get a sense of “wow”. My GF on the other hand was peeved that there was a jetpack segment so YMMV.

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Synergy of encounters to currency

You gain points based on how well you perform in combat and these points are used as “mana” which allows you to purchase things from the game’s store. You can purchase upgrades, translations, the 1989 Amiga/Commodore game of the same name (and cheats for it as well like unlimited lives). Overall I felt this system really worked well and encouraged me to try to refine my fighting technique to maximize points.

Upgrades, Getcher upgrades here!

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Short game high replay ability

This is a budget title, make no mistakes. You’re not paying for a 20 hour long epic, but Heavy Spectrum Games put a lot of effort into making the game replayable. For example, in the in game cut scenes all races speak in their native tongues. Captions appear below...in the races’ native tongue. You can purchase translations of those captions for mana - but of course you’d only do that on a second or third playthrough in order to maximize upgrades first. Additionally, the story is parceled out via “timelines” which are unlocked by finding the appropriate timeline orb in a level and breaking it using Aarbron’s “wrath” skill. On a first playthrough, you will miss several of these but the story still makes sense with all of the “obvious” timelines unlocked. It’s a clever way to add to the lore without making the game incomprehensible. Some weapons you won’t even get until later in the game that will make earlier levels much easier or will make certain areas accessible that weren’t before.

Price per content

20 bucks for this game is a great value considering you get the main story, plus the original Commodore 64 game. There’s a lot to see and do in this game.

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Bosses

A Boss Man

I’ve seen several reviews call out the bosses for being ...not great, but I personally enjoyed them. They hearken back to the olden days of watching a boss for a pattern, and then exploiting that pattern to kill it. The bosses are varied in appearance from a hulking brute in chains to a multi headed hydra that is in need of some head trimming. They were the perfect difficulty I felt being not overly hard, but also not pushovers. The final boss was quite easy however. Probably the easiest of the lot, honestly. Still, that segment I felt was well done and fun to play.

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Combat

Here’s going to be the big sticking point for a lot of people. Is the game fun? Well, a majority of what you do in Shadow of the Beast is rip things up. Is that fun? Well, that depends and I’ll spend some time explaining my personal feelings and why they may not mean much.

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Combat in Shadow of the Beast is handled via encounters. During encounters, you are tasked with dispatching a set number of enemies. These enemies usually will die in one to two hits of mashing square. This part is fun. They truly nailed the idea that Beast is a badass and killing these things is hardly a challenge at all for him. This is right within the context of the game - he’s a 1000 warriors rolled into one.

Aarbron has several tools at his disposal - he can stun enemies with the triangle button, he can quickstep behind enemies with x, he can throw enemies with circle, or he can perform special moves that either restore his health or increase his score, he also has a screen clearing “wrath” move that impales enemies on numerous spikes (and is pretty cool to look at). Aarbron can block and he can roll behind enemies for defensive maneuvers. Finally Aarbron can perform a QTE event called a rage chain which lets him easily dispatch a large number of enemies and increase his score multiplier provided he doesn’t fail the QTEs.

There’s a lot of different ways to tackle any encounter. So why did I find that I mostly just smashed square really fast?

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The easy answer is because I suck. This is true.

The other answer is that the game never really provides a gradual increase in difficulty from the first encounters to the last. You’re never really FORCED to get better. My GF beat one of the more lengthy encounters towards the end of the game by just throwing all of the enemies at each other and I don’t believe she got hit once. Her score ended up being 0 but to just progress through the game it worked. I think that depending on what you want out of the game, this may be a problem. If you are interested in taking the time and effort to increase your skills yourself, you will find a very rewarding and rich combat system waiting for you. If you’re just trying to rush through the game to get the story components, you may find yourself bored.

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Dark souls spirit mechanism

This could have been an extremely cool feature and I almost put it in “mixed” because of the interesting idea. So what happens is when you die in Shadow of the Beast you’re allowed to revive where you fell by consuming an “innocent soul”. You have an infinite number of these but certain story unlocks will be unavailable to you unless you have less than X number of innocent souls consumed (levels can be repeated to decrease this number). The other way to revive is to use an elixir.

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Elixers are obtained via shadows. Your shadow will show up in the games of other players as a dark spot on the ground that they can interact with. If they choose they can gift you a free elixir or they can try to kill you for soul shards. This is similar in a way to Dark Souls’ spirit mechanic...so pretty cool, right?!

Now imagine that every time someone rated your note fine, or every time someone engaged with your ghost, you got a PSN notification. Not an in game notification, a PSN notification. Add to that they you don’t need to currently be logged into the game to get these notifications and you have a recipe for disaster. Playing Warframe? BIGDADDY69x GIFTED YOU AN ELIXIR. Watching Bob’s Burgers on Netflix? HOOTHOOTIMANOWL420 DEFEATED YOU, GET REVENGE?? I’m unsure whether they added this feature on too late in development to create in game notifications or what but this is bad.

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No explanation of what’s happening / what to do

This is one of those games where you’re expected to read the manual. If you don’t you’re going to be real lost about the shadows at first. Or, how to unlock story things, or really, how to do anything. You can pick it up as you go but I wish there were a little bit more explanation of what innocent souls were and what impact they had on the game, or what elixirs were and how to get them, or what defeating someone in the shadow realm meant. These things are never touched upon in the game.

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Shadow of the Beast is worth your time and money if you’re longing to feel like a badass Wolverine rip off shredding enemies in half for looking at you sideways. The beautiful visuals and backdrops combined with a rewarding unlock system and solid combat make this a must have for fans of the side scrolling genre.


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