Review: Shadow Of The Beast

Coming some 27 years after Shadow of the Beast first graced the Commodore Amiga, Heavy Spectrum’s Playstation 4 remake turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable release that doesn’t rely solely on the nostalgia card to succeed.

The original Amiga Shadow of the Beast started life as a graphical tech demo to see what the system was capable of. Eventually this demo ended up being developed into a full game and released by publisher Psygnosis in 1989 to much fanfare. Beast’s detailed sprites, multi-layered parallax backgrounds and sublime soundtrack gave Amiga owners something to brag about to their 8-bit micro or Atari ST owning friends. The game would go on to spawn two sequels, and eventually be ported to a number of different systems creating quite a legacy in the process.

Shadow Of The Beast

When it was announced in 2013 that British-based newcomers Heavy Spectrum would be developing a remake for the Playstation 4, the initial reaction was mixed. A studio comprised of 7 members, Heavy Spectrum all identified as fans of the original Psygnosis release, and wanted to bring it into the current generation to ensure the game’s legacy would continue to live on. As someone who loved the art, but never particularly liked playing the original games, I went into this unsure how I’d find it. Would it prove to be a game capable of standing on it’s own, or another release that relied on nostalgia to drive the experience? I can say that Heavy Spectrum have done a good job of bringing Shadow of the Beast into the modern era, although it’s not without a few rough spots on the way.

Shadow Of The Beast

Shadow of the Beast  is a 2D action adventure with a heavy focus on combat and exploration, along with a handful of puzzles spread throughout the game’s world. Set on the world of Karamoon, it tells of Aarbron’s quest for revenge after being kidnapped as a baby by the tyrant Maletoth, then turned into the titular beast. On the surface the story doesn’t evolve much beyond “find things, fight them, get revenge”, instead the mystery behind the Beast’s story is left in the player’s hands by way of finding hidden Prophecy Orbs. These orbs are spread across the stages as a part of the game’s item hunt, and are crucial towards getting 100% completion on each level.

Shadow Of The Beast

Given the combat focus, Heavy Spectrum have given Aarbron a number of new tricks to go along with his upgraded appearance. In addition to his basic attack, he can stun or throw enemies, as well as block, dodge or parry incoming attacks. Once found, you can also equip your Beast with a number of Talisman that offer enhanced abilities, although sometimes with added drawbacks. Rounding out the toolset are a number of attacks that use the game’s Blood mechanic. Blood is a resource earned by killing enemies, and can then be spent for a variety of benefits, like healing or recharging Aarbron’s Wraith. Accumulate enough blood and it allows the usage of Rage Chains, which triggers a frenzy mode that give you quick-time prompts on either side of the screen to help quickly dispatch his foes.The higher the combo multiplier gets, the better your score, and with it ways to further upgrade the Beast’s abilities or unlock other special features.

Shadow Of The Beast

While the blood resource is central to the game mechanics, it feels like there’s a touch too much emphasis on the bloodletting side of things. While not as up close and visceral as say Mortal Kombat, there are times where Aarbron ends combat bathed in blood, or finding it splattered over the screen. And it’s this last part that feels the most jarring, as I encountered several situations where this splatter effect caused distraction, or worse, rendered me unable to see an incoming enemy leading to Aarbron getting hit (and resetting my multiplier). There’s some stunning environments to explore, however there were times where I felt the overt blood thirst was a little too out of place.

Shadow Of The Beast

The visuals have a familiar feel to them, from the opening on the Grass Plains of Karamoon, to the desert area outside the Hydrath’s Castle. During my playthrough, I spotted several nods to the original games, as well as denizens and environments inspired directly by Roger Dean’s box art. Adding to this is usage of parallax scrolling to help bring depth to the world, although there were times when it caused me some headaches. In some occasions where it ended in a mistimed jump, or other situations where moving to one side of the screen resulted in foreground objects obscuring big chunks of the playfield (and enemies!). With that said, the game moves incredibly smoothly and I never encountered a single moment of slowdown across the entire playthrough, even during some of the more hectic encounters!

Shadow Of The Beast

Those dedicated to blowing through a game as quickly as possible will find themselves hitting the end after a couple of hours on normal difficulty, although you’ll land the worst ending in the process. On top of the different difficulties, every area has leaderboards for speed running, time to complete with 100% collection rate, and high score. There’s also a number of secret encounters in the game that need to be unlocked by performing better in combat, and completing these is key to earning gold or platinum for the stage, and in turn unlock some of the better endings.

Shadow Of The Beast

As a bonus, Heavy Spectrum have included an emulated version of the Amiga Shadow of the Beast as an unlockable extra. Given the difficulty, they’ve kindly added an infinite lives cheat, but also a video runthrough for those who would rather watch someone else do the playing. Along with this, you’re also able to unlock David Whittaker’s soundtrack from the 1989 release to replace the modern in-game music. I have to admit that while the default music suits the game well, I found myself leaning more towards the original soundtrack the moment I could access it.

Shadow Of The Beast

So overall, despite finding the violence a little too much at times, and wanting to see more areas like the Hydrath’s castle with an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, I enjoyed my time with Shadow of the Beast. Heavy Spectrum have put together a solid package that has appeal for both fans of the original, and those new to the game. Considering it’s priced less than a movie ticket and popcorn, it’s well worth taking a look at.

Shadow of the Beast is available now on the Playstation Store for $22.95. Review copy provided by Sony Entertainment. Played to completion on Normal difficulty for the purpose of the review.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Ghostbusting At Zax Amusements

Zax_HDRIt is not every day we get an invitation to check out and play a newly released pinball game. We were lucky enough last year to experience Game Of Thrones before its official release, and it seems that we got lucky once again! This time, Zax Amusements were kind enough to open their doors and allow us to have a bump and tilt on Stern’s new pinball machine, Ghostbusters.

Before we could get to grips on the new Ghostbusters Pro pinball table, Zax’s Business Manager, Phil Boniwell gave us a grand tour of Zax Amusements – let’s just say that we were like kids in a candy store! There were 1980s and 1990s JAMMA boards carefully stacked on shelves, a myriad of gun peripherals, control panels, Neo Geo MVS carts and an amazing array of arcade machines from all eras! We honestly didn’t know where to look – it was a 360 degree visual onslaught of the amusement kind! You can take a peek at the photos further down below to see why we went all gaga.

Once we wiped our drool and returned to Zax’s business showroom, it was time to put Ghostbusters Pro through its paces. So what did we think? Having played the pinball machine a few times, our first impressions were very positive indeed. Like with any new product, it was the visual and aural beauty of the machine that captured our immediate attention. Based on the original Ghostbusters movie, the colours, set scenery and characters on the playfield were an instant trip down memory lane. Not to be outdone in the sensory game, the sound effects, Ernie Hudson’s speech guiding you through the game and Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters soundtrack were literally music to our ears. Stern have really captured the feel of the original Ghostbusters movie to a T! We reckon Stern has created another winner!

Thank you to the team at Zax Amusements for their hospitality (Scott Kellett rocks!). You can read more about Zax Amusements over here.

Z marks the spot!
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Zak (Zax final boss) and yours truly!
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Oh wow, OutRun 2 SP and Sega Racing Classic (aka: Daytona USA Mk II)!
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THIS is still our all-time fave arcade driving game!
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Kick it to Homer!
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Now this is a reasonable price for a twin seat Daytona USA!
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The great wall of PCBs!
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You need guns? Zax has you covered!
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Guitar riffin’
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Dayyyyyytona!
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You don’t control me!
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A view to a thrill!
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Silverball classics waiting for some TLC
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15K out! That is perfect vision!
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Time to flip some balls!
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Oh wow, what to play next?
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Our spidey sensors are tingling!
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Who you gonna call?
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I ain’t afraid of no ghost
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Ecto-1 in glorious colour!
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Let’s play Slimer!
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Busting ghosts has never been this much fun!
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Aim well and true!
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This machine is flippin’ magic!
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Ball Saved! Lucky break!
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Keep your eye on the target(s)!
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What has spooked Slimer?Zax_Ghostbusters12

Mmm, marshmallows!
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The outlanes can be brutal – be ready to bump!
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A row of beauties! It’s very hard to leave Zax Amusements!
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Growing The 8-Bit Generation


source: 8bit generation

We initially backed Growing The 8-Bit Generation Kickstarter campaign not knowing its troubled past. We were drawn to it because of it’s proposed subject matter – a documentary about the start of the home computer industry, which was right up our alley. Rather than getting bogged down in the windy road of how this documentary came to be, we thought we would concentrate on what the 8-Bit Generation / Junk Food team have delivered, and boy is it good!

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Like any documentary that delves into the history of a particular industry, it is the people that were there, recounting their experiences first-hand that is paramount to the success of telling such a story. Growing The 8-Bit Generation nails this part by featuring a roster of interviewees that reads like a computing and video gaming hall of fame, from Chuck Peddle, Al Charpentier, Bil Herd, Michael Tomczyk, Dave Rolfe, Richard Garriot, Jeff Minter, Andy Finkel, Lord British, Steve Wozniak, Nigel Searle, Chris Curry, John Grant, Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn to Joe Decuir and Leonard Tramiel among others. However, the biggest interviewee coup for the documentary was having the late and great, Jack Tramiel recount his days as the head of Commodore and his somewhat ruthless pursuit to build computers for the masses, not the classes – which he certainly did. It is staggering to think that the production team actually interviewed 64 key industry figures, not all appearing in this film, which means there will be future documentaries with the additional footage!

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The best way to describe Growing The 8-Bit Generation is that it is a visual and aural representation of Brian Bagnell’s book, Commodore: A Company on the Edge. If you have read this book, you will recognise the interviewees and know the subject matter quite well. Having said that, if you haven’t read Brain’s book, you will learn how Commodore battled it out with Atari, Sinclair, Texas Instruments, Apple and Tandy to reign supreme in the home computer hardware market.

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The documentary is given a sense of authority by having Bil Heard (former Commodore engineer) lending his voice as the narrator. There is also subtle chiptune background music which adds to the aural spectacle. If we were to be nitpicking (Ed: and we would hate to be!), we would have loved to have seen Bob Yannes (SID chip inventor) appear and perhaps someone from Amstrad, like Lord Sugar. Purists may argue that the documentary is too Commodore-centric, but you have to remember it was their MOS6502 microprocessor that gave birth to the home computing industry and it also had a profound impact on the video games console market.

What From Bedrooms To Billions documentary was to the history of home computer games development, Growing The 8-Bit Generation is to the history and evolution of home computer hardware – it is certainly compelling viewing!

NOTE: Retail availability of the documentary is yet to be confirmed. Keep an eye on the 8-Bit Generation site for more details.

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Grow8Bit_ZXSpecimage source: 8-Bit Generation

 

The Mini Arcade By SuperGameCo

MiniArcade_GalagaHave you always wanted to make your own mini arcade tabletop machine? Are you a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) hack just like me? If you answered yes to both questions, then the SuperGameCo Mini Arcade may be just what you are looking for.

Made from bamboo panels that snap together, the Mini Arcade is a breeze to setup – if you prefer (Ed: are too lazy), SuperGameCo also offer the Mini Arcade in fully assembled form.

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At the heart of the Mini Arcade is a very speedy Raspberry Pi 2 Model B computer, running Emulation Station. This ensures that the emulators and games run nice and smooth. We didn’t experience any slowdown during play – which was great. The 9″ LCD screen provides great resolution, but the marquee protrudes a tad too much which tends to get in the way if you are not sitting down low.

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The control deck is made up of an 8-way Sanwa/Seimitsu arcade stick and 6 concave arcade buttons. These are complimented with a single player select button and an insert coin (credit) button on the left side of the unit to provide an authentic arcade feel when playing games via MAME.

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Audio on the Mini Arcade is pumped through the front facing speakers via a stereo amplifier. We did find that the sound wasn’t as beefy as we would have liked, which took away a bit from the experience when playing shoot’em ups with booming explosions.

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MiniArcade_NeoGeo

We found the Mini Arcade to be a breeze to operate and play games. The assembly was nice and easy, and once you are all setup, it is pretty straight forward to select your favourite old game and get all nostalgic. If you are struggling to find a Christmas present for your retro gaming partner, then the Mini Arcade may be a viable option.

PROS:
– Clever snap-together kit (or you could opt for it to be fully assembled)
– Easy to get started playing games
– Latest Raspberry Pi 2 Model B internals
– Quality Sanwa/Seimitsu arcade joystick
– Inclusion of the Insert Coin button provides an authentic arcade feel
– Multiple interfaces (USB/RJ45) for additional connectivity

CONS:
– Marquee is obtrusive when playing on the 9″ LCD display
– Button layout felt a tad cramped
– Sound is reasonable, but it needs to be meatier
– Insert coin button stickiness (may have just been our unit)
– Power supply cord was too short
– Graphics on the bamboo panels would be nice

The Mini Arcade product variants and prices can be found at the SuperGameCo store here.

 

First Impressions: Stern’s Game Of Thrones Pro Pinball Table

GoT_AlexBozAt the recent PAXAus, we were lucky enough to have two Game Of Thrones Pro Edition pinball machines placed in our Classic Gaming area (Ed: thanks to Scott Kellett and AMD). Having played the table and then watched other pinball wizards battling against ‘House Targaryen’ for a huge multi-billion score, we can safely say that we were quite impressed with Stern’s latest table.

Designed by legendary pinball guru Steve Ritchie, the Game Of Thrones Pro table is made for fast, furious and rewarding action (Ed: as a good pinball table should be!). The Pro table comes with great (superspeed) ramps and toys, like the battering ram sliding bash target and the Sword of Multiball to name just a few. As per tradition, there are electric gates (for those start bonuses to rack up your points) and three pop bumpers with LED lighting to get your hearts racing. Oh yeah, Sandor Clegane (aka: ‘The Hound’) lends his voice to narrate the action!

The aim of Game Of Thrones is to win the war for the Iron Throne. This is done by selecting one of six Houses of Westeros (Stark, Lannister, Greyjoy, Baratheon, Martell, Tyrell) to fight for. House Targaryen cannot be selected – you’ll face Daenerys, her army and her dragons in the last battle. Once you select your House, your goal is to conquer all other Houses standing in your way to the Iron Throne.

Every flip of the silver metal ball feels accurate. The ball remains true when hit, which makes aiming at targets that whole lot easier and very satisfying – perhaps being a fan of the HBO TV show helps here too! The layout of the Pro table draws you into play and the gameplay is so rewarding that you don’t even feel cheated by a lost ball. The two ramps are at perfect angles so that balls do not drain if you haven’t flipped hard enough to complete the shot. Even the Dragon Kickback is forgiving with the ball firing back at the right flipper – good for us middle-aged people with slower reactions! There is something second-nature-ish to playing this table, almost like your hands are an extension of this wonderful world of Fire and Ice!

Watching people play then return to the back of the line to play again was a resounding endorsement for Stern’s latest offering – this machine is an absolute winner! The table will please novice and pro pinball wizards alike – it has plenty of challenges no matter your experience. For all those pinball fence-sitters, do yourself a favour and drop a gold coin in the Game Of Thrones pinball machine, you won’t regret it! Game Of Thrones has translated perfectly to the realm of pinball. Get flippin’!

Game Of Thrones Pro ready for action!
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Beautiful side art
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Learn the rules!
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The playfield (with glass removed!)
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The Westeros Families
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Swinging the Sword Of Mutliball!
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Cash in your multipliers at the Iron Bank
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Keep your wits about you – this dragon kicks back hard!
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The ultimate goal – sitting on the Iron Throne
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Weird and Retro‘s Aleks ‘Serblander‘ Svetislav gets flippin’ on GoT
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Stacey ‘Dr Curlytek‘ Borg shows us all how it is done
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For more details on the Game Of Thrones pinball machines (Pro, Premium and Limited Edition), go to the Stern site. If you want to get head start on your friends when battling it out on the Game Of Thrones Pro machine, grab the strategy guide right now!

 

Pastfinder: A Long Lost C64 Gem

Why has it taken me almost 30 years to discover and play Pastfinder? I mean, I love shoot’em ups, so this game should have been on my radar back in the 1980s. Anyway, it is never too late to enjoy a great game, and let me say from the outset, Pastfinder is a beauty.

What’s there not to like, you are thrown thousands of years into the future on a baron planet with high radiation, you have an awesomely powerful spacecraft (called a Leeper) that is able to walk the landscape (the articulating legs look great!) and fly high to blast enemies and also drop-off supplies to the bases that desperately need them.

Pastfinder is a classic vertical shmup with a twist (think of Zaxxon, but in a vertical attribution instead of isometric) – the clever gameplay of flying and walking the landscape to avoid obstacles, together with tight controls, makes this an absolute blast! Yep, that pun was fully intended! Play this now on your C64, you won’t regret it!

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pastfinder_screen2image source: Lemon64

 

C64 Game Review: Rocket Smash Ex

Rocket_HDRGET READY Commander 64! Fly up, down, and all around, avoid the aliens or pew pew pew them with your screen penetrating laser! Scramble around the stage to collect rocket pieces to reassemble your rocket to freedom. But wait, there is more! Once the rocket is assembled, it will need to be fully fuelled (via dropped fuel cells) so you can make your escape and land on the next challenging stage!

To keep things interesting and to get the adrenaline pumping, you will need to get the objectives completed before your oxygen runs out. Alas, oxygen cells do fall from the top of the screen, so grab them to ensure you keep going, otherwise, it is curtains for Commander 64! Oh yeh, if you collide with an alien, it is instant death! Sounds all easy aye? With three difficulty levels, you will probably find yourself playing Rocket Smash Ex in either easy or normal mode. For those sadists among you, try the hard mode!

Enter the Charlie-Bravo-Mike system if you dare. Rocket Smash Ex is a frantic shoot’em-up come semi-puzzle-assembler where your twitch reflexes will be tested to the max. The control is sublime and feels second nature. The single screen gameplay is complimented by satisfying music (you’re feet will be tapping in no time) with awesome meaty sound effects. Rocket Smash Ex is exactly what your C64 is craving for – it is simply brilliant!

For more information on Rocket Smash Ex or to download the game, visit RGCD.

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image source: RGCD