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