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Written by  :  Ludicrous Gibs! (40)
Written on  :  Jun 07, 2005
Platform  :  Amiga
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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An amazing demonstration of the Amiga's power. But as a game...?

The Good

Everyone knew that the Commodore Amiga beat the audiovisual pants off all the home computers and game consoles of the late 80's, but few games drove that fact home like Shadow of the Beast. Conceived as an answer to the superior graphics and sound found in arcade games at the time, it stands as one of the best looking and sounding side-scrollers ever made.

The graphics are truly superb... they're rich with color, and the silky-smooth multilayered background scrolling creates a dizzying pseudo-3D effect. The art direction is typical 80's Psygnosis, which means intricately detailed backgrounds with many smooth, rounded edges, and twisted, bizarre creatures. It has a distinctly European flavor (speaking as a Yank), which adds to the game's slightly surreal atmosphere.

Nothing, however, contributes to that atmosphere more than David Whittaker's moody, richly textured soundtrack. Composed entirely in the MODule format that first appeared on the Amiga, it evokes an eerie, lonely, almost otherwordly feel. The first time I wandered right from the start point into the "danger zone" and the theme music's tempo increased and suddenly developed a pounding beat was a true experience, to be sure.

The Bad

Okay, sound and graphics aside, Shadow of the Beast really isn't that good as a *game*. It plays like your standard side-scrolling actioner, only worse... the game is entirely linear, the difficulty is unforgiving, and the controls are stiff as all get-out. I guess that after shoving all those brilliant visuals and musical tracks into the Amiga's 512kb of RAM, there wasn't any room left for good gameplay.

You only get 12 health points and one life before your beast-man's "hearts explode" and you find yourself looking at a closeup of his festering corpse and listening to the (wonderfully composed) "awww, you're dead" music. And there are so many cheap hits and instant kills in this game that getting through it is mostly a matter of memorization, not skill. Health-restoring items are few and far between, too.

Sometimes, the "do it in order or you're screwed" linearity of the game reaches King's Quest proportions. For instance, when you're in the "Roots" level, make sure you get the power ball that lets you throw waves of energy before you fight the boss, but don't use it on any of his minions - it'll disappear, and you'll have to face him with your bare fists (and he kills you in one hit).

The Bottom Line

Shadow of the Beast is worth experiencing for the graphics and sound alone. However, I don't know how I'd feel if I'd bought this game for $50 back in 1989. At least I'd have something to "wow" my friends with when they started bragging about how wicked awesome Super Mario was.