Game review: Shadow of the Beast – stoking our sentimental fires

Absolutely gorgeous graphics and music that combines with the game’s mix of gruesome auditory violence aren’t quite enough to recommend this modern revamp of an old classic

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 8:00pm

Shadow of the Beast

Heavy Spectrum


Let’s put it this way: even I don’t remember Shadow of the Beast, a supposed cult favourite that was available for Amiga computers back in 1989. That should give you a good idea of how obscure the game is, and how obsessive its developers must have been to remake it for modern consoles.

The brawling original was lauded for its incredible graphics (for the time) and amazing soundtrack, and the goal of this update was not to change things up in any formidable way, but to remake its simplistic side-scrolling thrills for a modern age. In that, it’s pretty successful, sort of. Beast is still a side-scroller, it’s still a beat-’em-up, and it still follows the same story of a child-turned-demon out for revenge.

Where it differs, most obviously, is in its incredible audio-visual improvements. The graphics here are absolutely gorgeous, a combination of depth-heavy fantastical landscapes and beautifully rendered underworlds. The soundtrack also builds heavily on this barren planet, harking back to the original’s influential music to combine with its almost frightening mix of gruesome auditory violence.

But that’s all surface-level stuff compared to what lies beneath and not much has really been done in that area. Sure, you beat your way through legions of demons, button-mashing and brawling until your thumbs are sore, but there’s been no innovation to improve its obviously dated concept.

Worse still, we’re not sure if this was done deliberately to replicate the retro-dynamics, but much of the fighting feels clunky and sluggish, making the supposedly supercool combos come off as just frustrating.

And then there are the new additions, a weird blend of micro-transactions and hidden collectibles. The better you fight, the more mana you earn, which can unlock such absolute essentials as translating alien languages. It’s incredibly annoying, because it all feels like someone wanting to blend everything trendy with his favourite games of yore.

That person, by the way, is developer Matt Birch, a Beast obsessive since he first fired up the game in his mid-teens, and now the lead at Heavy Spectrum. There’s a small argument to be made here about nostalgia getting out of hand. While stoking our sentimental fires can sometimes yield amazing results, it can also lead to a place where personal crusades end up satisfying no one more than the neurotic fan behind them. Beast isn’t quite that, but it’s not far off.