Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 7/17/16
The original "Shadow Of The Beast" (1989) was a technical marvel and an astonishing display of what the Commodore Amiga was capable of. Its stunning artwork and haunting soundtrack (not to mention its notorious difficulty) made it an endearing classic. This remake attempts to recapture that magic by fleshing out Aarbron's story and re-imagining his world. It plays the nostalgia card hard and to good effect, but the gameplay falls woefully short.
First of all, it's a great looking game with an excellent soundtrack. Anyone who played the original game will be overwhelmed by the memories it sparks, and the art direction does a great job of recreating and honoring the look and feel of Aarbron's world. The dramatic music score has an epic orchestral feel and incorporates the original themes in surprising ways. The gameplay is both overly simple and needlessly complex. Aarbron basically has one attack, which you end up spamming for the majority of the game. Combat is unfortunately confined to extremely narrow areas where hordes of enemies attack you from both sides. Therein lies its biggest flaw, as it's literally impossible to engage the opponent in front of you without being attacked from behind. You have a defensive move to block frontal attacks, but again, it doesn't protect you from being attacked from behind. So you end up fighting a losing battle until you die and resurrect yourself. Thankfully, the game gives you the option to resurrect in place without having to start the entire level over, which requires either drinking a magical potion (which are earned in-game) or consuming an innocent soul. You have an infinite supply of innocent souls, but consuming them corrupts Aarbron and affects the final outcome of the game.
On top of the difficult and tedious combat, the controls are sluggish and there's a considerable about of lag in the time it takes Aarbron to respond to your commands. You can upgrade Aarbron's skills and equip various talismans to aid in the fight, but the more powerful special moves are exceedingly difficult to pull off and will cost you dearly if you fail to execute them properly. Ultimately, the standard attack ends up being the best and safest option. Aarbron's skills rely heavily on blood, which is earned through fighting and various power-ups. Unfortunately, health is a much more important commodity, and those power-ups are exceedingly rare, so you just end up dying and resurrecting a lot.
The points that you earn for defeating enemies can be used to purchase combat upgrades, artwork, and even an emulation of the original game. That's quite possibly the best value that the package has to offer, and I was positively giddy when the intro screen came up. I wish more old Amiga games would get this kind of treatment (I would absolutely LOVE to see "Turrican 2" running on a modern console). It's still laughably hard to play and some of the art hasn't aged especially well, but it's still an amazing experience. You can even purchase an infinite life upgrade to try and get further in the game (although there are still several instant death scenarios), and there's also a video play-through to show you exactly how to beat the game. It's pretty tense, because Aarbron is literally a split-second away from dying when Maletoth finally falls.
"Shadow Of The Beast" is clearly a labor of love from the old Amiga community, and that comes through in every little detail. Its biggest (and perhaps only) drawback is that it's simply no fun to play. Perhaps with enough practice the special moves can be mastered, but after completing the initial run through of the game, there's very little motivation to revisit it.