Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Heavy Spectrum
I feel like Shadow of the Beast is a game for which the phrase "You had to have been there" applies.
After all, it's a remake of a 1989 Amiga game of the same name that, per Wikipedia, was considered revolutionary at the time for its colorful graphics and parallax scrolling backgrounds. As such, among a certain subset of gamers, it's considered to be something of a classic.
Of course, you don't have to look very hard at the comments on those articles to note that, for many people, the game was admired not because of its gameplay, but rather because of how it looked. That, in turn, raises the question: does Shadow of the Beast still stand out a quarter-century later, when the bar for "amazing graphics" is a whole lot higher than it was back in 1989?
Don't get me wrong, it's still a nice-looking game. The landscapes are gorgeous, the monsters look creepy, and when the titular beast tears into its enemies, you get satisfying splashes of vivid red blood everywhere. Admittedly, on that last point, the game doesn't pack quite the same visceral impact in a post-God of War/post-Mortal Kombat world that it may have once had, but it deserves points for at least trying. Actually, broadening that point out a little, there's no way that modern-day Shadow of the Beast has the same kind of advantages, graphics-wise, that the original had over its contemporaries. Like I said, it looks nice…but I think you'd have a hard time if you tried going from saying that to saying it had generation-defining graphics, which is what some people may have said about the original.
Unfortunately, I don't think even that moderate praise could be given to Shadow of the Beast's gameplay. Never having played the original (either back in the late '80s or now, when it's included as a bonus with this game), I don't know what people's major problems were, but if this new version is anything to go by, I'll just have to assume it committed the cardinal sins of being super-repetitive and a little too reliant on button-mashing. And if that wasn't the issue, guess what? Those are the game's problems now.
For a few brief moments at the start of the game, it doesn't seem like this is going to be the case. You get in there, you slash some enemy soldiers to ribbons, and you move forward. After those introductory moments, it's hard not to be a little optimistic about what's ahead of you.
Then you slash your way through more enemies. And more of them. And still more of them. And even when the enemies change from being human soldiers to being terrifying, nightmare fuel-style demons, you find out that the combat doesn't get too much more complex than that. Worse, you find that your actions here don't feel as bone-crunchingly satisfying as they do in, say, any of the God of War games. You also discover that chaining cool-looking combos together is never again as easy as it is in that first tutorial fight, as — even on the easiest difficulty — enemy combatants are a little too eager to attack you from behind and disrupt whatever meagre flow you've started building up.
It also doesn't help matters much that so much of Shadow of the Beast is spent moving forward and backtracking over the same 2.5D plane. While it's certainly nice to look at, your sense of wonder will probably take a bit of a hit as the repetitive nature of the whole thing builds up.
And that's why a heavy sense of nostalgia is probably necessary for fully enjoying Shadow of the Beast. I imagine that if you have fond memories of the Amiga game, playing this remade version will feel like checking in on an old friend after a few decades apart. If you don't have that nostalgia, though…let's just say you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.