Shadow of the Beast

Title           Shadow of the Beast
Publisher       Psygnosis/Reflections, 1989
Game Type       General Action
Compatibility   Not A1200, but WHDload patch available
HD Installable  Yes (With Patch)
Submission      RJP

Along with Defender of the Crown, Deluxe Paint and Lemmings, Shadow of the
Beast is one of the names that will forever be synonymous with the glory
days of the Amiga. Beast might even be the most important, for it was the
first game to really stretch Jay Miner's custom chips and be manifestly
superior to the ST version. You didn't need to pore over the tech specs to
see which was the best computer anymore; the Amiga's advantage was
suddenly tangible and for the next couple of years it would be *the*
aspirational games machine.

As is often the case with such technical break-throughs, the game itself
is pretty straightforward - a platformer come beat-'em-up. The one real
innovation is the way it isn't broken up into levels - instead you are
largely able explore the large gaming world in any order you please. This
freedom of movement is somewhat restricted because you need to collect
various keys and power-ups in the right order to move from one section to
another, but adds an adventure-like depth nonetheless.

The sections themselves fall into three types:

1) Outside bits, running across long flat stretches of plain, dispatching
waves of fantasy-inspired monsters with kicks and punches before they can
inflict damage, and avoiding traps. The latter most commonly take the form
of large spikes or surreal giant hands which shoot out the ground without
warning, but also include guided missiles (!) and dragons which fly
overhead and drop bombs. These parts of the game are distinguished by
utterly stunning multilayer parallax scrolling and copper lists. Although
the graphics are quite bright, the dreary mountains and forest in the
background somehow convey the ominous feel of a late afternoon just before
a thunderstorm.

2) Dark, dispiriting inside bits, including underground caves and a
castle. These are more platform in character and require a fair bit of
exploration to find keys, power-ups etc.

3) A horizontal shoot-em-up part where the main character dons a flying
suit and moves through a bizarre sci-fi landscape.

It's all very well presented as you'd expect, with Psygnosis's trademark
intro sequence, fantasy graphics and a wonderfully gloomy panpipe
soundtrack. What really made Beast stand out at the time was the
super-smooth 50 fps screen update, which gave it an authentic arcade feel
and proved impossible to replicate on an ST or contemporary PC.

But is it any fun? Well, it's not bad. It's pretty tough, though
infinitely more playable than Beast 2, and you find yourself progressing a
little further with each attempt. The real stumbling block is the rather
lack-lustre quality of the enemies. While well animated, they lack the
vivid detail of the backgrounds, often being rendered in only 3 colours or
so, and their attack patterns are fairly simplistic. Too frequently, they
just form a line and shamble towards you from left to right.

We've seen a lot better since 1989, but Shadow of the Beast is undoubtedly
one of the first "real Amiga games", as AUI magazine put it, and retains a
quirky charm even today.

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