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Shadow of the Beast (Turbografx-CD) artwork

Shadow of the Beast (Turbografx-CD) review


"When I borrowed a Turbo Duo back in 1993, I cycled through over a dozen games in the span of two days. While most of those 48 hours became a blur, a few moments stood out; Shadow of the Beast's conceptually simple title screen was one. Grass gorgeously scrolls underneath the beast's feet as clouds pass overhead, and the quiet soundtrack — initially a simple series of bells — gradually becomes an epic showcase of strong percussion, evocative wind pipes, and resounding chimes. It's simple but inspired."




It was the darkest of nights. On this ominous eve, a mysterious horseman waited beside the lake. On the other side, the cottage owner tossed and turned in fitful slumber. Perhaps he dreamt that he had witnessed his beloved father's execution; perhaps he dreamt of time spent in servitude to diabolical fiends. The hapless woodsman would soon wake to discover himself transformed into a silly-looking beast with an enormous snout.

After that briefest of cinematic sequences, Shadow of the Beast introduces us to its parallax world.



He runs.

When I borrowed a Turbo Duo back in 1993, I cycled through over a dozen games in the span of two days. While most of those 48 hours became a blur, a few moments stood out; Shadow of the Beast's conceptually simple title screen was one. Grass gorgeously scrolls underneath the beast's feet as clouds pass overhead, and the quiet soundtrack -- initially a simple series of bells -- gradually becomes an epic showcase of strong percussion, evocative wind pipes, and resounding chimes. It's simple but inspired.

The hero's motivation is clear. The demon turned him into a beast; the beast cannot forgive the demon. No princess will turn him back with a kiss -- only VENGEANCE remains! Straightforward punches and kicks comprise the beast's primary arsenal as he crosses the woods outside his home, which has become a den of nefarious cretins. I call it the Forest of Eyes, in honor of the disembodied eyeballs that mysteriously blink in and out of existence. Some people call it the Forest of Purple Dragons Who Drop Explosive Dung, in honor of the purple dragons who drop explosive dung.

At the edge of the forest stands a castle guarded by knife-tossing ninjas hiding under trapdoors; beneath the forest lie vast catacombs populated with chitinous miscreants. Although it has the fast pace of an action game, Shadow of the Beast is an adventure game requiring exploration and a wee bit of puzzle-solving. The beast must discover temporary weapons for boss fights -- such as the Power Fist -- or perish. If you happen to be running along and see a giant creature up ahead, TURN BACK unless you have a secret weapon. Some boss encounters barricade the escape route, which means you'll have to start the game over if you're not properly prepared.

These cheap "reboot" moments are part of the reason Shadow of the Beast acquired a reputation for being extraordinarily difficult. Other ports have also been chastised for the snout-nosed hero's inability to fend off his attackers, but this is not an issue in the Turbo CD version. DMA Design has imbued the beast with speed and swift response time, proving that a second set of hands sometimes improves an inspired but flawed original.

In the original Amiga version, even the grass could kill you. The Turbo CD cuts out some of those nonsense obstacles; this Beast is focused on the evocative scenery and its inspired denizens. Face the fungus of Yoggoth! Leap over clawed hands that clutch at your tender flesh! Break a statue in your path, revealing the monster trapped inside! Smash the funeral markers of your kinsmen to reveal vials of nourishing blood! Shadow of the Beast is the game that made original creators Psygnosis famous; its melding of artful atmosphere with comforting simplicity inspired many other adventures throughout the 1990s, including the Turbo CD's critically-acclaimed Shape Shifter. The anti-climactic sequels, which replaced the Beast with a Man and expanded the plot to include tribes and magical artifacts, never achieved the same level of fame as this straightforward tale of David versus Goliath.

When the beleaguered beast finally does encounter the Goliath who made him thus, it's not a battle against a macabre horseman as one would have expected from the introduction. No, the final fight pits the beast against a GIANT TOE. The burly fellow to whom the toe is connected keeps tossing rocks. Based on a quick size comparison between rock and toe, it's similar to flicking pebbles at ants . . . hardly the most effective method of combat. I would step on the ant.

Punch the demon in the toe to win -- I suppose not every game can end as well as it began. With Shadow of the Beast, play for the enchanting journey and not the goal.

//Zig

Rating: 7/10

zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (February 06, 2010)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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Feedback

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randxian posted February 07, 2010:

While I appreciate the info and the barb at the end about how it would be more efficient to step on an ant sized creature, I wasn't really sure what you thought of the game until I saw the final score.

From the way it was written, I guessed you liked it. Of course, you do mention a couple of minor setbacks, so I suppose a 7 makes sense.
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sashanan posted February 07, 2010:

You were pretty kind to it. It may be that the TGX version is just superior to the Commodore 64 version I played, which had pretty frustrating combat thanks to dubious controls, long long long loading times, and of course the habit (as mentioned in your review) to lock you into unwinnables for going in the wrong direction or firing the one shot of your vital boss killing weapon on accident before reaching them.

This is one game I wasn't able to beat even with an invulnerability cheat code.
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bloomer posted February 07, 2010:

From what you (zig) describe, this version dealt with some of the worst problems in the game (which I assume there was a long time to do based on feedback from the other versions), though not all. It may be the most playable version, but I'm never gonna touch this game again! It's a classic memory I have of just utterly ridiculous gameplay. A game so hard there was simply no point turning it on.
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zigfried posted February 07, 2010:

Yeah, it's too bad this wasn't the version of the game most people experienced. It's actually playable and... fun. Also, the music is incredibly good.

//Zig
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sashanan posted February 08, 2010:

That at least is consistent with the Commodore 64 version - no surprise because sound is one thing that old beast did well. I may not have played it in years and I may not care to change that anytime soon, but I can and do still hum the theme at times.

You made me do it right now, for instance.
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bloomer posted February 08, 2010:

The guy who wrote the music was Tim Wright. Years later he helped develop 'Music 2K' for the PS1. Without knowing this fact, I used M2K to remix a Tim Wright track from the Amiga game Leander.

Recently I tried to get him to listen to my remix, since it's the best one I did, but every remixing site has rejected it as 'u crazy, u must be on drugs' etc. and thus nobody will host it in the public eye. Well, Tim hasn't replied (when he did reply to an earlier myspace message of mine) so maybe he's written me off as crazy too.
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sashanan posted February 08, 2010:

Funny how that can work out though. I once accidentally got in contact with the guy who wrote the beautiful haunting theme song of Gribbley's Day Out. Of course the day I have an actual heart attack is the day Sid Meier writes in about my FAQ on Pirates!...
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zippdementia posted February 08, 2010:

From someone who has never played this game in any form I found the review to be somewhat confusing. It seemed to rely on some prior knowledge (grass kills you? huh?) and I wasn't sure what you were going to score it until you did. I mean, I was expecting either a 2-3 or a 8-9.
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wolfqueen001 posted February 08, 2010:

I didn't play the game, either, and I thought the review was more or less fine. I took the "grass kills you" thing as a joke, actually, but maybe that wasn't Zig's intention.

I can kind of see people's confusion about the tone of the review (not) matching the score, though. It did seem kind of up and down in places with regard to that, but even so, I wasn't overly confused upon seeing it. Anyway, I thought this review was pretty interesting nonetheless. I'm a little sad that all the other versions of this game apparently suck because after reading this and listening to some of the soundtracks for this on an online video game radio station I like to listen to, it did seem like something I'd want to check out eventually.
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zigfried posted February 08, 2010:

Thanks for the feedback! In some versions of the game, the grass kills you. As in, you're running along the grass, but then you step in special "sharp" grass that hurts a lot, and kills you if you keep stepping in it. I replaced that sentence with something more direct:

In the original Amiga version, even the grass could kill you.

Hopefully that works better.

Regarding the tone of the review, it's blatant description, as opposed to hard-hitting opinion. People who consider reviews to be persuasive essays don't care for this style; the descriptive style rejects the concept that the writer's opinion is "right". For a game that relies on creative imagery, I think it's a valid approach. Describe what you see and let people form their own opinions. I could explicitly say "purple dung-dropping dragons are cool", but that won't convince someone who thinks dung-dropping dragons are stupid.

With my description of the music, improvements from other ports, and reminiscence of how this game's artful atmosphere made Psygnosis famous, people should be able to figure out where I stand. For me, the more important question is whether or not readers can figure out where they stand.

Definitely an interesting discussion.

//Zig
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bloomer posted February 08, 2010:

> Funny how that can work out though. I once accidentally got in contact with the guy
> who wrote the beautiful haunting theme song of Gribbley's Day Out.

That game was well cute!

> Of course the day I have an actual heart attack is the day Sid Meier
> writes in about my FAQ on Pirates!...

Hahaha... the best I've done there was when John Romero wrote ASchultz and I about our Bruce Lee review. The joke for me was that back then, I didn't know who he was.
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bloomer posted February 08, 2010:

Style wise, this reminded me of old Masters/Runinruder reviews. But as you've noticed, I was mostly carried away remembering the game.

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