One of the quieter demo stations that we saw this year at EGX was for the reboot of eighties gaming classic, Shadow of the Beast. Now, this wasn't much of a surprise, especially since its announcement a couple of years ago at Gamescom was met with a resounding "huh, never heard of it" from anyone under the age of thirty-five. It hasn't helped that since its debut, the development team over at Heavy Spectrum have pretty much gone dark, only surfacing occasionally to remind gamers they're still hard at work on this title, so it was nice to see that they'd finally brought Shadow of the Beast into the light at the Birmingham expo, and we could get our hands on this promising 2D action platformer.
Our demo opened with Aarbron – the 'beast' from the game's title – heading across a dusty, barren wasteland towards a distant tower. Since this structure bears a striking resemblance to the home of Sauron - missing only the trademark glowing eye - you know there probably won't be a warm welcome, or a cup of tea, waiting for you when you knock on the door. After a bit of platforming, where we got to use the beast's handy claws to scale some sheer rock faces, we found ourselves facing off against a horde of ugly humanoid creatures, who, unluckily for them, happened to be blocking our way. At this point we got to use the claws once again, this time to tear into these fleshy obstacles.
With a single attack button - which can be modified through additional button or directional inputs into a few different attacks moves - we fought through these initial enemies with ease, especially when we timed our attacks just right, pulling off a 'perfect' kill with a solitary slash. By chaining together kills with barely a pause for breath, we were able to send Aarbron into a rage, where we could unleash further devastating, unblockable attacks via some brief quick time events where the amount of time that we had to complete each successive kill got shorter and shorter.
This initial taste of combat in Shadow of the Beast was especially tantalising as it made us feel totally unstoppable. With foe after foe falling to our claws as we splashed their blood all over the screen, we found ourselves racing off in search of the next fight, eager for a chance to try out some other moves, and mindful that we only had a limited amount of time to spend with the game.
After finding ourselves in a few easy fights, some more challenging enemy types entered the fray. With the introduction of opponents carrying shields - as well as more agile foes who were capable of dodging our strikes - we were forced to mix up our attacks, and make use of Aarbron's ability to block, stun and throw his attackers in order to come out on top in these increasingly bloody bouts of action.
With the word "Metroidvania" escaping the lips of the PR representative introducing us to the demo, we kept an eagle eye out for any tell-tale signs that we weren't just moving through a linear level. While we did have to do a little back-tracking after we'd opened up a path through an ominous temple, we unfortunately couldn't see any obvious out of reach places, or blocked off paths, that might require the player to return later in the game.
We soon forgot about trying to uncover any secrets hidden within the demo, though, as we'd somehow unleashed a hellish monster hidden within the aforementioned temple. Hastily exiting the place of worship with the gargantuan brute hot on our heels, we were chased across numerous screens as our pursuer followed in the background, shooting spikes out of the floor in an attempt to impale us as we battled our way through even more enemies, while making ample use of rocky ground that stopped the deadly spikes from reaching us.
This exciting chase brought our demo to a close, and really built the frantic tension well, with the camera angle even shifting from the standard 2D perspective right down in to the action – while still keeping you in control – in order show just how close you were to being swept up by the monster, before finally fading to black after putting you face to face with your tormentor.
Overall we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw of Shadow of the Beast. Not only did its satisfyingly bloody battles play well, but it also managed to evoke the strange aesthetic found in the original games through its own unique and striking visuals. Whether the combat ultimately turns out to have much depth in the final release will remain to be seen, and who knows at this point if it deserves the 'Metroidvania' tag at all, but either way, we're looking forward to seeing Shadow of the Beast spend more time in the spotlight ahead of its release – whenever that turns out to be.
Do you intend to reveal your teeth to Shadow of the Beast when it eventually arrives? Have you been a fan of this series since its Psygnosis days? Snarl in the comments section below.