At first, these logic puzzles seem to just be an arbitrary way to add game time, but they very quickly ramp up in complexity. Soon, you’ll find yourself purposely submerging yourself in the nebulous mire so you can spot a target, shoot it, and clear the path to the next area. It’s a well-thought-out way to keep players thinking on their feet, while also injecting a sense of uneasiness and paranoia.
It’s easy to reproach Shadows for having a simple formula of kill/puzzle/boss fight, but it’s in its presentation that it stands out. Every level remains unique in its composition, ranging from “Cannibal Carnivals” to musty catacombs. Around Act 3, an unexpected side-scrolling shooting segment is thrown into the mix. It plays like a derivative of Gradius, but manages to keep the obstacles of goat-shooting darkness-eradication. Though simple in execution, the difficulty ramps up very quickly, and becomes a worthy challenge. The art direction of these portions of the game vary as well, looking somewhat like a paper cut-out, or those Victorian stick puppet theaters. Remember The Geographical Explorations of Jasper Morello? No? Alright, moving on.
Though on the whole the gameplay is balanced, the main pacing issues stem from the boss battles, which seem to drag on for no reason. Once the usual attack patterns are understood, the fun almost grinds to a halt and you spend most of your time tediously hacking away at your opponent’s health, with only an educated guess with as to how long they have left. Without any health bars, these encounters are nothing more than tests of patience.
Interestingly, I believe that if they were cut short by half the time, given more attacks or even anything resembling an HP meter, they wouldn’t be half as draining. The bosses represent some of the cleverest and most innovative designs of the game, and a quick look at any screen shot shows the potential of an engrossing experience.
Take for instance the demon who’s condemned to a life of constant hunger, George. This aptly named bag of organs is covered in entrails, has a harmonica grafted to his mouth, and an eerie absence of eyes. The battle itself starts off unsettlingly enough, as he chases you through a maze, his blues style harmonica spouting out off-note tunes to the broken rhythm of his breathing. As the sound draws closer and closer, you lead him around the corner next to an exploding barrel. When he slides into place to promptly bash your head in, the barrel is shot, explodes, and George is left prone on the ground; vulnerable to a surfeit of headshots. You shoot him in the head, rinse and repeat – like 15 more times.
What could have been a genuinely chilling experience eventually devolves into monotony. It really is a pity, but shock and lack of interest don’t mix.
Aside from this, there is the small gripe of not being able to retrace your steps, leaving you with missed opportunities at acquiring “performance enhancing” red gems. You can side-step this small setback by buying them from Christopher, the demonic shop keeper, but in the end, free is free and you could use your hard-earned cash to buy more booze – this game’s equivalent to power ups.
But in retrospect, these are all small nitpicks that don’t remove much from the overall experience. The game is unlike anything else seen on the market today, and its release may be the impetus needed for a new set of games of the same breed that don’t take themselves too seriously. In truth, it is the illegitimate sister to Godhand, reminiscent in dialogue, character designs, and sense of humor, albeit with more dicks. There’s even a piece of background music taken straight from the shop Gene visits.
You can really get a feeling of the producers having a good time with this title, and it’s readily apparent with every exploding head and furious boning. From Killer 7’s stylized blood effects and Godhand’s gleeful stomping of a fallen enemy, this is like some kind of wonderful vis major of the Rules of Cool.
The Verdict: [rating:4]
If you’re a big Grindhouse fan, and you like your comedy served up with a steaming sauce of obscenities, then get ready to chow down on Shadows of the Damned‘s stylistic melodrama. After you’ve been bombarded with the affluence of dick jokes, you’ll find yourself laughing along with them, provided you’re not too self-concerned. Just don’t play it with your grandfather in the room, or he’ll be rendered insensate, and his head might just explode.