Thursday, August 26, 2010

At Random: Shadow of the Beast (TurboDuo)

After the Japanese electronics giant NEC gave up on marketing the TurboGrafx-16 in America as a competitor to the Genesis and Super NES, the product was handed over to Turbo Technologies, Inc., a joint venture (if memory serves) between NEC and Hudson Soft.  TTI's flagship product was the TurboDuo, a high-end console based on the Super CD-ROM configuration of the Japanese PC Engine.

TTI wasn't particularly successful in the marketplace either, but they gave it a credible shot.  Focusing on the TurboDuo allowed them to focus on relatively inexpensive CD-ROM media, even adopting the Japanese SUPER CD-ROM spine logo for game packaging, but the product mix remained resolutely Western, and didn't benefit much from the PC Engine's huge popularity overseas.  One TTI game was a port of Psygnosis' popular Amiga title, Shadow of the Beast, which appeared on many platforms including the Atari LynxI bought a discounted copy during the Turbo's waning years, and it's high time I played it.

The conversion was handled by a little Scottish company called DMA Design, which is still around and currently known as Rockstar Games, developer of the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series.  The game opens with an animated intro in which our hero becomes the titular Beast.  It's nicely done in the old-fashioned computer style -- a small window, with minimal pixel-shifting to conserve storage -- but doesn't take special advantage of the CD format.

Beyond the suitably gothic intro, Shadow of the Beast features impressive audiovisuals throughout -- the TurboDuo version loses some of the Amiga's twelve-layer parallax scrolling, but is otherwise intact and looks great.  The manual cover features great artwork and logo design by the legendary Roger Dean, whose polished, otherworldly style graced several Yes albums and virtually defined Psygnosis' image.  Best of all, David Whittaker's soundtrack has been remixed for CD audio and sounds absolutely fantastic.

Once the game gets underway, our monstrous hero jogs across an impressive scrolling landscape, with freedom to explore in either direction and varied, imaginatively designed enemies and obstacles.

But most of the real action is underground, where the game becomes more of a platformer.

There are endless beasties to fight, and puzzles to figure out with the help of artifacts including teleporters, switches, and golden keys.  The locked doors are helpfully labeled, in this case after we have spent what seems like fifteen minutes climbing to the bottom of this shaft:

There are also power-ups to find, though they are generally temporary, designed to help with a particular situation and dissipating as soon as their purpose has been served.  There are formidable boss monsters to battle, and one of the things I like about this game is that the design isn't completely linear -- we can explore for a while before deciding which major enemies to take on.  This one is vulnerable to a wave beam we can pick up nearby -- actually, if we don't grab the wave beam and take this monster out, we're stuck, as one of the ladders that brings us to this area cannot be used to climb back up:

The bosses don't sport much in the way of animation, but each presents a unique challenge.  The same cannot be said of the miscellaneous random enemies -- they all look very nice but behave more or less the same, throwing themselves against our fists as quickly as possible.  And they continue to respawn, making backtracking a tedious chore as we constantly pause to dispatch our attractive but brain-dead foes.

Shadow of the Beast is one of those games that's specifically of its era, but misses true classic status on the gameplay front.  There just isn't much to do -- our hero runs across the beautiful landscape, climbs around the gorgeous subterranean tunnels and castles, and punches an endless army of detailed, shaded enemy creatures in the nose.  But our objective always seems vaguely defined and off in the distance somewhere, and after a while there doesn't seem to be much point in continuing, so the game-over screen comes as something of a relief:

Ultimately, the best reason to own this game may be the options menu, available by hitting SELECT on the title menu, where we can listen to the evocative CD redbook audio score at our leisure:

MAN, that's good stuff.

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