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Shadow of the Beast

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Shadow of the Beast is a side-scrolling platform computer game produced by Reflections Interactive and published by Psygnosis in 1989. The original version was released for the Commodore Amiga, but the game has been ported to many other systems. The original Amiga release cost 35 pounds, an unheard of price for a video game in that era, but it did include a T-shirt in the box.

Psygnosis had published numerous side scrollers with high quality graphics prior to the release of Shadow of the Beast (most notably Obliterator). Shadow of the Beast, however, was considered revolutionary because its graphics, with many more colours on screen and up to twelve levels of parallax scrolling backdrops, were of a level rarely if ever seen before in action games. It was also notable for its atmospheric score composed by David Whittaker that used high-quality instrument samples.

The first Beast

The first game's story is about a man named Aarbron who was kidnapped as a child and corrupted through magic into a monstrous warrior-servant for the evil beast lord Maletoth. The creature's memory of his human life returns when he watches a man being executed, whom he later recognizes as his father. This prompts Aarbron to seek revenge on Maletoth.

The box artwork of the game, like many Psygnosis releases of the time, was created by fantasy artist Roger Dean, in a style reminiscent of his Yes album cover artwork.

File:Amiga Shadow of the Beast.png

Despite mostly highly positive reviews, reviewers complained that the game was too difficult, and despite valid criticism of the game being a matter of style over substance it became a hit and spawned two sequels. Because the game was built for the Amiga's powerful graphics and sound capabilities, conversions to other gaming platforms are generally considered less attractive by fans of the game.

Sequels

There were two sequels for the game: Shadow of the Beast II in 1990 and Shadow of the Beast III in 1992. The former was again ported to a number of platforms.

Shadow of the Beast II

File:Shadowofthebeast2.gif

Shadow of the Beast II finds the hero in half-beast form, wandering the lands of Karamoon in search of his kidnapped sister. She had been taken away from her mother's cottage by the dragon-form of the Beast Mage, Zelek, servant to Maletoth. Along the way, Aarbron befriends the wise dragon Barloom and must defeat the evil dragon Ishran. Tree Pygmies in the forest and the goblins in the Crystal Caverns serve as interactive, complicated foes. For example, a bottle of booze picked up at the Karamoon oasis must be given to the goblin jailer to free Aarbron from his cell. Only after Aarbron gives the old man his ring and his parchment does he obtain a spell powerful enough to harm Zelek.

The game initially received praise for its high level cosmetics, although graphically inferior to the first game lacking the groundbreaking multi-layer paralax scrolling, it still provided much eye candy for the player and Tim Wright's soundtrack succeeded in creating a grim and sinister atmosphere, particularly the emotional 'death scene' music with its synth layer and sampled electric guitar melody which created a stunning tragic mood. Supposedly, many players died on purpose just to hear it.

The game itself is very difficult, and with no ability for the player to continue if killed, many felt that Psygnosis had neglected to consider the players who wanted it to be easier. For example, in several of the game's puzzles the player only received one attempt at solving it. This meant that if the player got the puzzle wrong, then he or she had to restart from the very beginning of the game. Another complaint was that the game was programmed in such a way as to allow players to get ahead of themselves by entering certain areas of the game without having first obtained the necessary equipment beforehand. Thus, many players believed they had no option but to cheat in order to see more than a fraction of it, by asking the first Pygmy to his right about "ten pints".

As in the first game, the cover art for Shadow of the Beast II was created by Roger Dean and the game was packaged with a promotional black T-Shirt that featured Dean's artwork.

Shadow of the Beast III

The final chapter of the saga, Shadow of the Beast III was released for the Amiga in 1992. In this game, Aarbron has finally regained his human shape but must defeat Maletoth once and for all to become fully human. It did not get as much attention as its predecessors, in spite of the overwhelmingly positive reviews, with most praising the improvements in gameplay and toning down of the difficulty level. Its graphics and sound - though still high quality - were not revolutionary anymore in 1992. Beast III had four distinct stages instead of one big area. The game placed less of an emphasis on the action elements so prominent in the first two games, instead preferring a more cerebral approach. The Beast III package did not contain a T-shirt, but rather a badge with a game logo in its place.

Soundtracks

The soundtrack of the first Beast game by David Whittaker is the most famous, consisting of twelve tracks. They are similar in style and have a new-age like sound.

The track names are;

  1. Opening
  2. Intro
  3. Welcome
  4. Inside the tree
  5. The power orb
  6. The well
  7. Aarbron's revenge
  8. To the castle
  9. In the dark passages
  10. Beyond mind and reality
  11. The blue enemy
  12. Game over

The full soundtrack to the first Beast game was arranged, studio recorded and released in 1999, on an Amiga music compilation CD entitled Immortal. The music for the sequels was produced by Tim Wright.

The FM-Towns and PC Engine Super CD-ROM ports of Shadow of the Beast features a soundtrack arranged by D.C. Productions Ltd. (Chris Howlett and Ian Henderson), considered by many as the definitive studio cover of the original.

Ports

After Shadow of the Beast's enormous success on the Amiga, it was ported to almost every other computer and video games console of the time. Namely, the Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, SNES - unreleased, Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Master System, Atari Lynx, FM-Towns and PC-Engine TurboCD (there even was an Atari 8-bit version in the works [1]. The PC-EngineTurboCD version was the last to be released. The PC-EngineTurboCD version and FM-Towns (titled Shadow Of The Beast Complete) both had enhanced in-game graphics, animated intro and an enhanced studio quality CD soundtrack, not in any of the other ports.

Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis port is considered by some to be one of the hardest video games ever made. Particularly to North American audiences, this is due to a sloppy conversion to the North American region; the original game had a 50Hz refresh rate, but all North American Sega Genesis games had to have a 60Hz refresh rate in North America due to being made for NTSC televisions. The conversion team did not change the amount of time each frame remained on screen when the refresh rate was increased to 60Hz, making it run 16.7% faster than the original (this problem is absent when the game is played on a European Mega Drive with 50Hz refresh rate, however). Many gamers struggled to complete it after its release, but due to the incredibly high difficulty level with no continues available, very few achieved this goal until Sega revealed the invincibility cheat in January 1992. As if to make up for this, the Japanese Mega Drive version not only ran at the correct speed but had enhanced in-game graphics as well as a toned down difficulty setting though the game still lacked continues.

Shadow of the Beast II has also been ported, albeit to fewer platforms. These are the Atari ST and FM-Towns computers, as well as the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and Sega Mega-CD consoles. The Mega Drive version suffers from distorted sound as the volume is too high. The same effect from when the volume is too high for older speakers to cope with on certain older HI-FI stereo units. The Mega-CD port of the game had drastic changes made to it, the most noticeable being a new soundtrack complete with voice acted dialogue sequences and added FMVs. The in-game graphics were also slightly enhanced, and some areas of the game were redesigned to be fairer than the original.

Despite the success of the first two games, Shadow of the Beast III was not ported to any other system, and remains an Amiga exclusive, although a Sega Mega Drive version was considered and even developed at some point, with Matt Furniss tasked as the Mega Drive conversion composer.

References in other games

Graphics from Shadow of the Beast and Shadow of the Beast II were featured in two special levels in the original Lemmings game (Amiga, Mega Drive, PC, Super Nintendo, and Atari ST versions), called "A Beast of a Level" and "A Beast II of a Level".

Reception

Shadow of the Beast and Shadow of the Beast II were reviewed in 1991 in Dragon #169 by Patricia Hartley, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave both games 5 out of 5 stars.[2]

References

  1. JBJ index
  2. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (May 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (169): 61–65. 

External links

gl:Shadow of the Beastfi:Shadow of the Beast

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