Surviving Horror: Shadow of the Beast
This series of articles will look throughout videogame history at those that inspired, were inspired by, or part of, the survival horror genre. We will stare deep into the abyss until it stares back at us.
Shadow of the Beast was a flagship Amiga title on release. With two separate scrolling backgrounds and an additional foreground it was a technical master class. It was priced at an unheard of higher tier – though it came with a t-shirt – and planted the belief and power of Commodore’s machine. The reviews raved about its technical prowess and it became a hit. Following its success it was ported to many consoles. Unfortunately, most didn’t even get to see the first fifth of the world due to an absolute and uncompromising difficulty that has rarely been matched since. To be fair, SotB is a bastard.
Published by the almighty Psygnosis, who then became SCE Studio Liverpool, a legend in English video gaming recently dying when they were closed, SotB had a strong plot and theme for a title outside of the RPG genre. Playing the role of the beast, an event brings back memories of when you were human. Determined to gain back your true form you turn on this land of beasts and must defeat the guardian to become free once again.
This is not merely a case of jumping on heads and collecting bonus lives. In an early attempt at realism within the context of this mysterious world, when you die you stay dead. No second chance, no extra lives, no checkpoints. Miss a switch earlier on and your progress may be permanently blocked.
From the very beginning of this tale there is no hope. An endless plethora of unique denizens and death traps do their upmost to destroy your dream of becoming a human once again. This creates a taut tension that is especially rare within the platforming genre:
So which way do I go.
Well when is it not always left in videogames. So left it is. I just punched that snake with the trumpet mouth. Right in its mouth. And it still hit me. And again. This is glitched.
No it is not.
What do you mean. You saw me throw a punch and it still hit me. The jump kick is crap too.
Your forearm does not count. The punch has to land correctly otherwise you miss. You’ve got to time every strike correctly.
Ah. Ah well. Pretty cool how there are areas you can go into. Wait. I take that back because going down that well was utterly pointless. Got halfway down and couldn’t move any more.
If you had not skipped that descriptive text screen when leaving the well it tells you to go find a key.
There was no door there for a key. It just stopped moving three quarters down. Sod the well. I’ll stick with the bloody killer ants and floating green things. And what are these eyeballs doing appearing all over the place. Wait is that a blimp in the background. I thought this was a fantasy game.
It mixes a fantastical past and future.
I am dead already. I cannot hit a bloody thing.
Many attempts later…
At last. A door. Loving the synthesiser score.
Agreed. David Whittaker did the score. It is great.
Right well this was a complete bloody waste as it looks like I need a torch or something to go either left or right. That is just being difficult for the sake of it. They know the player will instinctively go left and then they send you back.
You notice how the creatures are rarely repeated. Many of them appear only once.
No because I am too busying concentrating on trying not to get hit by every single thing that runs at me or comes out of the ground. Is that counter my health. 3 left. I was miles away from that then. Great. Dead. Yet again. I am not going right any more. They did this on purpose. Having the first proper area to the right when they knew everyone would go left. Arses. Will these bats and bouncing boulders just piss off. Seriously. Half health already. A tree house. Guessing the key will be in here.
Bit of descriptive text.
Why can I not get down this ladder.
You need to be right in the middle of it.
This game is really glitchy.
It is not. More painfully precise and my arcade stick is two decades old.
What is that. Some massive skeleton boat thingy. Well this is pathetic. It killed me in one hit. How did it do that. I punch it and I die. Wait. Back at the menu.
Are there no checkpoints or lives.
No. Absolutely not.
What about passwords.
There were variations between the ports of which there’s little information on. This article relates to the Megadrive version. A cheat code for invulnerability was later released that allowed for the only walkthrough I found online. For the US Genesis port there was no correct conversion from PAL to NTSC, resulting in an even more impossible edition. Yes, Shadows of the Beast is a videogame so difficult it has variations within the realm of impossible.
How the hell am I supposed to get past that then. Right okay. Start again. Taking my time with this bit. Want full health for that boss. Let me try and hit this thing and run away. Wait where did this wall just come from. It blocks you. This is pathetic. It killed me outright again by touching me again.
Many attempts later…
Right I am skipping past this stupid killer wall of bone. Being hit by these things before the tree house is cheap too. Really cheap. Going to take this ladder down inside the tree house and see what’s there. Why are you not saying anything.
I am waiting for you to go down.
Well I would but I cannot get on this bloody stupid ladder.
Stand in the centre.
I am. Right that is better. Oh god these purple guys have axes. Well at least they die in one hit. Easier than the bouncing rocks. And did I just take damage from a drop of water.
It was a large drop of water.
So water is more dangerous than an axe to the head. Sure.
This is like Metriod on the Gameboy. As in the power orb on this statue is really the same thing. Was it before it.
This came out before Metroid on the Gameboy. But I never had a NES so not sure if those statues were in the earlier games.
It has given me projectile attacks. Right then. Off to that giant skeleton thing. Well that teleporter was handy. Okay these attacks seem to be doing some damage. Oh god that was close. Yes. The giant skeleton is dead. Oh is that it. He turned into a few twinkling pixels. Bit of an anticlimax. So how far did you get.
Not much further than this. Though it can be hard to tell how far you are. Not long after here I usually give up the ghost. Then the next year I dust if off again relearn the patterns and surrender.
Well I will not be coming back this rubbish.
Oh you will. It will eat away at you knowing the game beat you.
Yeah we will see.
One year later.
So do you still have your Megadrive.
Technically superior at its release with an outstanding musical score, Shadow of the Beast remains a statue of difficulty, a predecessor to the painful – and horrifying – difficulty that would give games such as Dark Souls their cult status. The complete absence of hand holding and turning convention on its head are further reasons it remains acknowledged in gaming history. Horror demands a vision, no matter how disruptive and absurd this may first appear. It’s better to be respected than to be liked.
Oh, and I’ve since found the torch. It was outside the door on the wall.