Shadow of the Beast
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|Shadow of the Beast|
Cover art of Shadow of the Beast
The Creative Assembly (FM Towns)
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, an unheard of price for a video game in that era, but it did include a T-shirt in the box bearing a print of the box's artwork.
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.
Most reviews were highly positive, although reviewers complained that the game was too difficult and that the game suffered from a focus on style over substance. Regardless, it became a hit and spawned two sequels.
Shadow of the Beast II
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 tragic mood. According to Tim Wright, that melody was derived from a short cue heard in an episode of Miami Vice.
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 any more 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.
The soundtrack of the first Beast game by David Whittaker consists of twelve tracks. They are similar in style and have a new-age like sound.
The track names are:
- Inside the Tree
- The Power Orb
- The Well
- Aarbron's Revenge
- To the Castle
- In the Dark Passages
- Beyond the Mind and Reality
- The Thing
- 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 Beast 2 & 3 was composed and produced by Tim Wright. These titles featured a more extensive soundtrack and utilised ethnic samples taken from among other sources the same Korg M1 synthesizer that was sampled by David Whittaker for the original game (although in this case, it was the rack-mounted version the Korg M1/R).
Beast 2 contained a total of 17 tracks, most notable of which are the title theme and the game over theme, both of which feature real sampled electric guitars.
Beast 3 contained a total of 24 tracks again featuring ethnic instrumentation, but this time dabbling with the addition of some more synthetic sounds. The tracks in neither Beast 2 nor Beast 3 have been formally named by the composer, they are generally referred to by their location within the game.
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. An Atari 8-bit version was in the works in 1990 to be published by Harlequin, but it was never finished due to collapse of the company. The PC-Engine TurboCD 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 renowned for its difficulty, particularly to North American audiences. This is due to an oversight during conversion to the North American region; the original game had a 50 Hz refresh rate, but all North American Sega Genesis games had to have a 60 Hz refresh rate in North America 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 60 Hz, making it run 16.7% faster than the original (this problem is absent when the game is played on a European Mega Drive with 50 Hz 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. The Japanese Mega Drive version ran at the correct speed and 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 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 less difficult 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". These references were supported by cameo versions of the title music from each version, in this case both pieces were arranged by Tim Wright.
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.
- "The Creative Assembly, Ltd." (in German). OGDB. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- YouTube video showing the similarities – the page also includes a reply by Tim Wright (as "Cold Storage") confirming the influence.
- Goss, Steve (2002). "Atari 8bit Projects -- Shadow of the Beast". JetBootJack.com. Archived from the original on 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
- Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (May 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (169): 61–65.