* Garcia Hotspur and Johnson - Best Character of 2011
Prepare to be shocked, surprised and engrossed in Grasshopper's hyper-demented tale of one man's journey to hell and back. With Johnson in hand, Garcia Hotspur heads into hell to take on the armies of darkness.
'Shadows of the Damned' is one of those one-of-a-kind releases that come along every once and awhile. Call it a diamond in the rough or an experiment in the absurd. One thing is for sure, “Shadows” is an original. A love or hate type of experience that will either leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, or wanting more. Although this shouldn't be too surprising when you consider Grashopper's past record of uniquely bizarre titles like the Wii hit 'No More Heroes.' Collaborated by Suda51 (Goichi Suda) and creatively produced by 'Shinji Mikami' (Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, Vanquish) anything is possible.
A Punk Rock Thriller?
“Shadows” is labelled a “punk rock thriller,” or in our world, a survival horror action shooter. The emphasis is on all out battles with a strong narrative for the odd. It's Suda's 'Sid and Nancy' love story with themes of perversion, sexuality, brutality and horror. True, 'Shadows of the Damned' is demented and dark. However, the content is handled with an uncanny sense of juvenile humour that makes the content more bizarre than horrific. If you have played a “Suda” game in the past, “Shadows” is very much a “Suda” title, which explains a lot. For those not in the “know,” you're in for a treat.
Featuring the hot-blooded demon hunter 'Garcia Hotspur' who is on a rescue mission to save the only woman who can tame him, his girlfriend Paula. Paula, who is killed and kidnapped by 'Fleming - The Lord of Demons,' is held up in Fleming's domain, the 'City of Damned,' and as you can imagine, this search and rescue endeavor is not going to be easy. For originality, 'Shadows of the Damned' takes a cue from 'Dante's Inferno,' however, “Shadows” delivery is on a level all its own. Unlike the beat em' up 'Dante's Inferno' that was also published by EA. “Shadows” plays out more like a survival horror shooter, very linear and a billion times more bizarre.
As the narrative of this twisted love story pushes forward, you will notice that "Shadows" has a juvenile tilted sense of humour, pressed up against some serious sexual undertones. Simply put, "Shadows" is off its rocker! This game is extremely funny, mixed with sexual innuendoes and odd, yet hilarious situations; which is all painted up in the macabre. Beginning with sights of demons with a Spanish guitar strumming a minor arrangements, within seconds, "Shadows" showcases its unique flair that continues to flow throughout the project. From the initial levels to the final showdown, no one can say 'Shadows of the Damned' doesn’t have a personality because it does, and it's flowing out of every orifice. This is one game that can keep your interest from start to finish, continuing to surprise and full of great moments.
A Stiffly Sound Johnson
'Garcia Hotspur' is one hell monkey killing machine. All tatted up with a bad attitude, Hotspur is that over-the-top character who needs to be represented in modern gaming. Garcia's sidekick chatterbox is a transforming demon-stick named 'Johnson' who takes the shape of Garcia's demon-killing arsenal. Johnson also plays a major role in providing much of the comic relief as he guides Garcia through the land of the dead.
Johnsons' weapon shifts are variations on the typical assortment of weapons (Pistol, Shotgun, Machine Gun, Melee Weapon.) All with their own 'Shadows of the Damned' flair. After collecting "Blue Gems," 8 main transformations will also take place enhancing the abilities and physical appearance of each weapon. The main adjustment is an alternative mode of fire, like making your main pistol, the 'Boner,' turn into the 'Hot Boner,' with its “sticky explosive payload." Other upgrades can be made by collecting “illegal red gems” that increase each weapons statistics such as increasing the damage, capacity, and reload speed and more. You can also spend these points to improve your light shot (I’m getting to this,) your health and torch form. Powering up your armaments and character is crucial to cut through some of the trickier spots during your adventure.
A Shopkeeping Monster
You'll also meet up with a travelling shopkeeper of sorts named Christopher. The southern sounding shopkeeper who is half demon and half human. Christopher loves to eat White Gems, which he then turns into purchase items such as Drinks, Ammo and upgrading Red Gems. There is an achievement/trophy for collecting 300 White Gems, which you might want to snag while defiling the demons of the underworld.
A Resident in a Bizarre World
Into the underworld you will be constantly dealing with demon tricks. The Lord of the Damned is one sick individual, so you will need to use your wits and aiming skills to save your true love. This includes lighting goat heads, feeding baby-faced doors strawberries, eyeballs and brains, defeating a hulking demon with a harmonica stuck in its mouth and the implausible continues. Even when you think you have things figured out, “Shadows” will throw another bizarre twist in. Like I stated above, "Shadows" is filled with great moments, start to finish.
The mechanics, however, don't change too much once you get into the formula. Levels are linear and there are usually several doors to unlock, simple light/dark shooting puzzles and a boss to defeat. From a gameplay perspective things are fairly straight forward, go figure. For a comparison, 'Resident Evil 4' would be an easy pick. If you're looking for drawbacks, it would be the lack of exploration, especially after Grasshopper careful crafted such an interesting damned world. It's a shame we can't see more than the corridors and dark walls.
A Bright Light will Help
The other component in “Shadows” is its play on light and darkness. When darkness comes in, “G,” as Johnson calls him will have to find a light source because a) demons are invulnerable in the dark; and worse, b) your health will quickly start drain, causing death. When a light source (frequently a goat candelabra) is ignited with a flare, the darkness will fade. However, darkness sticks to demons, so they must also be shot with a light flare to once again to make them venerable; then it's onto the bones and teeth weaponry. The darkness also works its way into puzzles that indulge you to briskly find a solution to the common sequence of switches or sometimes a boss battle. The light/darkness dynamic really quickens the pace of this shooter making it even more frantic when the darkness creeps in. Without this concept, “Shadows” would be nothing more than another oddball shooter, so thankfully everything meshes together to create an innovative showing.
A Tribute to the Old School
Rooted in an older school of games is Garcia's health situation. To his disappointment, there is no rechargeable auto-shield, making you find or purchase replenishment health that comes as booze. Drinks come in three varieties, and strengths: Sake, Tequila and Absinthe. The action, when kicked in, is fast frantic and crazy, and the health and darkness addition only amplifies this. The animations are slightly robotic in their movements making the demons and even the hero seem a little bit stiff, yet passable. “Shadows” has the feel of an old style game, which could be compared to 'No More Heroes.'
Additionally, there is no 'Auto Aim,' making it a little bit tricky, if you have become accustomed to the spoils of this feature. Really, the same theory applies to "Shadows" as any other game. Shoot the head, shoot off limbs, just shoot and the demons and they will go down. I found the controls to be a little jerky, but something that you quickly get used to. If you are concerned, the options let you tweak the gameplay slightly. Furthermore, the camera is placed very close to Garcia's shoulder, removing visibility in certain situations. This is old 3rd person action game curse, we'll all been here before.
A Creation Build on Experience
The graphical/audio contribution to “Shadows” helps build up the horror atmosphere. Graphically things are a little rough, however, this is where design shines enough to make you forget about the low quality of some of the work. The creature design and levels are interesting enough to keep you wondering what is around the next corner while having you fear some of the bigger adversaries. Trumping the extraordinary job at art design is superb audio production that is both hypnotically pleasing and shrieking horrific (in a good way.) Composers Akira Yamaoka (No More Heroes, Silent Hill) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Silent Hill) lend their talents to the project and it shows. The ambiance noise/sounds in “Shadows” truly help to bring out the experience. This includes serviceable voice-work (gold star to Johnson – voiced by Greg Ellis) that fits the project along with a brilliantly produced soundtrack. Given the source material, I think Grasshopper did a remarkable job working with the new hardware.
A Few Carefuly Placed Extra's
For extra's, “Shadows” has a few “alternative” modes that come in after the half-way mark. One is a shooting gallery of sorts with an extended 'Big Boner' cannon. Following that you actually take part in a side-scrolling shooter. These "paper-craft" styled sections cleverly incorporate the light/dark elements from the game while offering up some variety into the mix. Thankfully, Grasshopper knows to quit while they are ahead and doesn't over abuse thier little "diversions."
Additionally, 'Shadows of the Damned' takes some time out for some morbid story-telling that gives some incite into each boss character. These macabre “fairy tale” influenced books like 'The Legend of Stinky Crow' are cleverly written and provide a nice breather from the bloodshed. The only inclusion I believe Grasshopper missed was a new game+ feature where we could take our upgraded character back into hell on a harder difficulty. Aside from gathering achievements/trophies, there is no real reason to play through this one more than once.
'Shadows of the Damned' is a primordially charged adventure into hell with sexuality and violence turned up to 10. Pleasantly disturbing, humorously shockingly and never boring, gamers with an acceptance for the weird will want to have this game in their collection. Obviously, “Shadows” isn't going to be for everyone, but if don't mind playing with your Johnson, this one you're likely never to forget. Hooveezah! Odevazzaaa!