Shadows of the Damned isn’t a very good game the same way Evil Dead 2 isn’t a very good movie. But both of them are awesome. If I didn’t hate getting my controller all buttery, I’d call it a popcorn game.
Shadows comes to us from a sort of Voltron of game developers; Resident Evil 4’s Shinji Mikami and Killer 7’s Suda51 produced the title with Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka in charge of sound. The game was directed by Massimo Guarini, who seems to be best known for a bunch of Tom Clancy andRayman games. Watching the credits, it seems like Shadows was very much an East-West cooperative production, with just as many Western names in the credits as there were Japanese.
Shadows introduces us to Garcia Hotspur, demon hunter. If we’re lucky, this isn’t the last time we’ll hear from him. Garcia’s girlfriend, Paula, is snatched away by the demon lord Fleming. Garcia does what any good boyfriend would do and follows his girlfriend and her captor to the depths of Hell, along with his Johnson.
I mean his friend Johnson.
Johnson is a floating skull that hangs around Garcia, taking on the roles of Garcia’s torch, guns, and even motorcycle during one cut scene (I’m actually surprised they didn’t turn that into a game segment). Together, Garcia and Johnson blast their way through Hell, marching toward Fleming’s castle.
If the name of Garcia’s friend wasn’t a hint on its own, here’s another one. The pistol he turns into is called the Boner. This game has more dick jokes than you can count on twenty-one fingers. Unlike the recent Duke Nukem Forever, though, it gets away with these jokes. Instead of the homophobic and misogynistic tone Duke often takes on, Garcia and Johnson exchange quips with the glee of a teenage boy who’s just figured out what his stuff is for. It could almost be called innocent. Almost. This sort of twisted sense of humor weaves throughout the game and is just one of the ways Suda51’s influence shows itself.
The gameplay is almost purely Mikami-san. The over-the-shoulder gunplay is very much reminiscent of the newer-style Resident Evil games with the addition of a dodge button and the stunning ability to move and shoot at the same time. The aim feels a bit loosey-goosey in comparison to Resident Evil, and I often found myself missing moving targets. It wasn’t enough to break the game, but it didn’t pass unnoticed either.
Suda51’s influence shows up again in a few levels of the game that suddenly shift to a side-scrolling space shooter style. Johnson and Garcia are aware of it and comment on it to good effect, but the fact that there were three separate instances of this made it feel like it was more there to pad the game than anything else. Just once would’ve been artistic, but three times was tedious.
That said, the challenge was surprisingly well-balanced. While I died plenty, it was never enough on one part to elicit much of a reaction. Things moved quickly and boss difficulty was properly tuned for a normal-difficulty-playthrough.
The soundtrack, by Akira Yamaoka, is excellent and very much his style, but at the same time feels a bit inappropriate. The game’s volume level calls for driving rock-guitar squeals—Garcia and Devil May Cry’s Dante probably go to the same concerts. Yamaoka’s soundtrack feels a bit more like chilling with a cup of coffee after a zombie apocalypse. I found myself liking it more as a fan of Yamaoka than in the context of the game.
The only real problem I had with the game was in replayability. The length of the game is about right, but a lack of the New Game+ feature found in so many games hurts. Going back to get extra Achievements isn’t quite as fun when you have to start from scratch, and it makes collecting the red upgrade gems seem rather futile. It’s a fairly minor spot on an otherwise fun game.
Games like Deadly Premonition and Shadows of the Damned are proving that there is room for fun, simple B-grade games, as well as doing a good job reminding us that while Japan isn’t the dominant gaming force it once was, Japanese developers are nowhere near done.
If we’re lucky, Garcia Fucking Hotspur and his Hot Boner will be back again to kick the crap out of Hell.