“Get some Wang” was emblazoned across the box of the 1997 original release proudly announcing the arrival of the main character and pretty much summed up what you could expect from the game. It followed hot on the heels of games like Duke Nukem 3D that parodies eighties action movies while at the same time paying homage to them. The low brow humour and extreme violence placed it firmly into the realms of the free thinking PC community and was a moderate hit back then. Devolver Digital remembered the original so well they decided to produce a remake for the modern generation and hired Flying Wild Hog to do the honours. It wasn’t a bad choice and to be fair they did a pretty good job of it.
Published by Devolver Digital, the game puts you back into the shoes of the original protagonist Lo Wang who works for the organised crime group The Zilla Corporation. He is tasked with retrieving an ancient sword called the Nobitsura Kage. That’s the most you need to know as the plot is pretty secondary to the action. Assisting along the way is a spirit guide that agrees to help called Hoji who has his own suspicious motivations for helping Wang. After a business deal goes wrong in order to obtain the weapon from another criminal gang, Lo gets thrust into a world of ancient magic and demonic foes.
Along the way Lo acquires many weapons to help him, none more iconic than his trusty samurai sword. This is the weapon that he uses to help carve a path through the horde of monstrous creatures and black tie wearing mobsters trying to block his way. There are many more weapons like a hand gun and cross bow to help him but they’re all pretty mundane and as expected from a first person shooter. Upgrading these weapons is fairly simplistic but the limited choices and fiddly options screen made the whole thing a little more laborious than it could have been. So the real highlight is easily the kantana. The sword and how you wield it can be a delight and even skillful at times. Enemies can be sliced up to varying degrees and the direction of the cuts can define exactly how the bad guy is dismembered. However with large amounts of foes, this action becomes a messy affair as you have to begin swinging wildly in a bid to keep up with the onslaught.
The shooting however, is modern in tone but still has an almost retro feel to it. It’s hard to explain but with a crosshair in the middle of the screen it reminds you of the games simplistic beginnings. You can dual wield a gun and then perform a sword swipe if the enemies get a little close but it’s not a guaranteed get out of jail free card. Bad guy AI is surprisingly smart given the retro connotations. Demons dodge your swipes and move from side to side in a bid to stay alive. Ultimately their moves become predictable but at least they aren’t just statically waiting for you to turn them into sushi.
The original did not have a cover system and this re-imagining keeps that tradition intact. Moving and getting to higher ground are your best defenses but you must prioritise your enemy types as the ones who shoot fireballs are very eagle eyed and dodging gets hard when your ground is restricted. This adds to the challenging shooting mechanic and even though you have the power to heal, it’s likely you will die a few times whilst playing.
The games colour palette has an intensely saturated hue. The greens and reds are so bright you may need to borrow the protagonists aviator shades just so you can play it. This gives it a strikingly graphic feel that helps to immediately separate it from reality. The pulp noir comic stylization sits well in the realms of Manga and gave me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. As an avid fan of late eighties to early nineties anime I was instantly intrigued by the style in this game. There is a distinct design that makes it look and feel like a Yoshiaki Kawajiri film. The excessive use of cherry blossom and glowing green bamboo shoots looks like they’ve been ripped straight out of Ninja Scroll. Several characters including Hoji and the black tie mobsters all feel like they’ve been inspired by the classic Wicked City. The setting of mixing demonic and human worlds feels like the main bulk of Kawajiri’s writing but with a protagonist who revels in the violence. This is in no way a bad thing but overuse of environment articles and huge amounts of Cherry Blossom petals do become very tiring to look at. A case of less is more would have been a better rule of thumb but it still looks great.
Other environmental objects like cars, bikes and bins are repeated ad nauseum and it’s clear to see that some corners were cut so as to not waste too much time. Flying Wild Hog did an amazing job with such a small team but it does begin to feel like a game from five years ago rather than a 2013 release. Luckily the crude humour and excessive violence are just enough to keep you distracted for the duration of the campaign.
On highest settings the game made my powerful laptop graphics card scream and really pushed it due to all the tiny bells and whistles they have inserted into the world. This is not required though and a sacrifice in graphical fidelity improved the smoothness and at 60fps this game really comes to life. Movement speed is incredibly fast and keeps the pace during the action sequences exhilarating. Levels are quite linear and it’s never difficult to find your way. It’s restrictive but allows for some fast pace action sequences, so it can be forgiven. When entering new areas however there were some paused loading times which I sometimes found to be distracting. A ying yang loading sign appears in certain places and freezes gameplay which suggest that the final level of Polish was missing.
Between areas you must negotiate bamboo forests that become tiresome and even with the great graphics, still feel like filler. It’s during these moments that the games pacing sags like a fully filled nappy. It’s a shame as when the game really kicks off it can be a blast. The developers have also paid a lot of fan service and throughout the levels you will be reminded of the original in many jocular ways. In a time when gaming is shifting ever closer to the edge of intellectual pretentiousness, this is a breath of fresh sophomoric air. The plot, although bordering on the ridiculous has a jovial side that knowingly winks at you while you play. It continually pokes fun at itself and the original on a regular basis which keeps things light and stops you questioning the motivations of the characters too much. Lo Wang especially comes off as being more of a Bruce Campbell type B Movie star than an A lister in a real stinker of a franchise (Milla Jojovich anyone?).
Shadow Warrior is a great retro shooter dragged into modern times that regularly thrills and occasionally stumbles. Mechanics are solid but the majority of it is predictable and nothing new. The plot is interesting and non linear but a final level of polish and some really dull bamboo maze/ style exploration keeps it back from being the classic it really wants to be. However it is still great and worth playing for lovers of the classic and newcomers alike.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PC Release Date: 11/10/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Shadow Warrior for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 7 days on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.