As with movies, games that were remade from an older title fall into two categories: epic or fail. Shadow Warrior takes the material from the unrepentantly indecent original and sculpts it into an experience that adds to and surpasses the original. And the way they did it is what makes this so awesome; Shadow Warrior uses the same corny sense of humor, but tempers it with a snarky, demonic sidekick. Devolver Digital has recreating an old washed-up title down to a process as simple as “give it to Flying Wild Hog.”
When SW kicks off, you main character is driving down the street listening to The Touch by Stan Bush. People seem to like those songs from the 80’s, but not everything out of that era is worthy of remembrance. Shit, not much out of the 80’s and even some of the 90’s is worth remembering, so this guy listening to some shitty 80’s music in a badass car on the way to a deal is a little off-putting. Honestly, at first I was like, “God, please don’t tell me that’s the main character.” But this game is filled with demons, so despite my pleas of “don’t make me play this guy”, I was forced to play as Lo Wang. I let out a nervous giggle and soldiered on. Of course, this was the only thing that I, as a gamer, found distasteful about the game. Its humor, on the other hand, is another story entirely. If I were asian, I might be pretty deeply insulted by most parts of this game, but the way the game also makes fun of the original seems an attempt to apologize for it.
As with most games, the first level gives you an idea of what to expect, and it is fucking awesome. It’s about an hour worth of slicing enemies to tiny pieces with a katana as they shriek and gush blood all over the carpet. Your katana behaves like a magical limb-detaching wand, and at first I was really surprised by how horrible and gory the game is. That lasted about 10 seconds before I was laughing my ass off at how ridiculous it really was. 2 parts Tarantino, 2 parts Jet Li and all Wang, baby. It also displays how good at hiding shit in plain sight FWH really is. At one point there is a statue behind glass in one of the main corridors, and I walked past it wondering why it was the only glowing statue in the whole place. This statue is one of several types of collectibles that the game hides from you: money statues, bowls of blood, Ki Crystals and fortune cookies.
The statues give you money, but are not the only source of funds. The other source is an ancient chinese method called “finding that shit lying around.” As you collect money, the game totals it and lets you use it to buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons. There are 3 different upgrades per weapon with 6 upgradable weapons: a pistol, machinegun, shotgun, crossbow, flamethrower, rpg. One of the things I love about this game is a logical conundrum that I call the “Dimensional Sphincter Improbability”. Essentially, unless you have a magical asshole that also links to an alternate dimension where you store all your weapons, it’s highly fucking improbable that you can carry an arsenal this vast. Hard Reset, FWH’s inaugural title, solved this issue by making these weapons varying configurations of the same two weapons. Shadow Warrior just stores these weapons in an off-screen pocket dimension that follows Lo Wang around at all times. Of course, this game makes no apologies, and why should it? It is a remake of an old, less-than-classic game. Fuck logic. Your first weapon, though, is the best. The katana is an awesome part of this game, and you start the game dicing people up and flinging shuriken. There is one problem with all of this. The money has the square hole, which is distinctly Chinese, but the katana and shuriken were weapons of Japanese origin. This game is a bizarre cultural amalgamation of two cultures. Maybe the enemies in the next game will come from Korean lore?
Next, you have the bowls of blood. This part makes me a little uneasy, and I filed it under “shit I won’t think about too much.” Every once in a while, you will come across a secretly ensconced bowl of blood suspended by demonic power on a spiked shrine built of the corpses of your enemies victims. So, naturally the first thing you do is drink it. At least, I assume you do, and I am pretty sure it is never outwardly stated exactly what Wang does with it, but what else is there to do with it? Rub it all over your body? Either way, you get these bowls and they grant you Karma, which, in turn, is used to upgrade yourself with all kinds of abilities. I spent the most of my first karma points on Ki attacks with my sword, which are badass attacks that allow you to cut through demons like lightly-chilled tofu. These attacks are rewarding as fuck, too. Get off a good divider of the heavens attack and your enemies basically explode while is great for taking off legs. Your enemies will crawl off a bit, which makes it easy to deal with their friends then come back for the karma of beheading them, too.
Ki crystals are giant crystals that glow with ki power, something that fuels the demons’ magic. Luckily, it also allows you to use Ki powers like self-healing or making a defensive bubble. While not overtly useful, if used properly the powers become as deadly as the attacks. Each of these collectibles allow you to buy new weapons, powers and abilities that make gameplay deeper and more entertaining. The best part is that the abilities flow perfectly from gameplay, and the controls are beautifully intuitive. As soon as I had the abilities mapped to my brain and the controls, I was ripping through enemies. When I was finished, their army was measured in liters rather than kilograms.
Finally, there are these fortune cookies. Each of them gives you 5 health, which is nice, and then slips you a Confucius-style joke that will make you face-palm so many times your head will turn black-and-blue. Generally, the humor of this game is pretty terrible, and it would even get to a point that is indecent, but the demon in your head makes it a little better. He is an ancient, which is some kind of immortal asian demon. The one you befriend is named Hoji, and he was banished from the shadow realm. His story is one of Romeo and Juliet turned Pygmalion and Galatea, but with a dark twist. He provides some comedic levity to balance your character’s ego a little. With Hoji by your side, there is someone to keep Lo Wang from being the same person he was in the first game. At one point he even says “Sorry, I used to be a prick.” In the context of the game, he could be referring to his recent personal catharsis, but it also feels like a reference to that previous life. Given the fact that this game also has more Easter eggs than grocery stores in late March, it’s not too much of a stretch.
Your enemies are also a throwback to that old time, when Nukem was the duke and consoles were for kiddies. Many times, this game just throws you into fights where you are like “o shit I’m gonna die” and the entire time I was having flashbacks to plays of Descent and Doom. Your first enemies are humans, but the game is fast to switch them out for an army of demons. And those old games seemed to have a habit of throwing demons in as a foe for shooters. I mean, look at Quake. I had no fucking clue what the fuck I was even fighting, and the recent(ish) Quake 4 changed over to aliens instead of demonic foes. Honestly, whatever. Shadow Warrior made it cool to kill demons again and gave me as much of a thrill as Bioshock did. Then there are these massive bosses that the game throws at you. I played a little Duke Nukem Forever, and the giant-boss battles were just a little too… Duke. They seemed so focused on the fact that the boss was massive and it played well enough, but it was just uninteresting. Just felt like I was firing bullets into a river to dam in an attempt to damn it shut. I didn’t feel badass, just felt like damage control. Boss battles in this game follow a sort of rhythm and you can measure your progress visually. You also feel badass at the end for taking down this giant enemy. It doesn’t feel one bit frustrating and is well done. The battles are the same method as those found in Hard Reset, and I greatly enjoyed them.
Alongside the enemies, the game takes numerous flares from old-style games, like the card-key search. Back in the days of Doom, it was standard procedure to be sent out after a set of keys to the complex you were running and gunning through. Lo Wang finds himself running through arenas of foes searching for colored shrines to destroy in order to get past mystical demon seals. It really brought me home, and I feel like this is an experience that new gamers will enjoy while old gamers can get all nostalgic. On top of all this, Shadow Warrior had a spin-off game with Viscera Clean-up Detail: Shadow Warrior. That is another indie gold mine and a lot of fun, so check it out.
Every ounce of this game screams with a righteous fire that burns through every expectation that I had. It is a vein-bursting experience with fun gameplay, amazing music and a storyline that plays an artful, melodramatic chord against the game’s wang-fueled humor. The game is ridiculous and over-the-top in a way that made old kung-fu movies so popular. It doesn’t matter that this game is goofy and ridiculous, it is still a lot of fun, and in a lot of ways it is a shrine to the old generations of PC games and a fist-bump to their players. It almost feels like I just sat down with the developers, had a few beers and talked about the “good old days of PC gaming” and how gamers nowadays wouldn’t understand. This they would understand. And it is really something special, even though it is so, so ridiculous. Not to mention, the game leaves one of its main enemies wide open for a sequel. Zilla, your former employer and demonically-enhanced lunatic, escapes in a helicopter. You slice the other guy’s throat, though, so you get that satisfaction. This game is 39.99$ on Steam, and I whole-heartedly endorse paying this money. I got the game when it was on sale, so I lucked out, but it is a title you are guaranteed to enjoy.
With all that being said, the thing that boils my blood over this game is its developers. Seriously! How dare they make something so good! This sets fucking standards! They literally have made 3 fucking games. FUCKING 3! A game where you shred through hordes of demonic minions with righteous blazing fury, one where you blow your way through level after level of robotic minions that are spliced with human bodies and … a game starring a pink panda and a yellow lizard. Ok, so that last one is still in development, but I am totally fucking serious. These guys should be given some other old-school titles to revive, like SiN or Blake Stone! I feel like the only fucking guy that even remembers Blake and his battles with Aliens of Gold! Shit! Oh well, I am sure all that is just around the corner, Devolver Digital just needs more money for properties acquisition. I wish I could just give them money. LoL! Be so much easier than waiting for games to come out.