Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
Okay, goat face! To fulfil your destiny and kill the Beast Lord, you must battle your way through several different regions inhabited by hostile creatures created by foul sorcery. It’ll take every ounce of your superhuman strength to punch, kick and shoot your way to the Beast Lord’s stronghold deep in the forest.
Needless to say, contact with creatures depletes your strength. Luckily, potions and weapons can be found to aid your quest.
The game opens with you on that famous, parallax-packed open field. It seems you have a choice of directions: down a well, right to a castle, or left to a tree and an entrance into the labyrinth. However, the latter (from which the well is an escape route) must be explored first to find objects required for the castle. The labyrinth is a huge series of underground caverns to keep mapping fanatics happy for weeks. Other features include locked doors, (and keys of course), tentacles and claws that pop down or up at the most unfortunate moments and plenty of wildlife.
Although combat is fairly standard, the game’s lifted out of the standard monotonous shoot/beat-’em-up mould by the sheer variety of the creatures, which are beautifully drawn and animated in both versions. You encounter dragons that you just punch to kill, insects to leap over, flying demons to either kill with a leaping kick or duck under, and much more. Once underground there’s the added hazard of various cliffs and crevasses to jump down or across — careful not to fall too far, and beware of the spikes.
Of course, with two versions of the same game being released by two different companies, comparisons are inevitable. Besides, I bet all you lucky joypad pounders with Sega Mega Drives with Master System Converters are wondering which to buy. Well wonder no more...
The first thing you notice is they’ve captured the feel of the original. There may not be as many levels of parallax scrolling but it’s close — the MS version looks just as technically stunning as the original did on a 16-bit computer. The weird graphic imagination of the sprites and backdrops has been nicely captured. Then when you start exploring the maze the four-way scrolling is silky smooth, while graphic flicker is nonexistent.
But Tecmagik haven’t been content simply to work graphic miracles in a straight conversion; they’ve actually set out to improve the game!
There are minor enhancements such as the way the main sprite’s chest actually moves as he breathes and the way the hearts showing your lives beat on-screen. This all adds to tension but yes, I did say lives there’s three now which — together with the elimination of tedious disk-accessing — massively decreases the frustration level.
Other thoughtful touches include the fact that you’ve got an inventory, so eight objects can be carried and used whenever you want. In the Amiga game you often had to use potions as soon as you collected them, and there was only one type of key, one way of approaching every problem. In MS Beast there’s several different keys, and red herrings to decoy you — more of a game in short. Playability is also enhanced by end-level baddies being a bit less tough than their frustratingly difficult Amiga counterparts.
As before, power-ups are ‘hidden’ in mounds of stone, chests, barrels, etc. and include keys, weapons and potions that restore all or part of your strength (plus a few poisoned ones that are less helpful!).
On the negative side, I could have done without the Sci-Fi bits which mar both games; the missiles and high-tech hardware in the castle clash with the overall mythical, magical feel. Nevertheless this is a classic example of just how to do a conversion and highly recommended.
A great conversion breathes new life into the Psygnosis classic
Shadow Of The Beast was a landmark game for both the Amiga and Psygnosis, the software house behind it. Forget the big price tag, the superlative presentation, the awesome sonics, Beast wowed everyone with layer upon layer of parallax scrolling, creating a uniquely impressive graphic sensation. Demo-ing in shop windows it sold Amigas and Psygnosis games by the crate-load. The only flaw was gameplay — beneath the jaw-dropping graphics lay a stunningly conventional arcade-adventure.
A strong part of the original's appeal was a grim tale of mystical evil-doings. The beastly hero started life as a normal baby but was swiped and taken to the temple Necropolis. Here, a series of rituals transformed him into the Warrior-Messenger of the Beast, a hideous creature with incredible strength and agility. Hypnosis removed his earlier memories — until his sacrificed father's screams brought them flooding back. Suddenly he knew who he was, who had turned him into the creature, and that he must have his revenge!
As you would expect, the 16-bit version benefits from improved background detail and increased layers of parallax scrolling, which make for a pretty close copy of the Amiga original. Unfortunately it’s not the game to bash Amiga owners with.
Although the lack of horrendous disk-accessing makes it undoubtedly better, there are embarrassing omissions: the superbly atmospheric intro has gone (to save memory presumably) and the awesome David Whittaker soundtrack is but a shadow of its former self. To add insult to injury a great scene-setting short story has been chopped to just a page and has been severely toned down, so much so that it reads more like the blurb for an Enid Blyton book. To be honest this flaw is also likely to afflict the MS manual, which we haven’t seen yet, but it’s still disappointing.
All these failings hit hard at the ‘specialness’ of the game, and the one serious enhancement, a great screen-wiggling teleport effect, isn’t enough to compensate.
Electronic Arts have also neglected to adopt Tecmagik’s game improvement — there’s no inventory, potions must be used when collected and there’s just one life. The original-style graphics remain stunning — watch out for the spiders in the castle! — but I do miss the MS’s beating heart and breathing Beast.
Moaning aside, the 16-bit version is a darned good game. It is fast, the graphics are well drawn and animated, and the programming is top-notch. It’s just that the computer game on which it’s based is getting a bit long in the tooth, and although the programming is tighter, no attempt has been made to seriously update the gameplay. Tecmagik’s programmers have done just as good a job, but with more of a feel for the game — the 8-bit version gives an incredible feeling of danger that’s sadly absent in its big brother. Also, they’ve done a superb job of bringing it up to date. Given the choice, I can honestly say I prefer the MS game.
A professional conversion of a somewhat dated game