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Shadow Tower
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1-2
Developer:  Agetec
Features:  Vibration Function
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  2 blocks
Let's get this out of the way first: Shadow Tower is not a game for everyone. It runs on From Software's ancient King's Field engine, and moves only slightly faster than KF II, there's no music in the one-player game, save for the intro and demo screens, there's no way to run at all while playing, and combat can get downright frustrating at times. With that said, I found myself unable to stop playing this game, no matter how many times I died, thanks to the excellent way the game is designed. Shadow Tower is the closest thing to a dungeon simulation that you can buy on the Playstation, if that's your thing!

While the game's story isn't incredibly deep (there's evil in that tower, many have tried to stop it, no one has, it's your turn), the tower itself is! The levels are MASSIVE and quite well crafted, and even the most experienced RPG fan will probably end up with a few hand-drawn maps and notes of his/her own. There are dozens of hidden areas and secrets to be found, if you can survive long enough to actually find them all- fortunately, you keep an automatic record of all the items and monsters you'll come across, which will help a lot in your quest.

Graphically, the game is a big improvement over the last King's Field game, but even though it isn't part of the series, fans will recognize some variations a few of the monsters that inhabited the Isle of Verdite. The game has a sepia-toned, slightly photo-realistic feel to it, and when you find and light your first torch, you'll see a nice lighting effect that lasts as long as the torch stays lit (although, it's not a good thing to be in a room full of monsters when this happens, so stock up when you can!). There are quite a lot of different textures in the seven "worlds" that make up the game, and you'll end up doing lots of backtracking, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes on purpose, so after a while, you learn what's what, as far as exits and such. A few times, the game will trick you into thinking you've progressed somewhat, but just when you become overconfident, you make a mistake, and end up back at a location you've seen before, or worse, in an area that is full of higher level monsters with fearsome power... That's when you take a deep breath, steel your nerves, and hope you saved your game at the last stone! There's a great deal of fear present in the game- just as if you were in such a hellish place, there is no heroic music to herald your arrival, or pump you up as you slay a room full of the fast, dreaded skeleton fighters. All you hear is the assorted oozing and roars of your foes, the clash of weapon on flesh, bone, or metal, your footsteps in the dim halls, and some really strange voices- which always seem to come when nothing else is around, and your nerves are shot. You're kept on your toes constantly, and after an hour or two of this, playing the game in the dark, you might be ready to sleep with all the lights on in the house! Some will gripe about the lack of tunes, but have you ever played a little PC game called Half-Life? That game uses sound exclusively to create varying moods, and it works just fine!

I haven't talked too much about the monsters, but I'll say this much- the good folks at From Software must have some incredible nightmares! Some of the creature designs are more frightening than the weirder ones in the Resident Evil series, and turning a corner, only to find a room full of giant rotting skulls, half covered in pulsing green ooze, exhaling acid gas, had me yelping like a kicked puppy! You'll really grow used to the bestiary after a while, but I'll imagine your primary response will be to want to get the hell out of the general vicinity, and I don't blame you one bit! As you come across them, each momster is listed in a "monster book", as i said earlier. While this may seem a bit silly- it actually helps a great deal, as monsters in a given area that you've not yet encountered will be listed, along with their HP, strengths and weaknesses. The game is so hard, that you'll appreciate this touch, and knowing your enemy has never been so important as in a game such as this!

You are not alone in your adventure- occasionally, you'll come across a dead body or some cryptic writing scrawled on the dungeon walls- hints to your quest, or possibly the ramblings of other doomed adventurers? There are also a few helpful "people' who provide you with clues and sometimes items to assist you, but a few of them are a little unfriendly, like the "shop" keeper who bum rushes you out automatically, if you don't have any cunes (currency in the game), or when you do, asks you to hurry up so you don't "stink up my shop"! Ouch. Another great thing about the game is along with battling monsters, you also have to watch your gear- your weapons and items will get damaged and break with repeated usage, adding even more strategy to this game. Occasionally, you'll find an item called Dorado's Ashes, which repairs all your stuff, but later on, you have to find a shop that exchanges HP for repairs... a tough choice at times!

Combat is the same as in the KF games, with three differences- two good, the other not so good! The good ones are that you can use simple button combos now, to strike and defend, use magic and strike, etc., and now you can equip backup items in separate slots, allowing for quicker access to spare swords and shields- nice! The bad is the game's main sticking point- you can't run at all! You only have a basic steady stride, which is quick enough to use battling most of the creatures, but there are a couple of times when you want to strafe quickly, or run past a swinging evil leech casting Dark at you, but I guess that From pushed the engine to it's limits, and decided to leave the speed as is. You'll get used to it, if you stick with it, though! Analog control is non-existent, but the game uses the Vibration Function extremely well- walk down a flight of stairs, or climb a stone altar, and the Dual Shock thumps appropriately- you feel the force of jumping down different heights, as well as the blows from monsters (if you're that unfortunate!).

There's a funny two-player VS mode, in which each player inserts a memory card, and battles for items using monsters defeated in the game. It's like Pokemon, but created by Tim Burton! There's even some cheesy (but well-done) fighting game music to go along with the action! It's no Tekken (not even close!), but it should provide a break from all the doom and gloom of the single-player game. Again, I'll admit it- Shadow Tower is not for everyone, and I'm sure the pro mags will have a grand old time tearing this one apart, but fans of all things dark and disturbing, as well as PC gamers who dig stuff like Witchaven, Deathkeep, and the like will spend many, many hours roaming these halls! If you don't hear from me again at Gametour, you'll have a good idea of where to find me....

Greg Wilcox

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