The Horror-Adventure genre hasn't been too prolific on the N64, to say the least. Until recently, N64 owners thirsting for battle with demons, vampires, etc. haven't had much to choose from. There was the fun but troubled Castlevania 64 and then we have the abysmal Nightmare Creatures and believe me, Castlevania gets old pretty quick. Along comes Acclaim's Shadowman. While not the first in it's niche on Nintendo's fabled "fun machine", it is arguably the best.
Before I go any further, I must say that Shadowman has quite possibly the most horrific and engrossing story that I have ever come across in this type of game. Acclaim has obviously taken to heart the adage "talent borrows, genious steals." Shadowman plays like a cross between Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Castlevania 64, and Silent Hill. The game offers an enthralling experience in terror that is delivered flawlessly with both atmosphere and story. I order you to take the time to read the manual and watch the cinematic cut scenes for a horrific noirish treat.
You are Mike LeRoi. The Shadowman. The Walker Between Worlds. The Main Character With Nifty Pseudonyms. Under the control of the Voodoo priestess Nettie, you are the latest in a great line of Shadowmen that must fight to protect the world from outworldly creatures ("Hello? Turok? Do you mind if we borrow something?"). In this case, a demon by the name of Legion has assembled an army of "dark souls" with which he plans to bring about apocalypse. It's up to Shadowman to travel from Liveside (our world) to Deadside (where everyone goes when they die) and back again all the while thwarting Legion's sinister plans.
You start off in Liveside. The swamps surrounding New Orleans, to be exact. This world is filled with rotting churches, submerged boathouses containg voodoo artificfacts, shapeshifting guard dogs, and other disturbing and/or unsettling sights of swamp life. Here you are given a handgun and your dead brother's teddy bear, which allows you passage between the two worlds. Although you don't see much action here at first, the landscape in itself is enough to draw you into the game.
Deadside is filled with gothic architecture mixed with a hint of human anatomy. The wastelands that you first encounter are fraught with dark souls that are just screaming for forgiveness. And what could be a better tool for redemption than the Shadowgun which is physically identical to the handgun, but fires screaming wraiths rather than bullets. Good heathenish fun.
The graphics are very good to begin with and even better with the expansion pack. The Shadowman engine allows an amazingly lengthy line of sight with no visible draw-in or polygonal as far as the eye can see (which I'll reiterate is astoundingly far). The character models are decidedly low-poly, but move quite fluidly and give a great abstract feel to the game's more endearing characters. The enemies that you encounter showcase this same visual style and are just plain odd. Frightening, but odd.
Sound is important to delivering the right atmospheric experience in this kind of game and Shadowman delivers. Acclaim loves you long time and has given Shadowman some of the best music ever heard on the N64. It not only helps to convey a sense of terror, but also a certain sadness that lingers over Mike's quest that I refuse to give away. The sound effects and voice-overs are also well done. The "screaming wraiths" that are fired from the Shadowgun are very convincing (Yes! I do believe that I am firing screaming wraiths!). The screams of torment that eminate from your enemies are a bit scary, but you feel better after liberating them in cloud of bloody meatiness.
The gameplay all boils down to run and gun, find keys, open doors, jump over obstacles, kill enemies, repeat. Luckily tight control and all of the great bells and whistles that I mentioned before help this game from sliding into mediocrity.
Now I do have some complaints about Shadowman, but they are few and far between. The graphics occasionally create some awkward looking characters (especially in the cut scenes) and, for the most part, lack the polish that could've made them great. The polygons' seams occasionaly split and can cause poor Mike to get stuck in walls or boxes. Slowdown can cause a few problems especially in hi-res mode and when facing off multiple enemies, but not many. Finally, the game plays in a non-linear fashion which is welcome in this genres, but it takes some getting used to, and can cause confusion for the casual gamer.
Bottom line: This game is, in my opinion, the best of it's kind on the N64. Fans of Castlevania or Nightmare Creatures should pick this one up without hesitation. Though it's not perfect, it trys as hard as it can. Standing ovation.
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