Shadow Warrior is the newest release by Polish developer Flying Wild Hog. It’s a remake of the ’97 release of the same name by 3D Realms, who are the same guys who brought you Duke Nukem. I was blissfully unaware of this when I picked the game up, but as soon as the story’s protagonist Lo Wang started spouting obscenities and poorly-constructed witticisms, I thought “Wow, he’s like a shitty, vaguely racist Duke Nukem.” What drew me to this game was the promise of awesome sword fighting and hacking countless hoards of demons to death as I cut a swath of destruction through hell and back. The game falls flat on the former while delivering on the latter- sort of.
Lo Wang is a mercenary ninja/bodyguard under the employ of a multi-billionaire businessman referred to as ‘Master Zilla’. You are tasked with retrieving the Nobitsura Kage, a powerful sword and ancient relic. This seems a simple enough task, though before long you realize it will be much harder to accomplish than you first thought. It turns out that Zilla isn’t the only one after the sword- several powerful shadow beings with hoards of terrible demon minions at their command also have their eyes on the weapon. The Nobitsura Kaga is the only weapon that can destroy a shadow being and, surprise- the REAL sword is actually in three pieces that are spread conveniently across 17 levels.
After hacking and slashing your way through hoards of greater and lesser demons across a multitude of areas which have been consumed by the mindless violence of said enemies, you come to find that your boss is actually bent on conquering Japan by harnessing the power of the Nobitsura Kage to his own ends, and that he must be defeated in order to restore peace.
Before I get into what irked me about the game, I’d like to say this- the levels look, for the most part, very nice. The cherry blossoms float delicately in the wind as blood splatters in every direction from the severed head of a terrifying-looking demon. The levels are detailed, albeit extremely linear in most cases, and I feel Flying Wild Hog did a good job of creating an atmosphere of a bad kung-fu movie rife with cliché Japanese imagery (which, as I understand, was their intent).
No amount of pretty backgrounds can make up for the fact that by the time you’ve saved Japan from domination and the world from demon infestation, you’ve hacked through the same demons roughly ten-million times. By the time I was on chapter 9 of 17 I was thoroughly bored of effortlessly breezing my way through what was essentially the same fight over and over and over again. There’s a dozen or less types of enemies you face (don’t quote me on that figure, I didn’t keep a tally) throughout the game, not including the boss fights. Every area follows the same formula: walk into a room, fight 15-20 lesser demons and maybe a greater demon or two, collect the obscene amount of ammo, healthpacks, and secrets, then proceed to the next area.
The fighting itself is pretty bad, and I am perplexed by Flying Wild Hogs insistence on constantly giving me more guns and gun upgrades, when all I want to do is stab and slash enemies in the face. The shooting element is pretty standard (as are the guns), but the gimmick is the sword, right? Well, for a game in which you’re going to want to do a lot of sword fighting, I feel the sword itself was poorly implemented. I tried using both a keyboard and mouse configuration as well as a controller, and I’d have to say the keyboard is the way to go. If you’re trying to use the controller, you’ll find yourself frustrated as you try again and again to use this ability or that one only to have Lo Wang swing his sword feebly to no effect.
In order to use a special ability, you need to combine directional input with the left or right shoulder buttons, charge the attack and release.. which is fine if everything stood completely still, but trying to implement them while you’re running around the area dodging projectiles and claw-swipes is an exercise in futility. The keyboard controls are better, but not by a whole lot. One thing that really irked me was that for the controller, the X button just wipes off your sword with your hand. Nothing more. WHY am I entering the Konami code for every damn attack when you’ve got a perfectly good button being wasted!?
Running in itself is also apparently a bit more exercise than Lo Wang can handle. You get the ability to shift in any direction like a quick lunge, and if you hold the button you begin sprinting.. for roughly 3 seconds before your stamina is depleted. For a supposedly bad-ass ninja-bodyguard, this guy is out of shape. I can understand that stamina is a resource to be carefully employed in battle, but when traversing the levels this leads to what I’ve affectionately termed “hump-jumping” down hallways and through facilities. It’s almost exactly as dignified as it sounds.
Aside from the repetitive, difficult-to-implement fighting, the game was just too easy. Granted, I played it on normal, but I’d expect to die at least once or twice. The first skill you learn is a healing ability that you can use at any time, and with the surplus of health packs strewn about the world, you never feel like you’re in any danger. It’s like Flying Wild Hog is saying “Hey, here’s another health pack, because we know you’re terrible at video games.” The only time I ever died in the game was in an earlier level when I accidentally hit a cop car with my sword and it blew up. Flying Wild Hogs, does EVERYTHING need to blow up? I got the distinct feeling that explodables were scattered across each area to help you, but I found myself immediately destroying them all as soon as I entered an area so as not to accidentally murder myself in the heat of battle.
Supposedly, you’re rewarded for using a variety of techniques during battle with more karma points, but I found that simply standing in a corner and slashing away as the mindless AI hoards impaled themselves on the end of your katana consistently yielded higher scores than hump-jumping around, trying to act like some sort of badass or something. Oh sorry, did you want to feel like a ninja? Too damn bad, have another gun and a few more health packs then hump-jump your way on out of here.
The game is absolutely overrun with easter eggs and secret rooms, in-jokes and random pop-culture references. By the time I found my 5th ‘secret’ room textured like an old Duke Nukem game and containing a random naked anime broad, I thought “Okay guys, that’s enough.” I say ‘secret’ because none of the secrets actually are secret. For every level there’s basically one straight line you can follow, and if you diverge from it for even a second you’ll stumble across a half-dozen ‘secrets’. I’m a completionist to my core, and even I grew tired of it after too long.
The humor in this game is some of the most groan-inducing you’ll ever encounter. The ‘banter’ between Lo Wang and your partner, Hoji, is sophomoric at best. I feel like the dialogue was written by and for 12 year olds who would crack up every time Lo Wang says “ass”. As I understand it, the ’97 release was a lot more sexist and racist than this iteration, but it’s hard for me to imagine such a thing. The entire game is pretty much one long, drawn-out dick joke.
The one redeeming factor for me was the boss fights which, while still frustrating to no end, were actually pretty cool. The bosses are on a fairly epic scale, and you have to destroy the weak points in their armor to expose their crystals (I have no idea why there are crystals in there) in order to defeat them. I love big boss battles akin to Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls and, while neither as well-done nor as difficult as those titles, they served to break up the monotony of the rest of the game.
Overall, I’d say I hate this game. It’s boring, repetitive, and while it tries to be clever throughout, it very rarely succeeds. While it looks nice, the cumbersome controls and railroad design serve to infuriate the player rather than to impart any sort of enjoyment. It evokes memories of Doom and Duke Nukem, and if you played the old game you might want to pick it up just for a shot of nostalgia, but I really feel like Flying Wild Hog missed the mark (of the ninja) on this one.