A lot of heroes hunt demons but none hunt them with the demeanor and B-movie script of Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur. With a Boner in one hand and a demon’s throat in the other, Mr. Hotspur makes any Hell monkey crawl back to their hole in the Underworld humiliated and missing a few limbs. He’s got an undeniable style and looks flashy doing his demon-hunting job. Gotta pay the bills somehow, right? His and the rest of the game’s style come from Suda 51’s insanely imaginative brain. He’s always made games that were spectacles to watch but irritating to play due to controls that were less than spectacular. When he comes together with Shinji Mikami, another brilliant Japanese designer with a pedigree of making good games with solid controls, only good products can be created. Shadows of the Damned, their newest game built from this dream collaboration, is one of those good products.
Shadows of the Damned has a lot in common with Mario, narratively at least. The mistress, Garcia’s girlfriend Paula, is locked in another castle, but swap out the Mushroom Kingdom for the Underworld and Bowser for the big bad bastard Fleming and you’ve got the plot to Shadows of the Damned. I don’t mean to be Captain Reductive here, but that’s what it boils down to. No major revelations happen during the hours spent in this game, as your goal is known from the start and doesn’t change, but this actually isn’t bad. The substance doesn’t matter as much as the journey because it is interesting all the way to the end, mostly because of the people included in it.
As I mentioned earlier, Garcia Hotspur is a likeable demon killing badass and makes this trip through Hell a good one. Just the fact that he refers to himself with the “Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur, Hunter of Demons” makes me love his egomania even more, but how he acts and what he says is even better. He constantly banters with his floating skull/gun/torch/melee weapon Johnson, who can be likened to Portal 2‘s Wheatley except with a potty mouth and the fact that he’s on fire. These two miscreants have good back-and-forth conversations about Hell, women, and just about everything else you can think of and it’s almost always funny and entertaining. Whereas Duke Nukem takes the unfunny, easy vulgar jokes, Johnson and Garcia have clever, unforced humor that is genuinely funny. Don’t get me wrong though, the humor is mostly profane (sometimes to the point where they hilariously bleep it out) but it feels a lot more natural and well-presented and makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Shinji Mikami is the mastermind behind Resident Evil 4 and Shadows of the Damned feels like a natural progression of RE4, shooting-wise. Thank goodness it doesn’t have the clunkiness of Resident Evil 5, because you can move and shoot… at the same time. Don’t rejoice at only that innovation, because shooting has not only been made to feel a bit more up to date, but reloading, aiming, button placement, and movement have all been updated to today’s standards. Even adding things like a dodge move and a quick time event to block attacks from behind give this game a less tank-y feel. Contrary to Resident Evil, I never felt like I was cheated or that I couldn’t get out of the way which makes the combat even more satisfying. My only complaint would come from backing up. Garcia moves in reverse at about half the speed of which he goes forward, leaving to some awkward times where you thought you would go faster. Other than that minor caveat, movement is mostly smooth and works effectively, even if the animation for moving is a tad stiff.
Maybe I wasn’t feeling cheated because I always felt on top of combat because the guns are satisfying to shoot. Johnson can transform in a couple different firearms; the Boner (calm down, it’s a gun that shoots bones), the Teether (shoots demon teeth), and Skullcussioner (shoots giant demon skulls) which are effectively the pistol, machine gun, and shotgun respectively. Each has a couple useful upgrades that impact how it functions along with typical upgrades to give it more ammo, better power, and faster reload times. Even though there are effectively only three weapons, I always had a blast in combat and loved using each of the guns on the numerous enemy types. Imagine Resident Evil’s zombies but faster and more action oriented and you should have a good picture Shadows of the Damned‘s combat.
Shooting may be throughout the whole game, but darkness puzzles break it up and intertwine with it rather nicely. Hell is a dark place at times and sometimes you just have to find the light. Sometimes that light is a goat head. As weird as this sounds, this is actually one of the mechanics and it works quite well. At scripted sequences, darkness overpowers and a light source must be illuminated from your light shot to stay alive. It sounds like a pain in the ass having to manage what is essentially poison gas but it is anything but. Solving how to stop the darkness creates a balanced pressure to maintain and is well executed. It’s never too stressful to not be fun, but it doesn’t ever seem too easy either.
Sometimes Hell looks like shit, but in Shadows of the Damned, Hell fares a bit better. It may not be as technically sound as the best, as texture pop-in is repeatedly occurring everywhere, but the style is what carries this title from “meh” to impressive. Environments are dark and slimy, but looking colorful, evoking a distinct mood it has all its own. Color is key word because reds and purples infect the underworld as much as brown and black. Each level looks different as well, with some being in buildings and others taking place in dark ruins and one being in a red light district complete with zombie strippers. From enemy designs to locales, I never thought of Hell as looking so stylish or this creative.
I also thought Hell wouldn’t have such funky soundtrack either. You know the soundtrack is good when the loading screen tune gets inside your head but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Battle music changes and has a different sound to it, causing it to make me pay attention to it and love it at the same time. Instruments from different genres blend together wonderfully to create sounds that have distinct, but awesome, sounds that make it hard to pigeonhole it into a specific genre. There’s even a particular track playing when you get your Big Boner (you’ll see) that was a definite highlight, carving in stone my love for the soundtrack in this game. Even the credits have an amazing elegant musical piece courtesy of Johnson.
I’ve played some crazy games but I’ve never played a game this bizarre. I almost don’t even know where to begin because almost every facet is smothered in wacky sauce. I admire Suda 51’s mindset of twisting gaming staples and letting his own new mechanics fall to the same ridiculous fate. Checkpoints aren’t just a rolling icon in the corner of the screen, but signaled a creature named “One-Eyed Willie” taking a flaming crap to mark your progress. Many objects are like this (and I won’t spoil them) and doors are similarly odd. Why fetch a simple key when you can find a strawberry and shove in the baby face on the locked door? The question isn’t “why?” for Suda, but “why not?” and that’s why I love the nutty brain he has.
Shadows of the Damned isn’t necessarily a long game to most people, clocking in at seven or eight hours (which is fine), but it doesn’t do much to have you return to it. The core game might bring you back for one more run, but other than “because it’s fun,” you have no reason to put the disc back in. A New Game+ mode would have helped tremendously with this problem as other games have proved this can be almost a better way of playing through the game again. Having a similar upgrade mechanic to Resident Evil 4 or 5, it seems like a no-brainer to add this almost essential mode that made those games so much fun to return to.
There’s a reason that I keep bringing up Resident Evil. It’s because, in a way, this is sort of the Resident Evil 5 I wanted. I’ve scrapped those desires in favor of this new, odd franchise. Having two potty-mouthed protagonists venture their way through fantastical demon infested areas, coming out on top and swearing in Spanish is part of a series I want to see more of. Creativity oozes out from every single orifice in Shadows of the Damned, and I’d love to see this kind of originality continue, especially with such a solid third-person shooter foundation and ridiculousness. So strap on the Boner, grab your purple leather jacket, and learn some Spanish swear words for Shadows of the Damned. Finally some of Suda 51’s craziness that isn’t hellish to control.
+Funny, naughty dialogue with interesting characters
+Inventive art style
+Shooting is fluid and exciting
+Completely insane but creative with style
+Upgrades happen often and make gunplay fresh
-Backing up is too slow along with some other small control quibbles
-Texture pop-in is everywhere
-No New Game+ or any other replay incentives
Final Score: 8.5/10