Monday, 22 August 2011

EDGE Were Just Wrong OK. Everyone Has Off Days...What? Who's Committed A Cardinal Sin?: Game 012

Much has been made of Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami's latest collaborative project: Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows Of The Damned, often to the point of overshadowing the fact that neither of these creative powerhouses actually directed this seminal post modern, balls to the wall, foul mouthed quote fest through Hell's backyard. It was European industry veteran Massimo Guarini a name you may be less familiar with, that took the helm acting as the creative go between for Suda's punk rock ethics and Mikami's veteran action credentials, and it shows. What has emerged between the three of these talents (Guarini's previous work including credits on critically acclaimed but criminally undersold DS titles Soul Bubbles and Moon) is a world that is a wonderful fusion of East meets West. A glorious hybrid of Venetian gothic architecture and rain soaked neon Tokyo streets. Of oversized screen hogging boss battles and the more intimate moments between our protagonists, reading (often badly in the case of Garcia) bedtime stories to each other. As a result, its a world that isn't instantly recognisable from any other place you've ever visited before in a video game. And yes...that's a good thing.

This culture clash extends to our two leads. Self proclaimed: Garcia 'Fucking' Hotspur, a hotheaded romantic Mexican demon hunter with a penchant for purple leather jackets and well to do English, reformed demon Johnson who handily doubles as Garcia's increasingly absurd arsenal. Yeah you heard it, a big weapon called Johnson. Its in this 'Viz: Bumper Summer Special' vein of juvenile double entendre that most of the game's humour continues. Ranging from genuine laugh out loud moments to injoke's that are clearly the wet dream of Suda and Mikami's love for their own medium. What Guarini, Suda and Mikami have created in these unlikely bedfellows is perhaps video gaming's first ever comedy double act (no the Bonanza Bros. don't count) an Eric and Ernie for the 'Saw' generation, incredibly well fleshed out characters that often show their weaker sides or, more often than not, just their plain embarrassing ones.

The same subtle nuances however have not been applied to the game's lone plot device, its that age old adage, guessed it: 'Our princess is in another castle'. But while It may be the most well trodden path in video game lore, Shadows Of The Damned takes more than its fair share of blood soaked back roads and prickly thickets to keep the path seeming fresh. As penance for slaying too many of his demons, Fleming, the lord of the underworld has not only stolen Garcia's beloved Paula, he's cut off her head, possessed her to attack our boys and made his minions repeatedly burst from inside her beautiful flesh. But none of that is going to stop Garcia from trying to get her back. Much like Mikami's previous outing Vanquish, who's mechanic centred around a balancing act of speed versus slow motion, Shadows of The Damned similarly plays off the opposition between light and dark (where the dark harms Garcia and the light harms demons) handy then that Johnson comes equipped with a light shot to disperse said darkness. Understanding this interplay between light and dark becomes the main thrust of the gameplay and can be used to traverse the games scant puzzles, often complex combat and gigantic boss battles. Alcohol (what else?) also plays an important part in the game. Replenishing Garcia's energy during lengthy stand offs with the games various enemies and prolonged exposure to the darkness.

While a relatively linear and somewhat short experience (the game's 5 acts clocking in at around 8 hours of gameplay) Shadows of the Damned is a game that loves trash culture and video games as much as you do. More than making up for its shortcomings with flashes of inspiration such as collecting strawberries and gems like you were Bub and Bob, forcing you into a couple of 2D shmup stages (think Chinese paper puppet theatre meets Forgotten Worlds), recreating a classic scene from The Evil Dead and introducing you to trusty demon William, who will not only save your game for you but shoot into the sky emitting a steaming, fizzing turd as he does so.

If Mikami, Suda and Guarini have made any kind of statement with their ultimate popcorn B-game its a big two figures up to the establishment. A steaming hot turd in the eye of the corporate best sellers that many may not find funny. But if you're not in on the joke then you'd probably be more at home with a more conventional shooter, perhaps a game in which you mow down real life soldiers based on real life wars from our shadowy history. But in my opinion that is both way more offensive and far less funny than what's on offer here.

Favorite Moment: In a game with so many stand out set pieces and genuinely hilarious moments its hard to choose one. But my money is on handing Johnson the phone to a sex line that causes him to extend into The Big Boner, complete with Carry On style sound effect. That and the resulting chant from Garcia that invites two storey high demons to 'taste my big boner' every time he shoots at them. Juvenile? Yes, but it never fails to raise a smile.

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