Shadow Warrior Review

Shadow Warrior was originally released in 1997 and developed by 3D Realms, the same bunch who was behind the very popular Duke Nukem. Shadow Warrior was very similar to Duke Nukem as it was, well, developed by the same developers, more or less around the same years and using the same engine… Lots of games “a la Duke” came out in the late 90’s like Blood or Heretic.

Shadow Warrior was kind of an Asian flavored Duke Nukem in which the main character, Lo Wang, is kind of a ninja/assassin who can carry a whole arsenal with him. The big difference was he could wield a katana and throw shurikens at enemies. It was an incredibly fun game from the funny accent to the stupid one-liners and references to other games at the time… Even the name of the “hero” is supposed to be a joke, but at the time I did not get it as I was unaware of the meaning of “wang” in English… So I missed out on the “who wants some wang” and other stupid pubic jokes but the game was still awesome.

In 2013, the franchise was rebooted (just like Duke Nukem) and I recently purchased the game as its price got sliced by 75% around Christmas. I paid USD9.99 for it so I just couldn’t pass it up. To be honest, being fan of the original Shadow Warrior, and having seen what had happened to the Duke Nukem reboot with Duke Nukem Forever (that kind of ruined the franchise), I had kind of low expectations for the game… But it turns out the game is actually really fun to play.

My first impression was the game still looked graphically good but managed to stay very fluid and fast paced without any lagging, even playing on my “not so top of the league” computer with its Core2Duo and GeForce GTX460. The levels are definitely asian themed with bamboo forests and Japanese/Chinese temple architecture. The developers paid a lot of attention to details in their environments and did a good job with their textures, shadowing and lighting overall. and I got to enjoy slicing and dicing demons in those decors… And you’d better like melee fights, because the game has been designed around sword fights, although pistols and other crossbows are also available and are still fun to use they just feel a tad weak compared to Wang’s katana.

Lots of upgrades are possible, be it for weapons, skills or others. The money you collect scavenging the levels are used to upgrade weapons while skills and powers are unlockable using Karma points or Ki crystals. Karma is kind of the experience points you get when killing enemies while Ki crystals are scattered around the world. The skill tree is pretty complete giving you options to improve your healing powers, protection skills and acquire some other Ki magic spells or sword special attacks for example, adapting the game play to your own personal style.

Spells you acquire can be cast by double-tapping W,A,S or D and using the right mouse button, same thing for the sword attacks instead you’d have to press the left mouse button this time… And that’s why I love using the katana as I love chaining up spells and attacks. It makes melee fights really enjoyable and the fast pace as well as extreme violence of the game add tons of fun. Want to send enemies 3 meters up in the air before kebabing them with your sharp katana blade? No problem.

The sound was awesome, too. At first I did not really noticed because the soundtrack is really not intrusive at all and does not distract you from the game, but they did a really good job on the background music while the special effects had a lot of explosions, weapons and chunk of meat splattering on the walls audio goodness.

The level design is good too, being kind of open but not too much as I think the game designers wanted to retained the fast pace and keep a minimum amount of time between the waves of enemies you need to slaughter… Basically Wang has to get to an area that would remain “locked” until you kill all the demons the game throws at you. Only then, a door will activate and you’ll be able to progress in the game. It seems really rigid on paper, but I didn’t really feel contained while playing, and there are a lot of secret areas to look for as well so it’s really a semi open game.

So it’s a great game, right? Well, depends on how you look at it… If you want the game to be a pure Shadow Warrior reboot and are expecting to relive your 1997 Shadow Warrior experience inn better resolution… Well… Maybe you’ll be a bit disappointed. While the hero is still Lo Wang and some “1997 Easter eggs” can be found inside the game, Shadow Warrior is a new game completely. I found the fighting style to be different, the enemies are always the same demons (no more farting sumo fighters) and I’m sure there’s more to add.

I personally think it’s OK to have the new “Shadow Warrior” stand on its own and not being a replica of the older one. It’s fun to play, fast paced action like Wang is tiptoeing around the room, the katana action is awesome and the jokes managed to make me laugh a few times as well… The game is not even resource hungry, so as long as it is fun I’ll fight my way through its 15 levels no problem, and if I feel nostalgic, I’ll just install the 1997 version that’s available for free on Steam.

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