When two of the industry’s best combine their efforts to create a new IP, like a pack of vultures you’d think a considerable amount of “buzz” would be circling around the ol’ internetz. Yet, Suda 51 and Shinji Makimi’s (of Resident Evil fame) gem of a game, Shadows of the Damned, is a relatively obscure entity to be looked over by the masses. Which is odd, since Garcia Hotspur and his romp in the underworld will be one of the best third-person-shooters you’ll play all year.
In traditional Suda style, Shadows of the Damned begins by kicking you in the crotch with a barrage of dick jokes while it introduces the mock Dante’s Inferno plot, which certainly won’t win any souls over with originality. Following Garcia and his embattled trek through the damned to save Paula, his one and only (demented) love, holds an incredible flow that makes an otherwise mediocre tale spring to life.
Much of the witty dialogue contributes to this flow (and dick jokes), as Johnson – the smart-mouthed, disembodied skull that doubles as Hotspur’s weapons – creates many of the genuinely funny moments. Combined with the quirkiness that is Suda 51 bleeding through the game’s pores and a considerable sprinkling of a grindhouse style, the plot proves to be wildly amusing, if unoriginal, thanks to the stellar writing that highlights its comedic flare.
Considering his name is a running penis-joke, Johnson provides many of the laughs, yet he also serves a more functional purpose by transforming into Hotspur’s arsenal. Garcia’s weapons remain more traditional versions of handguns, shotguns, and machine guns, but, after the upgrades, they become something truly special. The Boner (handgun), Skullcussioner (shotgun), and Teether (machinegun), when upgraded, really exhibit the creativity put forth towards Hotspur’s weaponry. Rather than just enhancing the typical features, each weapon also receives special abilities that help keep Gracia’s armory from becoming stagnant. The Boner receives exploding balls, the Skullcussioner can launch multiple skulls, and the Teether can lock on and home-in on multiple targets, which all provide a welcomed and exciting change of pace.
The weapon originality, especially when they’ve been fully upgraded to the Hot Boner, the Dentist, and the Skullblaster, proves a fresh spin on traditional third-person weaponry, helping greatly to differentiate and create a unique play style when inevitably compared to Resident Evil 4 and 5. With needed improvements to Mikami’s RE4 configuration – the ability to run and gun, and overall quicker movements being at the top of the list – trudging through the depths of hell as Garcia Hotspur is a straight blast, and will definitely have you begging to caress that Big Boner with your fingertips.
Though Shadows plays like RE for the most part, it’s what Suda 51 brings to the party that sets it apart from the rest of the competition. Whether it is the pooping demon that denotes a saved game or the Big Boner you get a hold of, Suda’s quirk strikes a superb balance between his creative direction and the mainstream population (even if he actually wasn’t the director), a feat many of his games have found difficult to accomplish.
Although the general gameplay is that of most third-person-shooters, Shadows of the Damned depicts enemies and sections of the underworld cloaked in darkness, which slowly drains Hotspur’s life essence. Entering the darkness is necessary, as you’ll need to utilize it to defeat certain bosses or solve puzzles with the use of the specialized Light Shot. Since it differs from the norm, it’s a nice mechanic – at first. Subsequently, the aspect gets overused for the same purpose, making the puzzles, as well as the darkness in general, feel rather dull and reptitive.
Also helping with the game’s pace are three very slow, yet still oddly exhilarating, shmup levels interspersed throughout Hotspur’s adventure, holding the same unique humor found in every other section. It breaks apart the action and enhances the overall experience, as the shoot-‘em-up gameplay rarely, if ever, feels mundane and uninspired.
Shadows of the Damned’s soundtrack, a fantastic blend of varied, interesting cuts ranging from killer Latin rock, to epic ballads, to eccentric tunes reminiscent of an old Italian man playing a music box, really helps with keeping the player’s attention. Each piece of music creates a rather fitting ambiance that follows Garcia Hotspur through the depths of the underworld, and will certainly instill a desire to “bang one’s head” or “tap one's foot."
Like the rockin’ music, Shadows’ visuals foster the same atmosphere, with demented backgrounds and characters used to create the dismal setting. While the grindhouse feel is definitely present, there are no real horrifying moments, as most are utilized as shock factors rather than to scare the player. The deranged aspects, which center on the multitude of deaths that Sophia must suffer, take away from the survival-horror feel and creates more of a b-movie style, which fits the overall, Suda-infused experience exceptionally well.
While Shadows of the Damned is not without its problems – the game can be completed in under 10 hours, boss fights are, at times, lackluster and boring, and the narrative’s pacing can be a little erratic – Damned weaves a well-established formula with the unique eccentricity of Suda 51. Boasting a stellar, varied soundtrack, remarkably fun and original weapons, and almost an entire level where you get to play on a naked girlie, what else could you even DREAM of, let alone ask for?