Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture are known for making quirky games. Whether you date back to Killer 7 or just recently jumped on board with Lollipop Chainsaw, it doesn’t take long to realize that the mind of this particular Japanese dev doesn’t work in the same way as our own.
And often, this produces a uniquely entertaining product.
In other cases, it leaves you uncomfortable, shocked, disgusted, confused and uniquely entertained—especially in the case of Shadows of the Damned.
I may as well get this out there to begin with: I like weird games. Not weird in the sense like, “Huh, that was weird,” but more in the Silent Hill style of psychological horror—where everything is just odd enough to send chills up your spine.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been many games recently that have successfully approached this territory and reached any kind of critical acclaim. In fact, the last game I played that made me feel that way and was fun to play, was Alan Wake.
Now, I’d love to tell you it was pure, intellectual curiosity that led me to picking up Shadows of the Damned, but I’d be lying. While I was certainly curious to see if this romp through the land of demons would take the opportunity to border on the insane, I was more curious about the game’s reputation when I put it on my radar last year and finally picked it up a few weeks ago on the cheap.
Ok guys, think back to when you were a little kid, you just got home from school, the babysitter is downstairs watching TV, and you, somehow have wound up in your parent’s room. Remember opening your Dad’s closet and discovering that way in the back, buried in a box, or behind some clothes, was a Playboy magazine? Remember leafing through it and feeling this giddy sense of pushing boundaries and snickering at all the naked girls and inappropriate humor?
Well, for lack of a more politically correct reference point, if you were also Mexican, then congratulations, you’ve essentially just played Shadows of the Damned.
The game features hero, veteran demon hunter and Hispanic stereotype Garcia Hotspur, on a quest through hell to rescue his angel (pronounced an-hel, for all of our Hispanically deficient readers) Paula from the clutches of Flemming, the Lord of Demons. He has kidnapped her and taken her back to hell where he will kill her and reincarnate her over and over again for the rest of eternity. Essentially a Resident Evil 4 clone, leaning more towards third-person, with weird and sexy paint job, Hotspur and his demon partner Johnson traverse the hellish landscape for five acts, obliterating demons left and right along the way.
Along the way, gamers are treated to a peek inside the creatively demented, and decidedly juvenile, mind of Suda 51. Be prepared to be bombarded with enough nudity (both suggestive and straight up), sexual innuendo, dick jokes, self-referential humor and swearing to leave you wondering if you’re in hell, or the foyer of a frat house—not that there is really an appreciable difference there, in the end.
Just to treat you to a few examples, Johnson, your British, reformed demon partner, also acts as all of your weapons and your source of light through this excessively dark landscape. At times he will be your pistol, originally called the “Boner”, evolving into the “Hot Boner” and then finally, for one stage, the “Big Boner”. During the final transformation, when you fire the gun, Hotspur yells “Eat my Big Boner!” every time you hit an enemy.
You also have to drink alcohol (Hot Saki, Tequila and Absinthe) to heal.
The game also treads the fourth wall a bit, with Johnson pretty aware that this is a video game, which awkwardly offsets Hotspur’s passionately dead set intention to rescue the love of his life.
Interestingly, while sticking to the straight-forward action shooter genre for most of the game, Suda 51 mixes it up in his traditional style throwing in some puzzle elements and even switching up the genres from time-to-time. Expect an interesting “light vs. dark” mechanic introduced early on that leaves you hunting to destroy Demon Pubes that block doors (and yes, you read that correctly). Additionally, don’t be shocked when the game turns into a carnival-style alley shooter and then immediately into a 2D, side-scrolling paper theater for a few levels too. It keeps things fresh, but is a bit frustrating on a technical level at times.
While this still may entice some, at a technical level, Shadows of the Damned is an absolute mess. The load times are a bit ridiculous for a game that debuted in 2011, sometimes even bordering on almost locking up at times. You’ll also have to seriously tweak the aim-speed mechanic at different points of the game to make-up for the atrocious aiming mechanics. While it tries hard to emulate the down-the-barrel, laser guided aim from Resident Evil 4, trying to be accurate takes the patience of a saint and a lot of practice—don’t expect to be popping headshots from the get-go.
At times the game will glitch out, with enemies disappearing through walls or with Hotspur getting momentarily stuck in one, and the healing mechanic isn’t responsive enough to give you that last-second heal right before getting nailed by an enemy and dying.
Lastly, the plot is pretty loosely strung together and, without giving anything away, the ending makes about as much sense as can be expected from this game, and will likely leave you scratching your head and going, “Um, whaaaa?”
Why You Should Play It
Believe it or not, despite being a bit of a mess on the technical end, if you can manage to get a hang for the controls, Shadows of the Damned becomes a ridiculous guilty pleasure of a game.
The humor, despite your best efforts to convince yourself and those around you that you’re a mature adult, will, on occasion, cause you to chuckle—at the very least. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll be smiling while shaking your head in disbelief.
The last full title before releasing Lollipop Chainsaw the game is also surprisingly lengthy, depending on what difficulty you choose. Where the zombie-filled adventures of Juliet Starling in Chainsaw clocked in at a disappointing five hours, Garcia and Johnson’s trip through the underworld will take you between 10 and 15 hours, depending on the difficulty you choose. The enemies have fairly intelligent AI and present a reasonable challenge, the puzzles (while straightforward) keep you on your toes, and the boss battles are, at the very least, challenging.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Garcia is voiced by Steve Blum?
In the end, Shadows of the Damned never quite satisfies that really uncomfortably weird, psychological horror itch I have, but after playing it, and despite it taking place in some really gruesome corners of hell, I’m not sure that was ever what it was going f0r anyway. What you end up getting is a pretty fun attempt at horror and adolescent humor from the king of unique gaming himself, Suda 51 and with the game old enough now that finding it used won’t be a particular challenge, it is worth a play through while you wait for the 2013 game releases to start rolling out.