As the debate over the price of software hots up, especially after Mindscape took the bull by the horns with the £19.99 D/Generation and a number of 'premium'-priced titles (you know the ones we mean) proved to be spectacularly unworthy of their inflated tags, it seems like a funny time for a game like this to be going out with a £30 sticker attached to it. I mean, the general consensus of opinion regarding the Beast games now seems to be that they were interesting demos of the Amiga's capabilities, but severely lacking on the game front, and the days when the name alone was enough to guarantee thousands of sales at £35 (as with Beast 2 and its 'free' T-shirt) would appear to be long gone. To see this swaggering out naked of extra promotional goodies, then, is even stranger. Whatever can Psygnosis be thinking of? Could it be, perhaps, that they've just got a really good game this time?
Sorry, I don't know what came over me there. 'Really good game'? Shadow Of The Beast? Shurely shome mistake? Well, no, not exactly. Y'see, Shadow Of The Beast III is - sit down for a moment, kids - a Good Game. There's no getting away from the fact, this is, first and foremost, a Game with a capital 'G'. Oh sure, it still looks pretty, it's still got big impressive music, all that stuff, but this time it all hasn't been used as a substitute. Take a trip with me into the Gameplay Zone and I'll show you what I mean...
Some of you, of course, will be sitting there thinking, "What's the fool wibbling on about? I've never played Shadow Of The Beast before, I don't know anything about all this malarkey. Tch. Logically, then, now would be a good time to rattle out a quick run-down of the two previous games and their illustrious history. But I'm not going to, for the simple reason that it doesn't matter. In a similar way to the recent Crazy Cars 3, Beast III is a game which shares nothing with its predecessors except a name and a genre, so drawing any comparisons between this and the rest of the series would be almost completely irrelevant, save to say that it's much better and leave it at that.
What you get in Beast III is a game still rooted in puzzle-solving, but of a much more linear and much more arcadey nature than before. You get four main levels to tackle (with a big showdown with Maletoth, Big Cheese of Badness, at the end), each with an overall objective (the collection of a particular object which will help you in your final battle) and a whole slew of lateral-thinking obstacles to overcome before you get there. Some are standalone puzzles, while others are interlinked, in that completion of one part will give you an object or ability that makes some other bit of the level become possible, but most of the time if you simply walk along and solve things as you come across them, you won't have much in the way of doubling back and cross-referencing to worry about.
Thrown in on top of all this is a truckload of bad guys for you to massacre and some nasty end-of-level bosses who'll give you an aching joystick hand to worry about on top of your already-protesting brain. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well, it is. Basically. But...
But there's a 'but'. Isn't there always? Isn't life always horrible like that? The 'but' in Beast III is a big one, and it's that it's a little one. Where Beasts 1 and 2 made up for their lack of gameplay quality at least a little bit by being gargantuanly enormous, Beast III is a tiddler by comparison.
Oops, I said I wasn't going to do any of those, didn't I? Well, forget the other Beast games, then. Beast III is pretty titchy in its own right. Of the four main levels, each has maybe half-a-dozen main problems to solve, and while they get a good deal more complicated and involved towards the end, they're still not really all that demanding of anyone with a decent grasp of logic. The nastiest aspect of them is that some only allow you one slight mistake before the whole thing's rendered impossible, leaving you no alternative but to get killed and start the level again (although each one does at least have a couple of restart points).
As a guide, I'd say that, once you've worked out all the solutions, playing right through Beast III from beginning to end would take you somewhere in the vicinity of 20 minutes. That's not, by anyone's standards, an awful lot of game, and I reckon that hardened Beast fans especially are going to be reaching the end by the time they feel they've really got started.
The puzzle nature (the arcade bits aren't really demanding enough to provide any significant challenge by themselves) means that it's not a game you'll play after you've finished it (the joy and reward in a game like this is working out how the hell you do each particular bit, putting your theory into practice and feeling really pleased with yourself when it actually works out, and you only get that feeling once from each puzzle), and that means that you're going to be getting, I'd guess, no more than an absolute maximum of two weeks entertainment out of this game.
Of course, that's if you've got the willpower to do it all yourself and not just read the playing guides which will undoubtedly appear in every magazine under the sun immediately after the thing comes out. Which is something I'd like to go into for a moment, if you don't mind. I'm a bit confused, y'see. Personally, when I've got a problem, I like to solve it myself.
I don't get any kicks out of letting someone else wet-nurse me through it. Do you think, say, Linford Christie would get any sense of achievement if he won the Olympic 100 metres by being towed along on rollerskates behind a car when everybody else was running?
Of course, it's easy to say "Well yes, but I just keep getting stuck on this one bit and I can't work it out at all, if I just cheat past it, then I'll do the rest myself," but what kind of an attitude's that? (Besides, like any addict, the chances are once you've started cheating, you won't be able to stop again.)
The whole point of a bloody puzzle is that it gets you stuck and you have to stop and work it out. Otherwise, they'd call it something else, wouldn't they? We had people calling us for help on Monkey Island 2 within a day of it appearing in the shops. Where's the fun in spending between 30 and 40 quid on a game and then just getting someone else to do it for you? I honestly don't understand it - why not just hire someone from the shop to come round and play the game themselves and just show you when they get to the end screen if that's all you're interested in? Will you try something for me, luvvies? Will you try playing this game the real, old-fashioned way?
Just this once, don't get someone else to do the interesting, challenging bits for you. Work it out for yourself. You'll have an awful lot more fun this way - you won't feel guilty when you lie to your friends about having finished it on your own and you'll feel a whole lot better at the end when your 30 quid's worth of entertainment finally does run out. Trust me, I'm a professional.
But anyway. That's about all there is to say about Shadow Of The Beast III. It looks good, it sounds good, and the gameplay's good, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether it's worth 15 quid a week. Me? I'm not so sure.
Uppers: The puzzles are real brain-teasers, but there's (nearly) always pure logic at the heart of them. It's a lot more fun than either of the other two Beast games, for sure. No crap 'free' Roger Dean T-shirt this time around, either. Hurrah!
Downers: Some of the puzzles are one-chance efforts - muck them up and you've got no option but to get killed and start again, and combining that with only three lives, you'll find yourself back at the beginning of the whole thing with frustrating regularity. Despite that, it won't take you more than a couple of weeks at the very outside to finish - there just isn't very much of it.
A really sweet game to play, but at the end of the day I simply don't think you're getting enough for your 30 quid. This is the kind of thing that should have gone out at a fiver less than the 'norm', not a fiver more.