In the strange and distant land of Kara-Moon, the lightning of a fierce storm crackles around a tall, forbidding tower. Within the tower, Zelek the Beast Mage is reflecting on his position. After Zelek's defeat by the warrior messenger, Maletoth the Beast Lord expressed bitter disappointment and ordered Zeleth to find another child suitable to be turned into a new warrior messenger. So far the search has been fruitless, but on this dark, stormy night one of his cowering minions enters the tower and tells the Beast Mage that a suitable girl-child has been found. Without further ado, Zelek hurts himself through the window into the night, transforming into his bestial form of a large, fearsome bird, and sets off to find the child. Eventually he arrives at a high ridge above a small cottage, where the sound of a baby crying can clearly be heard. Slowly, realisation of where he is creeps into Zelek's brain. This was the home of the previous warrior messenger - so the child must be his sister! At last, a chance for revenge. Zelek holds aloft his staff, catching the streams of electricity from the storm, and once more shifts into his beast form, to swoop down and take the child to his tower.
You, of course, are the previous warrior messenger, returned to human form after defeating Zelek and escaping from the Beast Lord. You must fight your way through the realm of Kara-Moon, braving the dangers of vicious monsters, deadly warriors and perilous terrain. You begin armed with a limited supply of life potion, which you drink whenever you take a hit, and a ball and chain. Additional weapons can be found on your quest, however, along with extra vials of energy potion to top up your flagging supply.
By no means all of the creatures you come across are intent on your destruction, although a large creature lunging towards you with an giant axe isn't likely to buy you a pint and a packet of peanuts. Some creatures can be conversed with to uncover clues or gain equipment to help you on your quest. Certain replies to questions that you might ask give hints to the next question, thus building conversations. Some of these little chats will lead to extra quests, whereas others will tell you where vital clues can be found. It is up to you to save your young sister from the clutches of the evil Beast Lord and so spare her the agony that you have already been through.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Anyone who has played the original Shadow of the Beast knows what to expect from Beast II. The sound is very much in the same vein as the first in the series, with mournful panpipes playing over a sombre orchestral backing. The new Game Over screen contains a new piece of music with an incredibly effective wailing guitar solo, which is very reminiscent of Hendrix (Albert Hendrix from Cleethorpes, that is, No, only joking!)
The graphics lack the multilevel parallax scrolling from Beast I, but the use of animation, colour and shading means that the overall appearance is more atmospheric. Each different type of enemy appears in its own surroundings, so there isn't so much of slapdash feel to the positioning of the monsters. For example the pygmies are in the forest, the water drips are in the caves and the giant fish are in the river. All in all, the loss of technical wizardry in the presentation is more than made up for in feel and atmosphere.
Right from the start the game is incredibly tough: having only one life isn't really conducive to lengthy quests! With time it does become possible to battle through... once you've spent quite a few games learning the positions of the monsters. Having said that, it will still take some considerable time before the final objective is reached. Just too late you realise what you should have done at a particular point and find yourself bashing the button to start a new game!
Most people's anxieties about how much gameplay Beast II would have can be assuaged by the promise that there is quite a bit more! The regimental lines of enemies have gone, giving the game a much more frantic and random feel. So instead of sitting in the same place, picking off the nasties as they advance towards you (very boring), you have to be sharp enough to battle attacks from every angle.
The game has a lot more depth than the original, with a series of mini-puzzles to complete along the way before the necessary clues are available to you. It still has a few annoying quirks, such as the lengthy loading times and the fact that you can lose your one and only life far too easily, but there is enough gameplay this time around to back up the pretty graphics and atmospheric music and make it all worthwhile.
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