Shadow Of The Beast is still generally regarded as one of the most attractive games ever to appear on the Amiga. OK, so the actual gameplay itself wasn't exactly the hottest ever, but the large, smoothly animated sprites coupled with the kind of parallax scrolling that makes polygons look old hat made it an instant classic. After winning dozens of awards, Psygnosis duly followed it with another scrolling adventure - albeit with a little more cerebral challenge. Again, the graphics were of a very high standard, but I couldn't help thinking that the puzzles involved were difficult to the point of disheartening. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I encountered the sequel. Psygnosis are about to let loose Beast III.
Fears that it would be more of the same vanished in the first few minutes of playing the game. Beast III stands head and shoulders above the other two, both in design and gameplay and there is still a lot of room left for some mouth-watering graphics. The plot carries on from before. The Beast Lord has killed Zedek and, as promised, has been returned to human form. But it does not end there, though. Now there is a fresh challenge in the form of the demon Maletoth. The Beast Lord has dreamed that the demon has kidnapped his baby sister and, as is always the case, such dreams turn out to be prophetic. With his regained form, the ex-beast must face the demon once again.
The game is played over four levels with four completely different sets of backdrops and nasties (forest, temple, caves and castle). Taking a step even further away from the original, Beast III is based on a much more puzzle-orientated system where visual riddles have to be solved before you can move on, and this is really the backbone of the game.
The puzzles in Beast III are among the most original ever devised. Whilst some are obscure, others are so blindingly logical that you will sit about thinking 'no, that could not possibly work in a computer game'. They are a far cry from standard platform puzzles which merely involve placing an object in a certain location, or flipping switches to open doors. These babies require pure thought to get over. Here is a perfect example: during the first level, you come across a platform on a swinging arm. On either side of the platform are others, but the first ball reaches the one on the right. Standing on a nearby platform you notice it swings down and to the left, but nowhere near far enough for you to reach the far level. Walking back a little you discover a large ruck. Pushing it over to the middle platform causes it to also start swinging - but sill not far enough. However, jump on the platform itself when the rock is on it, and it falls far enough to let you carry on..
This is one of the more straightforward puzzles, and I do not want to go into too much detail about the others for fear of giving too much away. Suffice to say, though, that later on you have some fun with tables with breakable legs which can be used as seesaws and ramps, along with melting metal balls and an aquarium with a crane attached.
In fact, the aquarium puzzle is definitely my favorite in the game. Initially you are presented with one of those sliding puzzle games that we all used to find in our stockings at Christmas. In this case, it is a diagram showing a fishy food chain, and which of the many aquatic species is the only one that cannot harm you. Once you have pieced it together, note the inoffensive fish and then progress onto the next scene. This is made up of three tanks and a crane. Stepping into the control booth, you have to lift fish from one tank to the other, where they will kill any fish they come into contact with, until you only have one left, which with any luck will be the 'safe' one. Get the wrong one, and you will be dead as soon as you step into the water.
You should now have some idea of what sort of puzzles this game contains. The best way to describe them is that they are much more along the lines of text adventure problems than arcade puzzles, and that is basically the whole point of the game. There are roughly five different puzzles to each huge level (one to each disk) and each puzzle can be spread over half a dozen screens, so there is a fair bit of looking around required before you can even start to solve the visual riddles.
HAMMER AND SICKLE
There are essentially two weapons in the game, each with their own specific uses. You begin armed only with an infinite supply of shurikens, but if you look around carefully enough you will probably find the hammers located somewhere nearby. The basic rule of thumb is that the shurikens are used for destroying things and the hammers are used for pushing things. At the start of the temple level, you come across a ball swinging from a chain. You need to get the ball swinging and then knock it down a nearby hole. If, however, you fire the hammers at it, it will begin to swing. Hitting it again causes it to swing more wildly, until it is swinging as high as you need it to. Shooting it now will (hopefully) send it flying in the right direction. By using the weapons in the right ways, you would be surprised at what you can do.
That is not to say that the game is not crawling with action. Although nowhere near the blasting frenzy that was the second title, Beast III still has its fair share of hostile enemies - although not so many 'cannon-fodder' types as the first. The game is played over an eight-way-scrolling play field, and contains all the best aspects from the first and second games - i.e. glorious backdrops and incredible multi-level parallax scrolling.
Speaking of the graphics, you will be pleased to know that they are still of the same high quality set by the previous runarounds. Everything has a distinct Rodney Matthews feel to it, from the mountainous backdrops to the giant skulls and fire-breathing stone gargoyles. By using dimmer colors and some clever shading, the game looks dark and oppressive - a far cry from the barrage of console-style platform games hitting the Amiga of later. The color scheme also extends to the sprites which fit in with the game's 'look' perfectly. If there is one thing that can spoil the look of a game, it is sprites that look out of place and awkward.
Beast III is certainly very playable. As far as I can see, thanks to some superb responsiveness on the part of the main sprite, you are more likely to die by hitting the escape key rather than through loss of energy due to the way puzzles are laid out. The trick to solving most of them is to work out the chain of events and then start the ball rolling from the right point. Doing the wrong action before it is time causes the whole puzzle to go wrong, but for some strange reason you cannot help trying again. However, if you cannot stand games which rely on trial and error, I would recommend you look elsewhere.
Beast III is one hell of a good game, easily the best of the three. As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit skeptical before I reviewed the game, but any doubts I had about the game's quality were quickly dispelled once I picked up my joystick and dived in. It looks as good as the first episode and plays better than either of the previous two. Well thought out, extremely playable and highly addictive.
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