Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pigeon's Scrapbook Halloween SPOOKTACULAR: Shadowman

Birds, we're back! We had a bit of trouble down here in Pigeon Country, what with all the service outages and Hurricane Sandy breathing down our necks. But that's all done and over with, so I say we get back into the swing of things and get to posting!

October 31st is here, and that means Jack-o-Lanterns, candy corn, and all the little chickadees dressed up and on the hunt for sweets and treats. And speakin' of treats, BP's got a real doozy for y'all! It's time to dust off the old scrapbook, and take a look at another of my fondest gaming memories. In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, let's turn the clock back to 1999, and step into the spooky voodoo lore of....

Released: 1999
Developer: Acclaim Teeside Studios
Publisher: Acclaim
Systems: Playstation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Windows

Front Cover
Back Cover (covers via )
 Usually, when one reminisces about long defunct Acclaim Games, they're reminded of mediocre licensed property cash-ins and strippers riding around topless on BMX bikes. But, every now and then, they would manage to squeeze out something worth your time. And Shadow Man is definitely high up on that list.

 Now before we get into the game proper, Pigeon's got a little history lesson for you. The Shadowman series actually got it's start in 1992, as the flagship title from fledgling comic book publisher Valiant Comics. The original series focused on a jazz musician out of New Orleans named Jack Boniface. Jack comes into possession of supernatural powers, and ends up butting heads with the various demonic denizens of the Underworld as the Shadowman. The comic series was actually quite popular, and was outselling the likes of The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Batman, and the Justice League of America in it's prime. Wanting to break into the comics business, Acclaim purchased Valiant for $65,000,000. Wasting no time, they got to work on rebooting the Shadowman franchise under the Acclaim Comics banner, with the ulterior motive to have it make the leap from comics to video games.

 In Acclaim's universe, the Shadow Man is known as Michael LeRoi. Ten years prior to the events of the game, he flunked out of his English Literature studies at a prominent university, and had gambled himself broke. To make ends meet, he took up work as a cab driver in Chicago, all the while keeping his failures a secret from his family back in New Orleans. One night, Mike's fare was gunned down in a drive-by shooting, leaving behind a briefcase with $20,000. Sensing opportunity, Mike runs home with the cash, and proceeds to lavish his family with gifts. Of course, anyone who's ever read or seen "No Country for Old Men" knows what becomes of those who decide to run off with dirty money. Fearing for his life, Mike tracks down a Bokor (voodoo priest) and begs him for protection, which the Bokor is all to happy to provide. When the gang tracked them down and opened fire, the protection proved successful.......for Mike. The rest of his family ended up dead. 

 The price Mike paid for his protection was a hefty one. Not only did he lose his entire family, but he was now an amnesiac, forced to serve the Bokor as Zero, his personal zombie assassin. However, Fate would intervene in the form of Mother Agnetta (Nettie, for short), an old and powerful voodoo priestess. Seeking retribution against the Bokor for attacks on her associates, she leads her gang into the Bokor's sanctum and gets to stomping. In the chaos, Nettie snatches away Mike, and implants the mystical Mask of Shadows into his chest. As a result, Michael LeRoi would become the Shadow Man, supernatural voodoo warrior, and the only line of defense against the malevolent forces from Deadside. On July 31st, 1999, Michael LeRoi was poised to make his gaming debut, and Shadow Man was released on the Nintendo 64 and Windows PC's. 

 This memorable intro would set the stage for 
Michael's adventure. Tasked with preventing the Apocalypse,
Mike would traverse the lands of the living and the dead in an
attempt to put the brakes on Legion's plans for humanity.

I think the best way that I can describe Shadow Man would be as a grim and grimy Legend of Zelda clone. Those types of games were quite common in the late 90's. Exploring vast worlds, collecting various weapons and trinkets, finding secret rooms and passageways, and so on. But it would be Shadow Man's spooky voodoo atmosphere that would help separate it from the rest. Each level exuded plenty of doom and gloom. From the desolate wastes of Deadside's furthest reaches, to the twisted architecture of Legion's Asylum, and the chaos and carnage running rampant at Gardelle County Penitentiary, each level offered up plenty of dark corridors and blood stained hallways to slake your thirst for the macabre. Complimenting the on screen chaos was the equally moody sounds of Tim Haywood's soundtrack. Tim created quite an eclectic mix for the OST, with pounding tribal beats working in tandem with off kilter piano chords and gruesome sound effects. He even saw fit to include a bit of Beethoven to sweeten the pot, as the intro above demonstrates.

I have no idea what's being maimed, but it sounds freaky
as all get out. 

Thankfully, the game plays as good as it looked and sounded for the time. Like the adventure games that came before it, Mike has plenty of weapons and tactics to employ against adversaries on both planes of existence. In the living world, Mike relies his arsenal of pistols and assault rifles to beat back the demonic horde. Once he crosses over to Deadside and becomes Shadow Man, he makes use of various voodoo artifacts and abilities to immolate and eviscerate the wicked, and navigate the more perilous paths found in the land of the dead. Various collection quests are also included to help boost Mike's powers and stats. One interesting bit about the game was that Mike was able to wield two of his weapons akimbo, which allowed for some crazy combinations of firepower.

 Another thing that stands out for me were the characters and creatures. On top of the now standard zombies and evil birds, Mike would also do battle with pig men, armed with meat hooks and rifles. He'd also lock horns with two headed abominations, magic wielding voodoo goddesses, and towering hulks of flesh and metal. But the most memorable adversaries were the five serial killers under Legion's employ. Most of these men were heavily inspired by the likes of Hannibal Lecter and the Son of Sam. Heck, they even saw fit to have Mike go toe to toe with a demonically reborn Jack the Ripper. Equally as memorable were Mike's partners in crime. Nettie would always offer up cryptic clues and voodoo wisdom in her Louisiana church,  while a drunken Irish skull snake...thing by the name of Jaunty would enlighten Shadow Man about the trials and tribulations to be found in Deadside.

He also wears a top hat. Classy bloke. 

 Shadow Man would share in the same success as his comic book, with the game becoming a sales success, and finding homes on the Playstation and Dreamcast. This success would earn Mike 'n pals a return trip on the Playstation 2, as Acclaim released Shadow Man 2econd Coming in 2002. But, that will be a story for another time. For now, why not find yourself a decent emulator, click a couple of links, and spend your Halloween evening in Deadside with Shadow Man. Or any other evening, for that matter. 

1 comment:

  1. Back with a bang. Wow, amazing pictures. Kind of spooky. Keep up the good work and keep the pictures coming. Best of luck!