Quick Review: Shad’O

Tower defense themed around light and dark, memory and forgetting. Somewhat interesting, but not undeserving of its 68/100 metacritic score.

Shad’O makes heavy use of a fog of war mechanic. Most of the map is covered except for a few points of light. Building towers extends the light. At the start of a level, you are given a brief glimpse of the whole map, then you get a red line showing where the enemy will be headed beneath the fog.

Shad’O falls into the unfortunate sort of puzzle game that knows exactly how many resources you have and balanced around it. Except for the special levels that can mix in a bit of randomization, so good luck there. You have X much light coming in, so you will have X light worth of enemies. Some companions (towers) are better for some enemies, but if you build a mix, you are pretty much set.

Except on the levels when that will get you killed. Most games sold as “strategy” would shy away from blatantly screwing over the player, dealing devastating damage if you do not prepare specifically for something you did not know was coming. Shad’O has no such compunctions. The first couple of times a new enemy is introduced, you do get the warning “there is only one way to defeat this enemy.” That stops, and you instead need to recognize that a monster spawn sound was unfamiliar, scroll to the spawn spot, and click on the new enemy type before it hides beneath the shadow; next see if you have time and resources to respond to it or do you need to potentially restart? (You don’t need to kill every enemy of every wave, but do you want to wait until the last wave to find out that you were an enemy or two off because of the new surprise monster? Also, Shad’O does not feel the need to limit itself to one of those per wave.) The level will usually have quite a few of whatever this new thing is, so re-do any plans you might have had to focus on this new type, while still having something in place for every previous enemy type. Shad’O will also toss in unmentioned environmental effects, say disabling half your towers while the new enemy is rolling through. There is a spell to counter that. Didn’t spend the skill point to learn it? Go repeat a previous level on Nightmare difficulty to unlock a skill point. There is no skill point reset. It is not all that difficult, but it seems balanced around the assumption that you will play half the level, find out what this level wants from you, then reset and play the level for real.

The level graphics are rather nice. The cutscene graphics and voice acting are rather poor. You must install Quicktime to play, which is a dealbreaker for some people. The story, as far as I played, is somewhat obvious and telegraphed. The sound effects in the first boss fight confirming that are a rather nice touch. Graphics get in your way in that the game is fond of excessively long animations. For whatever reason, the slow animation of summoning a companion is more annoying than waiting on tower construction in another tower defense game.

Somewhat interesting, but neither highly enjoyable nor recommended. I might go back and finish it just to see if it gets more interesting once you unlock all the towers, presumably in the last third of the game. I’ll update if my assessment changes.

: Zubon