Shadow of the Beast, a side-scrolling reimagining of the much-loved (but a bit crap) 1989 original, is all about timing. Press the buttons at the wrong time and you'll look like a 50-year-old dad pretending to be Bruce Lee while staggering home from the pub, but time your attacks, blocks, dodges and stuns just right and Mr Beast kills with the grace and fluidity of a ballerina on a slip 'n' slide.
Story here is thin on the ground (although it is fleshed out once you look back at unlocked timeline sequences and buy the ciphers to translate enemy dialogue), so the key point is that you're a badass beast that can kill things incredibly quickly. Early foes simply require the attack button is pressed at the right time, and they're toast, but soon you'll need to counter, stun, dodge, block, and more, managing your move-set while the screen is filled with bad guys.
Combat can definitely feel a little overwhelming at times, and when you're hit your rhythm is broken and the game suddenly feels awkward. Special moves, such as a timing-based rage attack and a floor of spikes, give you the chance to turn the tide (providing you've got enough blood stored in the meter), but real success lies in learning how to time attacks and what techniques must be used against each enemy.
While the odd baddie runs at you while you're just wandering about, most of the game's combat takes place inside enclosed zones. During these sections you have to defeat a set number of foes before you can move on. Once you've got the hang of the combat timing, you'll want to score as many points as possible based on how well you fight (moves performed, combos, times you were hit, etc).
Online leaderboards provide a solid reason to replay stages (on top of a decent set of collectables and unlocks), which is lucky as a first playthrough on 'normal' won't last more than three hours. On normal or lower you can revive whenever you die (although your score is lost and combat areas are reset), but death is far from ideal. To properly beat the game you'll need to finish on Beast mode, which lowers your maximum health and sees enemies inflict more damage. You'll also have your ability to revive when killed limited to the number of elixirs you're carrying (awarded for acing a combat area).
If you play with the game's social features turned on you can get updates on how your friends are scoring in combat zones, and there's also a strange option to either kill fallen players or send them a gift. Choosing to kill them sees your beast hack off all limbs by mashing buttons, before slicing the head clean off. To be honest, I have no idea what this does.
At points Shadow of the Beast looks rather lovely, the lighting and desolate landscape creating a foreboding atmosphere. There were numerous occasions where I could have taken a screen grab, posted the shot on a popular gaming forum, and watched as everyone gawped over how pretty the game looks. For a large chunk of time, though, Shadow of the Beast looks rough, bringing back memories of digital downloads on the PS3.
Shadow of the Beast is enjoyable, its combat smooth and rewarding, but high-score chasing isn't going to keep many players around for long once the credits roll. With a campaign that is over before it's properly got going, the problem here isn't a lack of value, more the sense that the game wasn't ready to end yet. I had a good time, but Shadow of the Beast is more or less the definition of throwaway entertainment.