Shadow Man Remastered Review: Looking on the Bright Side
It isn’t very often that I go back to the N64 era when playing video games. Despite being well within the prime target demographic during its release, and being head-over-heels in love with it as a child, the fact that it was in that awkward stage of figuring things out with most of its games just isn’t overly appealing to me now that I’m older. That’s not to say that I have a negative opinion of the system, however—there were a ton of great games on there, and you can bet your sweet bippy that I’d jump at the chance to play some of them on different systems. And, hey, what do you know—Nightdive Studios seems to have given everyone such an opportunity with the release of Shadow Man Remastered.
So, before we dive into things any further, I’ll be frank with you—I know that there are a lot of people who fondly remember the original Shadow Man but I, unfortunately, am not one of them. I was a little too young for it at the time. Because of that, I can’t share the joy of re-living a gaming experience of yesteryear that I’m sure many of you can. That’s okay, though, because, nostalgia or not, I really did have fun with Shadow Man Remastered; and that, there, says something in and of itself.
Night of the Living Dead
As some of you may or may not know, Shadow Man Remastered is not a standalone game but a part of an overarching series that revolves around—you guessed it—the Shadow Man (human name “Michael LeRoi.”) As a human, LeRoi got into some trouble involving a particularly nasty bokor (a male voodoo witch) and ended up becoming a literal zombie slave when all was said and done. Fortunately for LeRoi, however, he eventually came across a second voodoo practitioner—a powerful priestess by the name of Agnetta (a.k.a. “Mama Nettie) who kinda-sorta rescued him by embedding into his flesh a powerful voodoo artifact, officially transforming LeRoi into the Shadow Man. And just why am I telling you all of this? Well, because none of it’s in the game.
Rather than any kind of recap, Shadow Man Remastered (and, by default, the original) just kind of assumes that you already know what’s going on and jumps straight into the matter at-hand. Essentially, Agnetta has foreseen the arrival of an enigmatic—and extremely dangerous—group of individuals known simply as “The Five.” Normally, stopping five people wouldn’t pose too much trouble for LeRoi, but there’s a catch—they’re currently un-killable. In order to vanquish these five villains for good, as well as the force overseeing all of them, LeRoi will need to travel through both our world and the world of the dead (known as “Deadside”) to first drain their power.
As someone new to the Shadow Man series, I couldn’t help but feel as though the way this game presents its story is rather jumbled—especially near the beginning. While it explains the basis of what’s going on well enough, I literally had no idea who I was or just why LeRoi was the Shadow Man until I looked things up online. I can understand wanting to have people both read the comics and play the games, but the fact that Remastered is so far away from the original’s release date means that many players (myself included) can very easily get lost in the narrative fog. Fortunately, the game does get clearer the further you progress, but boy, are things unclear at first.
Lost in the Darkness
In many ways, Shadow Man Remastered is very much a product of its generation, featuring the kinds of slightly wonky—but still very charming—platforming and combat mechanics of its time. I’m sure that most of you get what I mean by that, but for those who don’t… well, how do I put it… ah, okay, here we go—it’s fairly obvious that, with the N64 being one of the first consoles to utilize 3D spaces, everyone was still in the early stages of figuring out how to perfect 3D video games. With that being said, however, the “Remastered” part of the game does come into play pretty heavily, here. Although I haven’t played the original Shadow Man, I know for a fact that, despite any still-lingering mechanical imperfections, the game wouldn’t control nearly as well back then as it does now.
Given that most of that previous paragraph revolved around nitpicky technical stuff, you might be tempted to think that this game doesn’t have much going for it in terms of novelty. Fortunately, however, you would be wrong. You see, Shadow Man (and the Remastered version, by default) took an approach to gameplay that was incredibly daring for its time by deciding to not railroad the player’s adventure. While it’s true that there is a set way of accomplishing certain parts of your adventure, a surprising amount of the game is nonlinear. There’s also a lot to explore in this game. Truth be told, I wasn’t actually aware that there were any N64 games that were this nonlinear. The only game I can even think of that comes close would be Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, but even then, that’s stretching it. Also, I mostly played bing-bing-wahoo games back then, which doesn’t help anything. Shadow Man Remastered really does a great job at making the player feel like they’re in the shoes of LeRoi in this sense—sure, you have plenty of powerful abilities, but those won’t get you anywhere if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, that “if you don’t know what you’re doing” bit might have been hammered into the game’s infrastructure a little too well because it’s really easy to get turned around if you aren’t focusing on what you’re doing. While the game isn’t all that big compared to today’s standards, many parts of the game—especially those that take place in and around the asylum—all look and feel incredibly same-y and don’t do a stellar job at pointing you in the right direction. This, on top of a complete lack of maps of any kind, all but ensures that you’re going to get turned around once or twice.. or thrice… or… well, you get it.
Maybe that’s the point of Shadow Man Remastered. Maybe it’s purposefully designed to be tricky—and, if it is, I’d say that they did a good job. Sure, you might get stuck wandering around a handful of times, but the game isn’t ever malicious about anything. In fact, despite refusing to hold your hand in any capacity (which I’ll admit was a breath of fresh air in its own way), it does feel like Shadow Man Remastered wants the player to succeed, what with all of the collectibles, cool items, and secret areas scattered about. And when you finally get to where you need to be and take down whichever one of The Five, there really is a nice sense of pride and accomplishment (and I mean that in an unironic way, no worries).
Still Not Dead
Compared to what people experience in today’s gaming scene, Shadow Man Remastered might not seem like much, but after spending a little bit of time with it, it’s easy to see why it was brought back and made better than ever. Despite any of its flawed “N64-ness,” Shadow Man Remastered is a legitimately fun adventure at its core, with plenty to offer to its player base. Sure, it may get a little repetitive and backtrack-y at times, but, given that the game is several decades old at this point, I’d say that it’s absolutely withstood the test of time when everything’s been said and done.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X, PC; Publisher: Nightdive Studios; Developer: Nightdive Studios; Players: 1; Released: December 3, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.