Ah, nostalgia. The good old days, when glasses were tinted rose, and children could play in the street without fear of being run over by a car. Not me, though — I was inside my house, huddled in front of the computer trying to finish Prince of Persia in under 60 minutes, because if you took any longer than that the Jafar got married to the princess or something. But yes, I’m not immune to nostalgia and I have a soft spot for all the games that I binged on back when I had few friends, all of whom liked to play videogames. There was the PC port of Super Street Fighter II, which caused many cases of crooked fingers, thanks to both competitors having to use the same keyboard for versus matches. Sharing a keyboard was standard procedure with racers like Wacky Wheels, Speed Haste and Fatal Racing, but SSFII had those tricky quarter circle moves to pull off Hadoukens and Shoryukens and what have you, which made it an even tougher proposition. Adventure games were also a staple feature — Day of the Tentacle, Broken Sword, Monkey Island and Grim Fandango kept me constantly in tears — from the hilarious writing and the frustrating puzzles.
And then there were the shooters. Doom had already come out and proven that staring down the barrel of a gun at a bunch of pixels and pulling the trigger had an undeniable cathartic effect to it, and the genre was fairly popular, even if it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Some time later, Duke Nukem 3D snatched that particular torch and ran with it, substituting nameless Space Marine badassery with iconic meathead delivery. So iconic, in fact, that it took the world a good 16 years to see its sequel, which fall short in every possible measure. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to revive other games from that era, though. We’ve just now seen the remake of Rise of the Triad, the absolutely crazy action title, which gave the player pretty much every sort of rocket launcher they could, from drunk missiles to spreadfire. And closely following on its heels is another reboot in Shadow Warrior.
The original Shadow Warrior arrived in the wake of Duke Nukem 3D, with developer 3D Realms taking the irreverent comic theme that the Duke wore on his sleeve (or tattoed on his bicep, as the case may be), and transplanting it into a setting halfway between Megacorp dystopia and Big Trouble in Little China. The protagonist Lo Wang spends most of his time spitting out wisecracks like Duke, except in a campy Chinese accent, while dicing up bad guy Zilla’s minions with his trusty katana. The rest of the arsenal wasn’t too bad either, and some like the sticky bomb and railgun would become really popular later in other games like Halo and Quake III, so I guess you could say they were ahead of their time. Not to mention you could actually use the heads and hearts of certain enemies as offensive weapons. My favourite had to be the Riot Gun though — much like with Unreal Tournament’s flak cannon, it’s tremendously satisfying to have a one-hit solution to most problems when you’re up close and personal.
All said, Shadow Warrior took design a step further and introduced quite a few new mechanics like tank driving and vertical exploration, while improving on the interactive environment and cinematic scripting that Duke had championed. However, it’s possible that the campy ethnic vibe throughout the game had a polarising effect on audiences. Either that, or true 3D shooters were becoming en vogue at the time, with Quake II stealing all the accolades, which ended up marginalising 2.5D shooters like those made with the Build engine.
However, seeing that pedigree intellectual property that hasn’t been run into the ground is quite the valuable commodity these days, Shadow Warrior naturally gets a new lease on life. Developer Flying Wild Hog Games has a playthrough of the earlier parts of the game, and while it hardly seems like something that’s going to reinvent the genre, an enjoyable trip down memory lane doesn’t sound too bad, as long as they don’t mess it up. One definitely good thing about the reboot is that the original has been re-released as a free game, so now may be a good time to find out how low Lo Wang can go.