When I popped this game in for the first time I was totally blown away by the sound track which is composed by David Whittaker and Tim Wright. Even listening to it today, it still holds up and sounds incredible. Before you even start the game itself you take a moment just to take in the truly gorgeous title music.
Starting the game you are dropped straight in with no back story and no clue what your mission is. The Amiga version however, did include cut scenes detailing the story. For the Mega Drive however, the manual did explain the story briefly in a few paragraphs of text. You are Aarbron the hero from the first game who has partly regained his human form on a quest to rescue your sister from the evil demon Zelek who is holding her on Kara-moon. Though the back story is interesting and detailed, nowhere does the manual point to where you need to go in the game itself.
Aarbron, your character looks like a buff Tarzan (maybe Conan) like sprite who doesn’t need armor to hunt demons just a loin cloth, saying that armor was later added to the character sprite in the Mega-CD version. All you are equipped with at the start is a ball and chain like weapon. You have no idea which direction to head; you can go either left or right, there are no tutorials and no one is going to help you. This is provided you are playing Shadow of The Beast II blind, without help from the net.
The design has an interesting dark, almost gothic cave man feel to it; lots of dark colours, lots of stone and tree branches, and even though its eerie and depressing it looks great. Sadly the design does not change dramatically throughout the game, you see the same background and platforms which will at most have a slight colour change in different areas.
Throughout your adventure you will encounter a variety of beasts that suit the dark tone of the game nicely. You'll meet equally dressed people like yourselves with spears and beards as well as giant men with ball and chains, dragons, sea monsters and even men flying wasps. I noticed some enemies show a score when you kill them, but at no point during the game do you find out what score you obtained or what relevance it has to gameplay. You never see a high score table whether you die or complete the game. It almost feels the developers realized this during the making of the game as enemies you kill towards the end of the game show no score.
As well as bad guys you'll also meet some friendly chaps like nice dragons and talking snails that will assist your quest however, most will require something in return for the assistance. The game seems to cross loose puzzle elements with an action platformer. Playing this you first feel a sense of freedom as you can go any anywhere you want but you'll soon come to realize it wants you to go in a specific direction to succeed.
The biggest gameplay concern is it's greatest feature, the freedom to go whichever direction you want - as picking left instead of right can easily mean heading to an area you don't have an item for, resulting in instant death. Despite the difficulties Shadow of the Beast II plays solidly and the controls are tight and you really feel a sense of achievement when you figure out stuff without the use of a guide.
Now if you have the patience for this game you will find yourself eventually finding the correct route through it and once you have mastered the way through you can easily finish it in under 25 minutes. Certainly when you get to this point the only really challenges are the platforming and the enemy encounters, and if you want you can increase the difficulty in the main menu. It’s actually very satisfying to play through the entire game knowing the route off the top of your head, makes you feel like a gaming speed-runner.
Shadow of the Beast II is a great looking game with fantastic musical score though it's incredibly difficult without help. I definitely recommend it to any retro collector or any fan of this particular art style. I especially recommend it to anyone who complains about how easy games are today: if you want a taste of what it was like back in the day where you were dropped into a game with no help or tutorials and had to work it all out yourself, then you just found your new favourite Mega Drive title.
Verdict:- A solid enough platformer that does contain nice graphics, great music, decent combat and some nice puzzle elements. Although a conversion from the Amiga original that misses out cut-scenes and has an overall different look and feel; it's still well worth checking out.
As mentioned only the sudden death incidents brought on by experimenting with direction will stop you playing this and stops it from getting a much higher score but persevere and you will find a good game here.
Second Opinion:- Transbot is on the proverbial fencing. Beast 2 is still pretty much stunning in the audio/video department, however Transbot does feel it lacks far too much from the Amiga original to make it a truly Transbot quality port.
Alas, Transbot sees a slightly above average game that could have been utterly Transbot. For shame. That said, at least it is more easy to complete than the Amiga version at standard setting. Transbot has spoken.
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10