Shadowrun - Staff Retroview  

Magical Seattle
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Intriguing setting and mechanics
- Control pad is no substitute for a mouse
- Keyword system is cumbersome
- Partner Shadowrunners are hard to control
- Progress can be hard to achieve
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   The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions of Shadowrun vary quite a bit. They share the setting of a decaying Seattle in 2050 populated by magic users, random gun-wielders, a populace so cowed by Japan as to use the nuyen for currency, and various inhuman races, but their executions are quite different. The SNES Shadowrun has some interesting ideas that are difficult to appreciate behind a cumbersome interface that is not always suited for a control pad and adventure game-style progression that depends upon having the right item in the right place.

   Shadowrun begins with its main character, Jake Armitage, awakening on a slab in the morgue after someone tried to kill him. The details are a little fuzzy, because Jake's memory is understandably imprecise after his near-death experience. After getting out of the morgue, Jake is informed by a nearby canine that Dog is his guardian deity, though Dog won't cough up much information until some work on its behalf gets done. The intriguing setting and generally good writing by Data East's team keeps interest in the proceedings present, though there are a fair number of tangents that get left behind, and the revelations about Jake's identity really aren't very arresting.

   Navigating Seattle's environs will take Jake past quite a few adversaries who want him dead. The music will suddenly change any time an enemy appears onscreen, though usually bullets starting to fly at Jake provide an important clue. Pressing the A button will bring up crosshairs that must be manually aimed at the chosen enemy, and continually pressing A will shoot whatever gun Jake is armed with. Dodging is possible but impractical when it requires that the crosshair be canceled out so Jake can move his body instead of the targeting center, so almost every battle devolves into both sides shooting each other until one falls over dead. Killing enemies gradually accumulates karma for Jake to use in improving his statistics, but enemies that drop money have the discourtesy not to automatically deposit it into inventory. A cursor generated with the R button must be used to manually gather it, which requires both that Jake not be far away from the nuyen, and that the cursor be steered toward the precise spot in order to recognize its existence. Scooping up cash from every enemy in this manner becomes very tedious. Adding to this irritation, a significant portion of the heavies in Seattle snipe from windows and do not drop any money.

   The cursor-driven interface is annoying in more instances than cash acquisition, however. Talking to people, picking up items and using them, buying things, and even opening doors all require that the right location be highlighted with the cursor. This gets particularly aggravating if several things are in a small area, if Jake's body is blocking the view, or if the player is trying to find which parts of the landscape are decorative and which can be interacted with. There are no in-game explanations of the skills and abilities, though at least the manual deigns to describe them somewhat. The manual will also be very helpful in determining which weapons and armor are best, since money is slow to accumulate and the game itself won't describe equipment quality until after its purchase.

Many games start with amnesiac heroes, but ones who come back to life in the morgue are a little rarer. Many games start with amnesiac heroes, but ones who come back to life in the morgue are a little rarer, at least on SNES.

   While many aspects of the 16-bit Shadowrun games are very dissimilar, their system of karmic progression is almost identical. The karma Jake slowly gains from killing his enemies (misnomer though the term may be) is used to increase statistics at the player's discretion. Many important gameplay aspects such as the equipment Jake can wear, the number of magic and hit points he possesses, and the length of time fellow Shadowrunners will stay with him are governed by the distribution of his karmic rewards. Maxing out everything will require a fair amount of time spent grinding, so wise decisions will be essential.

   Companion Shadowrunners can be found throughout the game, and Jake can hire up to three of them concurrently for assistance. The utility of most is limited by their unalterable statistics, the cumbersome need to use the cursor for accessing their inventories, an inability to switch control to another character, and the inexplicable failure of magic users to cast spells until ordered to by the player. Having help along can still prove useful in tight situations, but if Jake ever falls in battle the game is over no matter what his allies' condition.

   Jake dying would be less of an issue if the game had more than three save points, but since it does the difficulty is often unbalanced. Sometimes enemies will get lucky and rip Jake apart quickly, forcing a reload of the last save. Equipment has a big effect on enemy difficulty, with higher defense usually making every attack miss, but its availability is strictly determined by the point in the narrative that has been reached. This linearity crimps the replay value by making it difficult to miss anything.

Behind that fence lurk a lot of ghouls that refuse to stay dead without a helping pistol. Behind that fence lurk a lot of ghouls that refuse to stay dead without a helping pistol.

   Progression in Shadowrun is made challenging not always because of the difficulty, but because of very specific requirements. A keyword system exists in which NPCs supply various terms that Jake can bring up in conversation with all of the other people in the game, and barring good luck or good guesses, coming up with the right keyword to progress can take a while. Simply blazing through the game could take a dozen hours, but will take much longer without the use of a FAQ to learn the proper places for keywords and items.

   Shadowrun's audio is not the best on the Super Nintendo, but it does the job well enough. The game doesn't have many music tracks, but those it does have are catchy enough to be worth hearing, while the sound effects are pretty good for 1993. Its visuals do not match this level of moderate success. The sprites are small and do not show much animation, while very little of the graphical details in the game impress on any level, even for the time it was made.

   The Super Nintendo Shadowrun has some interesting ideas and is not a completely frustrating experience, but the unpleasant aspects are unfortunately plentiful. Playing such a grim experience from the era of Nintendo's strict censorship practices is a fascinating novelty, but the game doesn't have much aside from its setting that makes it worth a recommendation. Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis is a flawed experience in its own right, but not having to manually pick up money from every enemy makes it easy to recommend over this version.

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