The tower defense genre has exploded over the last couple of years and for whatever reason, gamers just can’t get enough of building towers to stop those endless waves of bad guys. It’s even infecting AAA games, with elements popping up in last years Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Gears of War 3. So it goes without saying that to stand out these days, you need to bring something unique to the table. With Shad’O, Okugi Studio brings a very cool and unique visual style but never strays too far from the established norms.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Enemies wander down predetermined paths, and within those paths are predefined places to put your towers (or companions in this instance). Each of the towers have different purposes and properties – some shoot projectiles at regular intervals while others attack with a sustained beam. Then there’s the hammer-like companion that smacks the ground and slows enemies down, which is a tower that can vary in effectiveness depending on timing and placement. It only takes a few levels for the difficulty curve of Shad’O to take a very, very steep incline. You’ll be surprised just how quickly you decide to repeat a simpler level on Nightmare mode (unlocked after completing a stage), as doing so allows you to unlock extra upgrades.
Those upgrades are definitely a requirement, as this game is tough with a side-order of really quite hard. There are two types of upgrades, first of which are tower/companion upgrades that open up the ability to boost towers to the next level during gameplay. Powers are the second upgrade, and as enemies are killed, they will drop a mysterious material which is a currency of sorts. It can be spent to activate any unlocked powers, with their effects ranging from boosting resources gained for a certain period of time to healing damaged towers.
To be clear, unless you are some sort of tower-defense savant, Shad’O will kick your ass. You will fail, and you will fail hard. Strategy, speed and a certain amount of trial and error are required to best the shadow beasts that casually stroll down your lanes. Deciding build orders, when and where to use powers or upgrades becomes an essential part of level prep very quickly. It unfortunately means that most players will have to do some grinding to make any headway, and makes picking those early upgrades a pretty nerve-wrecking task. A little more direction in the beginning would certainly not have gone amiss, as some players will feel overwhelmed very quickly.
Shad’O is dripping with atmosphere, as the visual style and sound design really pull you into the world. Every level has a different abstract theme, with the action taking place on a floating platform, mostly shrouded in thick purple mist. It’s a striking motif and makes for a very emotionally evocative background to the gameplay. Sadly, the same praise can’t be given to the writing and voice acting, with the former clearly being written by a non-native English-speaker and the latter sounding amateurish at best. It’s a shame, too, because the story is intriguing, telling the tale of William who finds himself trapped in a dangerous shadow world where his memories are under threat.
It’s safe to say Shad’O isn’t for everyone, but if you just can’t get enough tower defense and a super hard experience with great art and an interesting story conceit sounds up your alley, it’s hard to see you being disappointed here. This is a solid entry in the genre, but the punishing difficulty and almost required grinding make it tough to recommend to all but the most hardcore fans of the genre.
Shad’O was developed and published by Okugi Studio. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.