Suda 51 has a tentative grasp on reality at the best of times. The stark-raving mastermind behind Killer 7 and No More Heroes would like to invite you along for a trip into the underworld with his friends: a Mexican demon hunter named Garcia F***ing Hotspur and his disembodied skull sidekick named Johnson. Shadows of the Damned is the most grounded Suda 51 has ever been. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. Grounded for him means marking save points with a defecating demon named One-Eyed Willy and assuming you know that goats are a protective light source. Like I said… grounded.
Platform: PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Genre: Dick Joke Delivery Mechanism with some Third Person Shooting
Release Date: June 21, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
To honor this game properly, I will try to make as many double entendres and phallic references as possible. Count them all and keep score! It will come in handy later (That one was a freebie).
Shadows of the Damned has some bulging talent muscle behind it. In addition to Suda 51, there is Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Resident Evil 4) taking care of the gameplay, and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill series) dexterously plucking away at some Spanish guitar strings. As collaboration goes in gaming, I couldn’t think of a better threesome.
The story driving Garcia and Johnson into the City of the Damned is that familiar old trope of “go save the princess” but with a fresh spin. Fleming, the Lord of Demons, kills then abducts (yes in that order) Garcia’s beloved Paula and sucks her down into the Underworld to be his concubine. Garcia dives in after her with his demonic buddy Johnson in tow.
Garcia F. Hotspur may not be the most intelligent demon hunter, but he has the Boner to make up for it. The Boner is the name of his pistol. All of his weapons are variations of Johnson, who can transform at a touch of the D-Pad. In addition to the Boner, Johnson can enlarge himself into the Monocussioner (essentially a shotgun that shoots skulls) and the Teether, which is a machine gun that shoots – you guessed it – teeth. All of these can be upgraded throughout the game and are christened with a new moniker after defeating specific bosses. The Boner becomes the Hot Boner, the Monocussioner eventually becomes the Skullfest 9000, and the Teether gets some braces to become The Dentist. If you have played any of Mikami’s Resident Evil games, then you’re likely very familiar with the combat and your character’s inability to move while aiming. One of the few additions Shadows of the Damned makes to RE’s gameplay style is the ability to shuffle slowly while aiming. Finally, a hero who can multitask.
In addition to the requisite run-and-gun, Garcia also has to contend with the Darkness that envelops everything and sucks the soul right out of him. In order make a dent in the enemy hordes, Garcia needs to use Johnson’s light shot to manipulate the Darkness to his advantage. Shoot a goat head on the wall to light up an area or ram Johnson back and forth in a statue to shoot off fireworks that provide a momentary respite from the surrounding evil. The Darkness will also cling to many of the demons and Garcia will need to use the light shot to blast the sticky coating off of them in order to deal any damage.
The third star of Shadows of the Damned has to be the Underworld itself. The City of Demons is a surprisingly charming, deep, and varied chasm to explore. The cobbled streets of the Village of the Damned exude the feel of old-world Europe, while the cabin in the woods is eerily reminiscent of the Evil Dead films. All of the levels are varied and feature some key-fetching quests to break up the encounters with the soul-munching demons. For example, to open a door in the City of Shadows, all Garcia needs to do is mash an eyeball into a crying baby’s open maw.
Part of Shadows of the Damned’s charm emanates from the relationship between Garcia and Johnson. Johnson is like a demonic Navi with an encyclopedic knowledge of dick jokes. He frequently chimes in with interesting observations about the Underworld or his love of strawberries with his trademark exclamation “Hey G.! Check it out!” Garcia may be a few bullets short of a full clip, but his blind devotion to Paula is endearing, and his occasional exclamations of “Holy motherf***ing s*** on a stick” will bring him even closer to your heart. His outbursts are usually preceded by one of the many memorable bosses slamming through a wall or urinating in a fountain.
On your journey, Garcia will occasionally find a demonic fairy tale that is begging to be read aloud. Johnson will usually oblige by lending his English accent to these grotesqueries, but once in awhile Garcia will try his best to soldier through the story. He stumbles over words which Johnson lovingly corrects and they both giggle and snort at anything remotely phallic. These scattered tales provide yet another layer to the bosses you will encounter. The demonic cautionary tales provide the intriguing the background story to many of the bosses and lesser demons.
Like Scream or Scary Movie, Shadows of the Damned is over-the-top and completely self-aware. Garcia will glance over into the camera now and again to deliver one of the many enjoyable lines that you’ll still quote long after the power light on your system has blinked off. It is unadulterated fun that left me with a big smile on my face. Even though it does nothing to further gaming as an art or introduce anything truly new, Shadows of the Damned is a solid game that will leave you asking for more. Shadows of the Damned’s lowbrow humor might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for those of you who kept score and found yourself stifling snorts throughout this review.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Shadows of the Damned was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.