Shadowrun (SNES)


Review by · July 7, 2000

Sometimes, a software company will have an idea for a game that is fun, challenging, innovative, and just plain enjoyable. And sometimes, they will try to build it and fail. And sometimes, they will not only fail, but they will fail horribly, resulting in a downward spiral of screaming software that crashes into the Alps, bursts into flames, and resorts to cannibalism, just so it can stay “Alive”! (No, I didn’t get paid for that advertisement. It was just a generous deed from the bottom of my heart.) Shadowrun might have worked if it was done in a competent way, but the fine people at Fasa Co. didn’t give it the work it needed.

The story begins in a techno-mystical future. The world’s populace has been gathered into several megaplexes, filled to the brim with towering skyscrapers, stores, subways, computers, and other technological wonders. Just beneath its surface, however, one would find graveyards, cults, zombies, vampires, shamans, and magical items of every kind. And so, lying on his back in a city morgue, we find our hero, Jake Armitage, a man trapped between three worlds. Your mind is a complete blank, a side effect from having your brain burnt in a drive-by brain-burning, and all you have is a torn note you find in your pocket.

As soon as you leave, you are forced into a bizarre conspiracy to save the Matrix (That’s the internet in this world.) from an evil monopolizing corporation, but your main goal is just to discover who you were and uncover your destiny and what you soon will be.

The game has a slanted overhead view of Jake as he searches through the city for any sort of keys to his past. Wielding his trusty firearm and eventually some magical might, Jake will randomly encounter set battles in various areas of the sprawling city. Battle involves you finding a target, aiming your gun at it, and pulling the trigger as fast as you can hit the buttons on your paddle.

Although the enemies are fun to fight at first, they soon become repetitive, not just because they all use the same tactic, and not just because there are only a dozen or so different enemies, but because you need a lot of money to complete this game and killing enemies is one of the few ways to do it. Each enemy will drop 10 to 250 Nuyen, the currency in the city, an item of some sort, or nothing. Besides hacking into bank accounts, there is no other way to earn the thousands of nuyen you need to finish Shadowrun, but I’ll get back to that gaming aspect later.

There are various weapons to choose from, although early on, all you have is a pistol you find on a dead body. Eventually, you will find one of the two weapon stores in the game and can buy stronger weapons like shotguns, rifles, Gatling guns, and finally an arm cannon. There is a smaller armor list, but defensive gear still plays a big part in this game. If you aren’t wearing anything, any type of gun-slinging psycho will knock you down in seconds, and raising the money for any type of high quality, expensive armor is a slow, boring, and necessary chore if you want any chance at finishing the game.

Another challenge brought up in the course of the game is finding key items. The horrendously pixilated background camouflages most objects very well, and you will often be forced to explore every section of the game you have been to if you want to find what you need. Fortunately, the entire world is surprisingly small. Also, many items can only be found by talking to people, choosing a topic from your list of things you are interested in, and trying a different person when you find out that this guy knows nothing. There are many people to talk to, you have a huge list of topics, and many topics are useless to talk about. The items are seemingly useless and brought back fond memories of those NES strategy games like Shadowgate.

One of the best parts about the game is the Matrix. About halfway through the game, you get the ability to hack into it from different computer consoles and play a life-or-death mini game that is similar to Minesweeper. Your little character walks through cyberspace and tries to disarm the anti-virus programs without getting deleted. Prizes for completing these games range from money to information. Although there is a limited number of boards in the game, they each have a different puzzle to solve and make this one of my favorite parts of the game. Although somewhat varied and original, the gameplay just didn’t work for me, and unless you have a lot of patience, you’ll understand why I am giving gameplay a 67%.

This game isn’t pretty. The characters, backgrounds, and the few short “movies” are all horribly pixilated. The dark mood of the game is expressed in the dismal colors. Even if it was an early SNES game, I think they could have done much more to help this game. One of the few pluses I can give in this topic is that the game did not slow down once for me, but it’s pretty obvious why that happened. I think Shadowrun would have been nice for the NES, but not here. This game truly earned its 63%.

The musical score of Shadowrun consisted of hollow attempts at cool music in the early 90s. The quality is gritty, the songs are all similarly weak, and halfway through the game I hit the Mute button for the sake of all those innocent bystanders in my house. The sound effects are equally weak. Gunshots are nothing more than short “pows” and explosions have probably never been quieter. The grunt of an injured person is nice, I suppose, but it can’t save this game. I suppose it could have been worse, so Sound/Music gets a 70%.

The story is probably the one saving grace for the game. It borrowed heavily from Total Recall, but added many bizarre new twists. Talking animals, magic spells, and several allies for hire make the story interesting enough to let you ignore the cheesy gameplay and music. The ending was bad, but fitting, and throughout the game, you meet new people and have different jobs to do. The only thing that I’m disappointed about is a broken promise in the credits. Although Shadowrun 2 was supposed to be made a few years later, it still hasn’t left the drawing boards. Oh well. This sci-fi Frankenstein of a game gets an 86% for Story.

A well thought out idea can be built around a flimsy dream and still stand, but the most wonderful fantasy cannot be forced. This game could have been great, but it wasn’t. The body of the game was nothing but anemic music, pathetic graphics, and a hardware that was barely understood and horribly misused. The spirit of the game was a good story, but it could not be expressed. Overall, Shadowrun gets a 68%.

Gameplay – It gets real old in one hour, but its still a long game. 67%
Graphics – A blind, brain-dead lab monkey could have done it better. 63%
Music – I’ll take the Aeris theme song, thank you very much. 70%
Story – Sickly funny and somehow interesting. 86%
Overall – I hope I never hear of Fasa Co. again. 68%

Overall Score 68
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.