Shadowrun is an excellent and highly underrated Super Nintendo RPG based on FASA’s acclaimed cyberpunk pen & paper and board game. Although it’s graphically inferior to the SEGA Genesis game that uses the same license, it boasts a stronger plot and less emphasis on combat, although the range of player stats and weapons is admittedly smaller. |
For anyone who’s not familiar with the Shadowrun universe, here’s a synopsis of this cross between cyberpunk and fantasy reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series. In the far, dismal future, all our high tech fantasies and nightmares have come true, and the resurgence of magic has brought back fantasy creatures like elves and dragons. Huge megacorps battle to control the flow of money, power, and information, shamans do battle with street samurai whose human flesh has been augmented with the latest in lethal cyberware, and outlaws – called "shadowrunners" – hire themselves out for money or honor to battle the megacorps and each other. It’s an age in which a worldwide computer net called Matrix and magic uneasily coexist.
In this incarnation of the Shadowrun universe, you play an amnesiac "Decker" who's woken up confused on a cold slab in the morgue. Your first priority, naturally, is to find out who you are and how you ended up presumed dead. So off you go, exploring the city from an isometric perspective.
Let’s get the bad things out of the way first, because they are serious enough to make you give up after the first few minutes of playing (fortunately the good things far outweigh the bad, though, but read on...) The worst thing about Shadowrun is the horrible user interface. Basically, you press a button ('B' by default) to bring up a finger icon for interacting with anything in the scene. The problem is that while the cursor is out, the rest of the game is still moving in real time, including the NPCs. This means it can get really aggravating trying to talk to someone, even though the cursor does automatically “lock on” to them for a few seconds. Similarly, you press 'A' to bring out the crosshairs for combat. This means you cannot move while your gun is out blazing. This is woefully unrealistic – who would be stupid enough in real life to stand still while shooting the bad guys? Another aggravating aspect of the game is the significant amount of pixel-hunting. Long a staple nuisance in many point-and-click adventures, pixel-hunting means you need to run the cursor very slowly across the screen to highlight tiny objects you can pick up or interact with. Fortunately in Shadowrun, the amount of pixel-hunting seems to decrease the more you play. The downside is that combat gets more and more intense, and its cumbersome design amounts to zounds of frustrating deaths.
With all these annoyances, how did Shadowrun manage to compel me to finish the game and award it our Top Dog tag? The answer is that Shadowrun achieves the elusive holy grail of games: telling a captivating story, telling it well. You’ll meet dozens of interesting NPCs in the game, all of whom can talk about a wide range of topics. True to the P&P origins, you are given not experience points, but Karma points for defeating enemies. Once you find a bed to sleep on, you get to use these Karma points to buy stats, which include weapon skills, your "cyberdeck" ability, and other skills.
Like all good cyberpunk games, you will be able to hack into a computer via the cyberjack implanted in your head. While in cyberspace, you will use a completely different set of controls. Too bad the cyberspace looks pretty ugly, and too simplistic compared to the likes of Neuromancer. It's not to the game's detriment, though.
To round off this excellent RPG, Data East added many nice touches that set the game even further apart from typical console RPGs. One nice feature is that if you want NPCs to join you, you will have to hire them, and they can and generally will leave you after a certain period of time. There are also alternate solutions to some challenges. This is a welcome feature, although most alternate solutions are quite easy to guess (a far cry from Wasteland). When all is said and done, Shadowrun is a must-play for every fan of FASA’s cyberpunk universe. I did try the Genesis version a little bit, but the emphasis on arcade-style combat and the inferior writing put me off despite the wider array of stats. Highly recommended, but be prepared to get very frustrated at the interface before you are used to it. If you are looking for a "true" RPG that is more faithful to FASA's gameworld, check out the SEGA Genesis version instead.