A die-hard psychoanalyst would likely find something deeply troubling about impersonators. They spend their whole lives pretending to be other people and we never get to see what they themselves have to offer, if anything at all. Do they despise their inner core to such an extent they feel compelled to supplant it with a pot-pourri of other people’s personalities, loosely weaved together by cheap transitional segues?
Conversely a cynic might assume imitating an already established brand is merely an opportunistic, bandwagon-jumping exercise intended to reap the rewards of others’ talent and hard work, whilst engaging little of either personally.
Perhaps we should ask the former Canadian development studio, Abstrax, to wade in on the debate given that they seem to be the experts on the subject?
[The Wrath of the Demon opening title screen, Falcor and Bastion from Neverending Story,
and the legendary David Bowie playing the goblin kind, Jareth.]
When Reflections unleashed Shadow of the Beast unto an unsuspecting public in 1989, its sublime visuals and haunting soundtrack were met with rapturous applause. Stylistically at least it was a ground-breaking, game-changing masterpiece.
Abstrax apparently thought so too given that two years later they set out to duplicate it pixel for pixel, even christening it with a similarly structured moniker. Unfortunately no-one told them you can’t break the same ground twice with identical material, and certainly not two years after the horse has bolted.
Regardless, Wrath of the Demon – Abstrax’s only Amiga game – shamelessly gave it a bash… and a hack ‘n’ slash. They lifted some of the sound effects and potion power-ups, Xeroxed the visual and narrative panache and even employed the same musician – David Whittaker – to clone the moody panpipes soundtrack.
[A tale of two Daves. Who would win in a fight, David Whittaker or David Whittaker?]
[…you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own…]
In the words of my inimitable super dope homeboy, M.C. Hammer, let’s “break it down”…
[Static vignettes with scrolling narratives. Yep, we’ll have some of that.]
[Death becomes him]
Former Disney background artist, Brian Sebern, was responsible for the Wrath of the Demon box art. It’s one of the few aspects of Shadow of the Beast Abstrax didn’t ‘borrow’, and whilst it’s pretty enough, it’s very literal and obvious. Roger Dean certainly wouldn’t have lost any sleep over it.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of the plot, Wrath of the Demon isn’t that similar to Shadow of the Beast. Nevertheless, it does share the same nihilistic themes and dramatic vogue.
[Battle of the intros. Shadow of the Beast II verses Wrath of the Demon.]
Anthrax, the king’s incumbent wizard, one day gets ideas above his station, and summons an ancient, hibernating demon to awaken and wreak havoc upon the realm so as to claim the throne for himself. Said demon quite likes the proposition, except he wants to rule the land himself rather than answering to some puny Gandalf wannabe.
With a name like ‘Anthrax’, did the king not suspect for a fleeting moment he might one day hatch a nefarious plot to overthrow His Royal Majesty? He didn’t have the slightest inkling things weren’t going to end well?
The demon miffed at losing his precious beauty snooze annihilates the lot of them before slipping back into a deep slumber to recuperate. While he sleeps, a new populace and ruler emerges. Subconsciously sensing this development, the demon once more arises to squash them like bugs, except just before he does a faery warns the king of their impending doom, giving him chance to take evasive action.
The king isn’t so enamoured with the prospect of taking a back seat so commands his trusty messenger to deliver a Plea-for-Help-Scroll ™ to his most fearsome knight. Anywho, it all goes boobies up and Postman Pat bites the dust. Enter random peasant to fill in and save the day. That’s you intrepid joystick jockey. Should you be triumphant in vanquishing the demon, restoring peace and order, your reward is the princess’s hand in marriage (along with the rest of her body and soul I presume), because that just goes with the Olde Worlde territory; it’s written in the wind. You might imagine you’d at least exchange a few tweets first, but then dating etiquette was different back in ye olden times. Who am I to question it?
[Mine’s bigger than yours!]
Although the parallax scrolling is lauded as its crowning achievement in the game’s manual, no actual figure is placed on the number of layers in effect. However, in their February 1991 review, The One magazine believe it to be sweet 16, trumping Shadow of the Beast by 3.
I don’t recall it being common parlance to print ‘tech specs’ in game manuals before Reflections hit upon the idea, so I’d imagine a set appearing in Wrath of the Demon’s manual wasn’t merely a coincidence.
[It’s OK Abstrax, we’ve already got the measure of your outfit!]
[Unexplained, spinny-rotatey axe-hurling shenanigans.]
Before the finished game was unveiled, several critics assumed Wrath of the Demon to be a graphic adventure similar to publisher ReadySoft’s other Amiga titles, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair. They were kind of on the right track in that the game-play is intensely limited and predictable, but it actually transpired to be a more action-oriented hack ’em up, shockingly much like its progenitor, Shadow of the Beast.
[Jumping and dodging obstacles is always a barrel of laughs… until you scrape the bottom of one.]
[The Beast is encumbered with a feeble short-reach punch manoeuvre, which leaves you vulnerable to attack.]
No-one in their right mind would want to carbon copy that, surely? Even the sound effect?
Anyway, why is the protagonist in Wrath punching at all when he’s carrying a sword?Wrath of the Demon was released with a rather optimistic, above-average price tag of £29.99, and with no sign of a collectable, Roger Dean t-shirt or poster at that. Had you waited a few more months you could have snapped up the budget release of Shadow of the Beast for £9.99 instead. I know what I would have splashed the cash on… Robocod!
[Here be dragons! Well if Disney have already drawn it, and he’s just sitting there doing nothing…]
[A man’s home is his castle.]
[Going deeper underground, there’s too much panic in this town.]
[All good (and bad) things must come to an end.]
[An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.]
[The School of Scaring is now in session.]
[Carrie, is that you?]
[Was ’91 the year of the horse? Great Scott! If ever there was a game definitely not worth copying it’s Back to the Future III. Possibly just a strange co-inky-dink, who knows?]
[Does my boss look big in this, dear?]
[Supermodels have got a lot to answer for!]
[Everyone appreciates a lethal, unexpected, sprouting spike in the tush, right?]
[A sad fact of life; sometimes you’re the pigeon, and sometimes you’re the statue.]
An action-arcade-RPG sequel to Wrath of the Demon known as ‘King’s Ransom‘ had been in development for two years, and was 85% complete when in 1993 the project was cancelled as Abstrax’s focus shifted away from the Amiga. The same fate befell their work-in-progress Smash TV and Q*bert reprises.
What we did get is a Shadow of the Beast follow-up, a Shadow of the Beast follow-up. That wasn’t an echo, just Shadow of the Beast III sticking its oar in.
Shortly after releasing Wrath of the Demon, the entire Abstrax team mysteriously – and without warning – slipped away between the floorboards of the space-time continuum, never to be espied again. It is said that sometimes late at night when all is calm, if you listen closely, you may be able to detect the ever-so-faint whisper of “left Twix, right Twix” before it is carried away on the ephemeral zephyr of forgotten games developers.