I quite like a game that’s unique, and I certainly place Shadow Fencer Theatre in that spectrum. Whilst not great, it’s most definitely a good game that achieves much of what it set out to accomplish. I dare say the developer made a bold move releasing the game in the midst of such a busy week. With games such as Monster Jam, The Sinking City, and F1 2019 releasing, I fear Shadow Fencer Theatre will get lost in the crowd, which would be a crying shame, because it’s one that’s certainly worthy of your time and your attention, if flawed.
There’s not much meat to the game, mind, in fact I was able to run it through in less than an hour. That said, there’s a number of modes to keep you going for a while longer if you seek replay value. Whatever the case, Shadow Fencer Theatre sports a story mode. I wont deny the fact that it didn’t make much sense, but perhaps that’s the point? Players take on the role of a weapon wielding shadow puppet, and are tasked with bashing an opponent before said opponent can hit you. With all this being physics based, that is easier said than done.
The game is 2D, in which you’ll few from a side-looking perspective. You’ll bounce and move your shadow puppet all over each respective theatre as you battle for supremacy. The animations are really well done, and provide an authentic feel to the whole event. The only gripe I have is that the loading times can be a bit excessive. I mean, don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking Duke Nukem Forever-like loading times here, but for a game that’s as seemingly basic as this, it’s a bit disconcerting having to deal with load after load after load.
You’ll spend some time adjusting to the fields of play as you suss out the pros and cons of the game’s awkward (yet fun) physics, but once you find your comfort zone, it all becomes second nature. You’ll need to strike your opponent a total of five times to win, with standard attacks and a weapon-throw mechanic present and accounted for. The whole ordeal plays out exactly as a shadow theatre would, and to credit the developer, they’ve done a remarkable job of relaying that vibe. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever played.
The campaign consists of roughly ten levels, with two intermissions in between. There’s a narrator present too, further solidifying the game’s distinct characteristics and aesthetic. Still, that being said, I didn’t really feel all that invested in the tale the game was trying to tell, and as alluded to above, much of it went over my head. It’s still worthwhile, I might add, but I would caution against coming into this with the expectation of something grand. When you’re done with the story, there’s a range of other modes that you can take to within.
They all tend to revolve around the same core functionality regardless. Marathon, for example, is just scrap after scrap; you’re given seven lives and must keep moving through the proverbial motions until you’ve depleted your life stock. Then there’s Skit, in which you’re free to play intermission levels of your choosing, with intermissions serving as mini-games. Here, you can play as a range of different characters taken from the story mode. There’s no differences between characters outside of design, which works well in its favor.
I should also point out that the game sports two player local play, with Skit indeed catering for that. The intermissions provide a nice change of pace, taking away the core combat concept, and placing you into fun, wacky situations that you’ll need to survive across. Whilst I had fun over in the campaign, as well as other combat-focused modes, I found a more enjoyment in the intermissions. The intermissions are far from deep in regards to design and variation, but there’s certainly enough diversity present to keep the proceedings fresh.
One intermission sees you riding a rocket, in which you’re only able to move up and down as the screen slides from right to left; bringing with it a host of dangers and hazards that you’ll need to avoid. Think Flappy Bird, but much better presented, and much more fun. Then there’s an intermission that has you controlling a static character, in which you’ll only control his arm, and must throw a knife at a nearby target. Granted, intermissions are simple by nature, but they’re so well executed that it’s hard not to appreciated what’s on offer.
When you’re done there, Improv will keep that local multiplayer candle burning through pitting you and a buddy against each other in combat. You’re free to tweak a few options here; points to win, time limit, and so on, and you can indeed play solo and go against the CPU across a range of different difficulties. Once again, simple, to the point, but entertaining in its own right. I can say that about the game in its entirety. Shadow Fencer Theatre, if anything, is a game that does quite well at providing some short bouts of fun, if little else.
It would have been nice to have seen more weight to the story mode, or at least a story that didn’t feel tacked on, but the gameplay tends to pick up the slack nonetheless. Overall, the game’s clearly been developed by a talented bunch of folks. Whilst its life expectancy leaves a lot to be desired, one cant scoff at something that feels as unique and distinct as this. Sure, your time with Shadow Fencer Theatre will be unlikely to exceed a couple of hours on a rainy evening, but it’s going to be a couple of hours well spent. That goes without saying.
The whole concept is clever and engaging. The main drawbacks sit with the alluded to load times, and the fact that you’ll pretty much see and fulfill everything the game has to offer in no time at all. Speaking more specifically of the game’s visuals, Shadow Fencer Theatre gets a thumbs up. The game’s visuals are very faithful to its ideas, with nice sharp details present to keep things grounded. This goes hand in glove with some commendable audio design, collectively producing a shadow theater you’re unlikely to forget any time soon.
Whilst the lengthy and somewhat persistent loading times can irritate, Shadow Fencer Theatre provides a lot of fun for both solo players and fans of local multiplayer alike. The game’s hilariously awkward physics fit well with its distinct presentation, and thanks to its varied content, if indeed lacking overall, repetition is kept firmly at bay. This isn’t going to blow your socks off, but it certainly offers a trip to the theatre you’re unlikely to forget.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.