William is a boy who dresses kind of like Max from Where the Wild Things Are. He’s lost his memories, and must recover them in order to remember what’s happened to him before the shadows can consume them completely. Guided by his stuffed bear, William must use creatures and spells written down in his drawing book to defeat the shadows and save each memory. But is what happened to William something he really wants to remember, or is he better off not knowing?
Shad’o is a Tower Defense game, so there’s a path the enemies follow, though it’s not always linear, sometimes there are multiple ways a shadow can get to your memory pool and hurt it. William lays out his companions, which look like patchwork cloth toy monsters, along the path in order to stop the shadows from getting to the memory. There are a good number of companions, and all have different powers to help you keep the shadows at bay. Light is the most important resource in the game, and you have companions whose only job is to capture it so that you can build your defenders. Once you defeat a level, you can gain a spell to help you in the later levels. These range from damage spells to ones that speed up light collection, and they’re varied in both cost and effectiveness. William collects shadow pieces from vanquished enemies to power his spells, giving the player something else to manage while making sure his companions are crushing his enemies and none are making it to the memory.
The main advantage Shad’O has over other Tower Defense games is its strong and compelling story. The first few pieces of memories recovered give intriguing hints that what’s happened to William might not be entirely pleasant. The mystery compelled me to keep going in the game and to find out just what had happened to William. The graphics in this game add greatly to the atmosphere of mystery and memory while being creepy or beautiful to boot. Levels aren’t quite static, on most of them there’s some piece that continually moves. They’re incredibly well rendered and different from each other, except for the fog that covers them until you place a companion to push it back. The companions have a child-drawn look to them, but I don’t mean that they’re crude or poorly rendered, instead they are elegant and you can pretty much tell what they do by looking at them.
Dealing with the shadows is a different kind of fun than unraveling the mystery, but Shad’O keeps things interesting by having a wide array of shadow types, all with different strengths and weaknesses. The giant shadow is slow but resistant to damage, while the armored shadows are encased in an egg-like shell that requires physical damage to get through. The shadows are helped by the fog on each level, which unless rolled back, keeps William and the player from knowing exactly what’s coming. I like that Shad’O gives you the option to speed up the action if the shadows are moving too slow for your taste, though I didn’t find the pace to be a problem. I wanted all the time I could get in order to place my companions and to clear away the fog, not only for strategic reasons, but to get a look at the entire map. Completing the level on regular difficulty gives you access to that level in Nightmare mode, which features stronger enemies but also more clues.
Shad’O manages to add a dimension to Tower Defense games that I haven’t seen before, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other games Okugi Studio comes up with.
Shad’O is for PC and is available from Steam.