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Crapshoot: Shadow Warrior, the game that tried to out-crass Duke Nukem


Shadow Warrior

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This week, who want some Wang? What? Nobody? Dang.

How do you follow a hit game like Duke Nukem 3D? Obviously, you scale everything up. People liked interactivity! More interactivity! Vehicles! Pachinko machines! RC cars! Everyone enjoyed the real world locations? There would be more! Streets! Towns! Restaurants! People made a fuss about the sexism! Hah! This time, we’ll try comedy racism instead! What could possibly go wrong? Right?

I really hate Shadow Warrior, though I can’t really say it’s a bad game. It’s aged spectacularly poorly, even worse than Duke Nukem 3D, though for its time it was actually pretty good. It’s just one of those games that instantly rubbed me the wrong way, with sandpaper, right from the introduction of its character—a ninja called Lo Wang, because Japanese and Chinese people are basically the same, right? It’s not even the game’s pathetic comedy racism that annoys me so much as the fact it was obviously dumped onto the game because of Duke’s success, turning a perfectly solid, polished shooter into one that only seems interested in getting a reaction by acting like a masturbating chimp.

The plot—what little there is—is that Lo Wang is a former assassin trying to take down an evil corporation run by a fiend called Master Zilla, along with his army of zombies, suicidal coolies (yes, the game calls them that), killer ape things and giant snake monsters. What made it an interesting game for its time though was that after Duke, the team was much more accomplished with the Build engine—and Shadow Warrior was the game that really put it through its paces, for better and worse.

One of the early puzzles involved driving a remote-controlled car to get a key (a puzzle repeated at the start of Duke Nukem Forever with a fuel cell and more physics). Very occasionally, you got to jump into a bulldozer or similar engine and find out why most games of this era avoided letting you jump into vehicles. The levels were full of incidental details, like rabbits bouncing around your Master’s temple that would get it on if they got close enough. There were even some genuinely impressive bits of technology/design for the time, like a (completely faked) portal system, voxel based 3D objects, and real-world pop-culture artwork scattered around from before anime/manga became a big deal in the West.

Like many shareware games, the majority of the memorable stuff was in the first episode—just four levels. The full version added 18 more, plus extra enemies and weapons, and all the other usual details, but while I have played it… none of it stuck. Some of the things that surrounded the game however did. For starters, in the UK, Shadow Warrior was one of the Great Censorship Blunders. For some reason, the government was terrified of things like imported Asian weapons back then, so they were an automatic no-no. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Weapons like nunchucku were right up there with headbutts on the list of unacceptably violent things. As for Shadow Warrior, it was an 18-rated game and allowed to keep most of its ninja toys, including the default katana and caltrops and machine-guns, but forced to remove its shuriken weapon in favour of…

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