Approximate Release Date: May 1, 1993
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Data East
There aren’t many games on the Super Nintendo like Shadowrun, an action RPG based on the tabletop game of the same name. In fact, it would have felt more in line with PC games of the era than its console contemporaries.
You play as Jake Armitage, a man who wakes from the dead in a morgue with no memories. A man outside the morgue yells at you and tells you to find a weapon before the game opens up and you’re free to explore. This is the precise moment where Shadowrun always fell apart for me when I tried to play in the past.
You have no weapon, so you cannot defend yourself. Enemies will randomly pop-up and whittle your health away but there’s no way in the beginning to heal yourself or even save the game. I game-overed twice in this part of the game before finding Jake’s apartment, and I almost missed the fact that you use his bed to heal! It’s a frustrating beginning.
The controls don’t help. Shadowrun uses a hybrid point-and-click and direct control scheme that is some combination of functional, clunky, and inelegant. It is exhausting to use the d-pad to move a cursor over every single room to try to find every object you can interact with. When you find something, you must walk over to it, go into cursor mode, select the item, and choose to either pick it up or examine it. It takes too long to do anything even when using the R and L buttons as shortcuts. Combat is handled basically the same way once you find a weapon. SNES mouse support would have helped immensely.
This is the point where I pulled up a guide from GameFAQs. I recommend everyone who is interested in playing this game to do so. I missed a lot of items despite trying to be thorough because interactable items don’t pop in the low-res graphics of the SNES.
I’m being hard on Shadowrun. There are things I really like. Cyberpunk dystopia is a motif that isn’t explored much in the SNES library and it’s done well here. Jake having a payphone in his apartment, in particular, is the kind of micro-horror that cyberpunk stories are awash in.
Cyberpunk also lends itself to the idea that information is as much of a weapon as a handgun. Shadowrun‘s conversation system is built around this. As you talk to people you’ll learn keywords, which you can use in conversation to get new information. It’s not very deep and lacks variety in flavor text with “wrong” keywords, but it works and encourages exploration. It helps that there’s enough weird stuff going on in the story and setting to keep things moving.
Despite my frustrations, I would recommend checking out Shadowrun with a guide. It’s flawed and hasn’t aged well at all, but there’s not much like it on the system. I really wish I had played this back in the ‘90s. The compromises made to get a game of this scope to work may not have been as off-putting then.
Next time: Ready yourself for four-player pandemonium in Super Bomberman!