I’ve always had a fear of the shadows. The idea of something following you until you die, always there, always present, always judging. For that reason, shadow puppet theatre is something I’ve always been a bit wary of. It’s the thought of a dark 2D world that has its own stories, myths and monsters all played out on a wall or a white sheet that has me concerned and fearful. So when I knew I was going to be playing a game that is totally focused around shadow puppetry, a chill went slowly down my spine. But I had no need to fear because the world of Shadow Fencer Theatre is a playful fun one. But what for the love of darkness do you do?
As soon as you enter the world of Shadow Fencer Theatre you know it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever played. The theatre is voiced – superbly by the way – by its gruff owner and the menus are presented with a number of options to play through. First up is a story mode to get you into the mood. The story isn’t really a narrative to speak off but a short number of scenes to play through and conquer, all across three acts. You have scenes like a ghostly graveyard, or a space setting, or one set on a pirate ship. Here the action takes place and you… hold on I haven’t yet mentioned what on earth you’ll be doing in the game. Well, it’s easy, the clue is in the title – it’s all about the fencing.
Throughout your time with Shadow Fencer Theatre you have two shadow puppets to control. Both are on sticks controlled by ghostly hands, and it is left to you to control the puppet movements and the weapon in the puppet’s hand. This could be a sword, a tentacle or even a giraffe’s head. You swing the weapon around with things playing out via physics-based movement mechanics, which in other words means it’s very difficult to get used to. You can defend yourself against your opponent’s swings – at least with enough practice – before going all in for the killer blow. You can also throw your weapon or drop it, but be warned – you can’t get it back again so you’ll not want to do that too often.
When you knock out your enemy and take them down five times, then you win the round and make progress. Each act has three foes to beat and after that, there is an intermission round where there is mini-game to be played. There is one with a football game which I would happily buy on its own. Here you have two little mini goals and an oversized ball, leaving you to shimmy your puppet along to try and get the ball in the other goal. As I said before it’s all about the physics movement gameplay and the other player getting in the way. It’s chaotic, but simply brilliant fun.
The story mode can be completed pretty quickly, especially when you get into a rhythm on how best to defeat your enemy, and work out the techniques required. It very quickly becomes second nature. The problem is that there isn’t much meat to Shadow Fencer Theatre, particularly after you’ve played it a few times. It’s pretty much the same thing over and over again once you’ve done the main story and spent a bit of time with it.
There are a few other modes included though, like Marathon mode which is like an endless affair where you battle enemy after enemy in order to become champion. There is also a two-player local play option, which is where I think there is the most fun to be had, especially after a few drinks battling away with a friend. You also have Skits mode where you can play any character and all the intermissions, also with a friend, which gives a lot more gameplay hours to what is otherwise fairly limited.
The visuals and design of Shadow Fencer Theatre on Xbox One are extremely creative and wonderfully designed. Everything from the storyboard characters, to the shadowy 2D backdrops to seeing the hands operating the puppets is a joy to behold. It’s a great achievement to have obtained all the details needed in capturing the visual essence of the game and a big round of applause should go to the developer. The soundtrack is good too, solid with some great effects, while the gruff voiceover is a perfect choice for the owner of the Shadow Theatre.
I have very much enjoyed the concept, visuals, and idea behind Shadow Fencer Theatre. It’s a decent game to play with mates, especially if you’re looking for a quick bit of fun. If you hate physics-based momentum games then you could be in a bit of trouble though, and honestly there isn’t enough in the story mode to keep anyone really invested after an hour or so. It’s a shame the price is fairly high for what it is too, and if it was under a tenner then gamers could take a punt on it.
But one positive is that I’m less scared than I used to be of the shadows through playing this, even ones coming at me with weapons!