Shadow Gangs is finally ready and this much anticipated Dreamcast release from developer JKM Corps will be sweeping you straight back to the 80s arcade. The Dreamcast port is coming after it was originally released to positive reviews on PC, Xbox, and Switch in 2021. After an announcement in December last year that the Dreamcast port was near finished and a demo available, the initial Kickstarter failed to hit its target. However, not to be beaten, JKM Corps gave it another go and the second attempt got over the finish line, much to our delight.
The game isn’t just coming to Dreamcast either, the Kickstarter promises a PS4/5 version and an EXA Arcade version is in the works. So, Shadow Gangs has had quite the journey in getting to the Dreamcast release but everything is now in place. The game is published by Wave Game Studios and backers should have their copies soon if not already. For anyone who missed out, you can order now on Wave Game Studios website, it’s out July 2nd. This is a bumper month of releases from the Norwich-based company with Postal ready to hit the shelves as well.
Having played the demo a few months back we have an idea of what to expect from this side-scrolling arcade homage. Shadow Gangs is aiming to provide tough-as-nails gameplay featuring platforming, shooting, and ninja skills. It’s clear where the influences have come from, anyone that has played Rolling Thunder or a Shinobi game will feel right at home. Even the cheesy storyline is here that will make you wince and laugh all at the same time. JKM Corps want to pull that nostalgia string tight and have you buckle in for the ride.
The story plays second fiddle to the main action, but any 80s arcade game worth its weight requires a generic bad guy who must be destroyed by a one-man army. And that man is Dan, the current ninja order master. Your mission is to rescue your family from the Shadow Force crime organisation, whose members are known as the Shadow Gangs. You uncover devious plots and take on many crime lords in your battle against this total evil. The tropes are right out of an 80s action movie and this is exactly what we want.
Before darting into the gameplay it’s worth discussing a few of the Dreamcast specific features within this port. Firstly, the game screen has 7% more vertical resolution compared to widescreen releases. This is down to Shadow Gangs having the correct 4:3 ratio so it displays on CRT televisions. There’s also are a few bug fixes that have been cleared up from the original game so it will feel more like a definitive version. The difficulty has been adjusted as well to help make it more accessible and a rumble feature added.
The colours display beautifully and the animations feel every bit as tight as the modern ports. There is no slowdown to be found and transitions between the different level sections are smooth. You do start to notice the loading times between areas though, they’re not particularly long but worth mentioning. But all in all, Shadow Gangs runs well on the Dreamcast. The developer has done an amazing job in optimizing a modern game for the Dreamcast and there are no noticeable hangovers from the widescreen ports.
Each level requires you to find your ninja friends and free them from the clutches of the gang members. Once you have found them all you must reach the end of the stage before the timer runs out. This is all played out across platforms with enemies flying in from all directions. Every few levels a boss appears and these break up the gameplay nicely. The bonus stage at the end of every level is a first-person shooting mini-game. You must kill all the ninjas before they run off with your bonus items, it’s all very fun.
The main feature of Shadow Gangs is its excellent combat. You blend your main range attack with jumping and close-quarters melee fighting. Attacks feel solid and any mistakes feel like your own. During each level, you’ll find a power-up that morphs you into a super ninja mode. This allows you to double jump and fire a gun instead of the weaker shuriken. But its main function is to give you a sword for melee attack and defence. Useful attack drones can be picked up on some levels and you have a limited super move that clears the screen.
Graphically, Shadow Gangs is gorgeous. Sprites are huge with detailed animation that makes every enemy stand out. The levels look incredible at times and this is certainly one of the best looking Dreamcast games I have played for many years. All the backgrounds have depth and platforms are clear to see. Some of the bosses are jaw-dropping and each level has its own theme that is different from the last. There is a real feel of quality in the presentation and you can see that a lot of love has been poured into how Shadow Gangs looks.
The sound is equally impressive with chunky guitar riffs used as the main music source. It builds up and leads out with huge solos that accompany the action well but can still stand strong on its own. JKM Corps are so pleased with the soundtrack that it’s being released separately on CD and vinyl. Controlling Dan is a joy as well, action and movement commands feel responsive and any deaths are down to you. There is sharp hit detection that is so vital in a game like Shadow Gangs, everything has been well thought out during development.
Shadow Gangs is an impressive game that excels on many levels. The presentation is top-notch and it has the feel of a premium game. Everything from the sprite work to the music has been thought out and it oozes quality at every turn. It’s also difficult in all the right ways and the challenge will keep you coming back for that nostalgic 80s arcade experience. Anyone that enjoys side-scrolling action games needs to be checking this out and it’s a must buy for Dreamcast indie fans. You will not want to miss this one.
Thank you to JKM Corps and Wave Game Studios for sending a review copy. You can order a copy now on Wave Game Studios website.