As strange as it may seem, Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned is simultaneously one of the studio's most focused and one of its most stylistically outrageous Western games to date. This second collaboration between madcap Grasshopper mastermind Goichi "Suda 51" Suda and trigger happy super-producer Shinji Mikami is generally less scattershot in its approach than the developer's other current-gen efforts, and its "Dante's Inferno by way of Robert Rodriguez" narrative and gutter-punk aesthetic do it a service in setting it apart from the cel-shaded streets of Santa Destroy.
That isn't to say that hell-bound hero Garcia Hotspur isn't, in many ways, Travis Touchdown with a Spanish accent. This leather-clad leading man's quest to save blond bombshell Paula is packed with the same sophomoric humour, generous allowance of F-bombs, and needlessly slick stunts as No More Heroes.
But where the original Heroes would often attempt to do quite a bit and accomplish only some of what it originally aimed for, Shadows of the Damned opts for a consistently solid shoot-'em-up experience that almost always knows exactly what it wants to be.
Shadows' nightmarish underworld often feels like the result of Suda 51's imagination made digital. Its gritty hues are a far cry from both No More Heroes 1 and 2's comic book-y colours and vibrant environments, and the shadow-soaked streets of the game's perdition are stylish and spooky, but just as often comically absurd. This interpretation of Hell has its own unique unspoken rules, but it never pauses for longer than a brief moment to acknowledge their own inherent ridiculousness.
Need to feed baby demons strawberries, brains, and eyeballs to bypass locked gates? Of course you do; this is Hell, after all. Tasked with illuminating a golden goat's head to dispel the flesh-rending darkness that's constantly creeping up on Garcia? It makes about as much sense as anything else in Shadows' fever-dream facade, where everything's dealt with by a self-referential wink, a smirk, and a cocked hammer.
The game shines when its at its most ridiculous, as proven by its vast assortment of oddball enemies. Demons and ghouls skitter around on the walls, shamble through pitch-black darkness, and shock Garcia with deadly electric charges over the game's 8-9 hours, constantly presenting new challenges for the tattooed terror to overcome.
Shadows' larger-than-life boss battles add an extra layer as well, and while some encounters are undoubtedly stronger than others in both challenge and execution, they're largely entertaining affairs that prove excellent opportunities for the game to introduce notable new weapon upgrades and a bare minimum of plot progression.
But while Shadows' over-the-shoulder shoot-'em-up gameplay is certainly solid, it comes with its fair share of quirks. Garcia's "shoot, roll, turn, shoot" combat tactics can become kind of tiring once you're well into the game, as can the "find key A to open door B" puzzles. Occasional one-off stages do try to break up the action every once in a while, but they tend to fall flat just as often as they hit home.
Additionally, the aiming can feel somewhat sluggish at times, and I'd highly recommend going into Shadows' options menu and tweaking the game's aiming speed. That said, I generally enjoyed the threat of the underworld's ever-looming "darkness," even if its frequent arrival made the on-screen intensity sometimes feel a bit forced.