In the Land of Krellion you are a Conan-esque warrior named Lykos. Your world was protected by a group of wizards known as the Ring of Five. The Dark Ones have infiltrated Krellion, enslaved the wizards, and it is up to you to…well you can guess the rest.
You begin in the City of Treyhelm. This is your base of operations for advice, weapons, healing, upgrades and the only place you can save your game. At first you can only kick, but if you RPG a bit and earn the gold, you can buy an axe, mace or bow. Each of these can then be upgraded 3 times. Eventually you can also purchase 3 types of body armor.
Delving deeper, each time you save a wizard, you gain the ability to change form (hence the name Shapeshifter) and unlock new areas. Aside from being human, you can change into a panther, a psionic shark, a mighty golem and a golden dragon. Each form uses collected gems to initiate, and then a timer counts how long you can sustain the form until more gems are used.
An extremely unique idea that really works is the eclipse. There is a small screen at the top showing a lunar cycle. Each time the eclipse happens; lightning strikes and your health is regenerated. This is great if you’re in a tight spot – just hang out and wait for the moon to go ‘round again.
The map is sprawling for games on this system, 16 unique areas in all with 12 challenging bosses!
I love this game and place it alongside the original Legendary Axe (Axe II was crap comparatively) and Dracula X. You can tell the folks at Icom put their hearts into this one, and I don’t say that lightly because Icom put out some awful shovel-ware (Ghost Manor, The Addams Family). The graphics are clean and detailed, the music is catchy and each main character is voice acted quite well (no Last Alert here). Adding to this is some wonderful parallax scrolling that many of the system’s side-scrollers lacked. The Icom team even wrote the ending song, “Slipping Into Nowhere.” Pretty cool to have a game with it’s own song back then.
It isn’t a perfect title. I’m not partial to the Americanized artwork in the cut scenes. There are some blocky transparency issues and the microphones were too hot when the voices were recorded. The music, while catchy sounds like a high-end department store synthesizer was used. Also, while the voices were acted well, the main character’s voice is tenor when someone with more masculine bass should have been used.
Some people say the game is very difficult. But I remember beating it with no problem, and am not a particularly good gamer. The controls are responsive, but in some character forms, you have to learn the quirks of the jumps otherwise you WILL cuss! I beat Shapeshifter back in ’93, way before the internet hit and there were no gamefaqs.
Try this game, get past its quirks and you’ll have a great time old-school style.
W. Eric Myers