The ninja assassin protagonist, Lo Wang, intended as a spoof on East Asian action heroes, was a walking racial stereotype. Lo Wang shouted "you want-a some wang?" with a mocking Asian accent, used chopsticks to catch flies, picked up fortune cookies in secret areas and fought sumo wrestlers. For many, Shadow Warrior was offensive and the game was criticized heavily for it.
Sixteen years later, Devolver Digital and developer Flying Wild Hog have announced a collaboration to reinvent Shadow Warrior; the spoils of the partnership due this fall on PC and in 2014 for unspecified next-gen consoles. While a modern Shadow Warrior will bare an updated skin, the "reinvention" isn't expected to be a departure from the original game's roots. "First of all, we wanted to be a little bit true to the original story of Shadow Warrior," Lead Writer Jan Bartkowicz told us. "It wasn't a game that was heavy on story in any way, but there were some core elements to this IP that we felt we really need to have in a reimagined version."
The original game had players controlling Lo Wang, a former bodyguard for the evil Master Zilla, who ran a mega corporation in Japan with the goal of taking over the world. Bartkowicz said the original narrative wasn't very cohesive, and the game boiled down to "a lot of pretty original environments, cool level design and some crazy enemies." It lacked narrative structure, something the reimagined version will receive.
Bartkowicz – who co-developed the story and wrote dialogue for CD Projekt RED's The Witcher 2 – said he looks forward to crafting a more linear story for Lo Wang's return in Shadow Warrior. "We invented this entire 'Shadow Realm' and delved deeper into a story that was, I wouldn't say it was slapped together, but it was very simple. It was just a reason for you to kill a lot of people in a 90s game," Bartkowicz said.
The lack of a detailed narrative pushing players into action worked fine for games of the distant 90s era, but modern players crave more context. In the reimagined game, Lo Wang is sent to track down a legendary Nobitsura Kage blade, and is aided by a banished spirit named Hoji in discovering the truth behind a demonic invasion.
Devolver Digital's team were big fans of the original Shadow Warrior, primarily due to the game's unique settings and gameplay innovations. The game had players running through airports and construction sites, not just "dark, dreary, faceless dungeons," as its official site noted.
When he was contemplating the ways Shadow Warrior could be brought back "for a modern day gamer and a modern day market," Nigel Lowrie – the man introduced to Joystiq as "Marketing Sorcerer" of Devolver Digital – said he was playing Flying Wild Hog's Hard Reset at the time. The Hard Reset developers turned out to be a great match for Shadow Warrior, as that game shared some key elements with 3D Realms' hardcore first-person shooters. It boasted an "arcadey" feel with secret areas and a heavy focus on gritty, sci-fi action.
Like Shadow Warrior of the 90s (below), Lowrie says the team is "bringing in some new combat and gameplay ideas," especially through Lo Wang's use of a katana. He said it's "not a useless melee weapon like you usually see, it's a really precise weapon that you control," and that the game's swordplay "needs to be deep enough that it's better than just swinging like you would with a bat or crowbar in another game."
Shadow Warrior will include combo moves and special attacks similar to those in fighting games, and will have players targeting specific parts of the body to cause more bloodshed before dispatching enemies. This benefits players in the violence-based points system, as more ornate and brutal acts will help Lo Wang upgrade his abilities faster. Shadow Warrior will also include enemy heads and hearts that were used as weapons in the original game.
For fans of the original, Lo Wang isn't Lo Wang without his brash attitude and sense of humor. Fans can even be found quoting some of the more memorable lines by the lead character in the comments of the developer's official Facebook page. Lo Wang's one-liners stood out to these players, who will justifiably be hesitant at the notion of the character's reinvention.
"If you bought any game for those specific reasons, then you probably were enjoying them for the wrong reasons anyway." - Developer's Nigel Lowrie on Shadow Warrior's more offensive content, toned-down in the reboot
"What we've tried to do here is create a lot of that humor and still have those one-liners... but put together a character that starts off rather immature, and as [Bartkowicz] puts it, is a little bit of a douchebag at the start, but you kind of see him transform over time," Lowrie said. "But one thing we did take out was a lot of the cheap jokes that had a lot of racial stereotyping and kind of sexist jokes," replacing them with "a little smarter comedy than the cheap ones that were in there."
Lowrie agreed that there were "a couple things that in the [original game's] writing that were definitely offensive, like the use of names that we certainly wouldn't use now." He assured that Shadow Warrior will only see "a change in tone and a change in writing style that really shines through," though "if someone was really looking for those particular elements... then yeah I'm sure they'll be a little disappointed."
"If you bought any game for those specific reasons, then you probably were enjoying them for the wrong reasons anyway," Lowrie added. People can really mature in 16 years. It seems Lo Wang won't be an exception to that when the game arrives later this year on PC and in 2014 across unspecified next-gen consoles.