Over the last twenty-odd years, Shadowrun has quietly earned a lasting place on tabletops in blending together dice rolls, cyberpunk, magic, and wetwork into one world. Though cyberpunk purists may want to claw its eyes out for what it has done to “their” genre, there’s little doubt that its mix of metahumanity, magic, and moody megacorporate intrigue still has enough fans to keep it going for as long as it has with continuing updates thanks to Catalyst.
It’s also one of the more criminally ignored IPs out there, though it hasn’t been because of a lack of trying. The last effort was a multiplayer-only title that was afraid of its own shadow, basically throwing its fans under a bus in order to appeal to shooter fans. While not a bad multiplayer game, per se, it was the worst iteration of Shadowrun.
Before that, however, Shadowrun had been released on three different console platforms, each with its own story. There was the one for the Genesis in ’94 and a Snatcher-type that was Japan-only on the Sega CD in ’96. Before either one, however, there was the SNES version in ’93 which was probably the most elaborate version. That one was developed by Beam Software and published by Data East.
Players took on the role of an amnesiac who wakes up in a morgue not knowing why and now has to find out who put him there and piece together what actually happened. It’s also the year 2050 and the world has gone through a few changes – magic has reappeared and metahumanity has returned such as elves, dwarves, and orcs…all of whom can deck into the Matrix just like the next guy.
Dragons have also returned, though like the old Shadowrunner’s adage says, never deal with one.
The gameplay system was a great mix of RPG elements such as experience, modified statistics after leveling, stores, equipment inventories, and exploration. The magic system was simple to use and the world was tilted in isometric fashion and filled with offices, abandoned warehouses, streets, and alleyways. The menu system even had a few “adventure” sensibilities such as an icon you could use to examine your surroundings for clues. It even integrated its own version of the Matrix, though it was vastly simplified and really didn’t look like anything described in the source material. Such were its limitations.
I played through both the Genesis and SNES versions awhile back and like both. Each one is different, but do justice to the Shadowrun license in their own ways. As for what I thought of the SNES one, the emphasis was less on the action than the exploration. It really is an investigator’s game. The worst thing about it was the final screen in the credits that tells you to see them again in the sequel…which never happened.
But there is some good news. An outfit is working on a browser adaptation of Shadowrun that will be free to play. Whether it will cling to the elements that make Shadowrun unique and not concentrate merely on the combat is up in the air, but I’m excited to see that at least someone is willing to bring the property back into video gaming.
So here’s the ad for Shadowrun on the SNES featuring its iconic, shamanistic logo (did I forget to mention that the Native Americans also have powerful magic now in 2050?).