To own a Commodore Amiga in the late '80s / early '90s was to be part of something truly special. You might have been lucky and previously stumbled upon a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 at home, but you had to use your imagination to make those arcade home conversions look, sound and play anywhere near the real deal. The Amiga 500 was different; it was the first home-friendly and affordable entry in Commodore’s revolutionary line of computers and a huge leap from the 8-bit home computers of the period, offering amazing visuals and sound that often challenged what Japanese consoles could produce.
However, looks can be deceiving, and as we grew older we began to understand that most European developers were, at the time, hell-bent on converting their favourite Japanese arcade games onto the Amiga hardware – sometimes with proper licensing and official sanctioned support, but more often than not without. Friends gathered around the Amiga and became hackers, demoscene coders, digital artists and inevitably game developers in the fullness of time. It is a story repeated many times over, with some even finding their way onto Nintendo’s inner circle.
The year was 1993, and if released on its intended schedule, Shenandoah would have faced some really strong competition from the likes of Disposable Hero, Uridium II and Team17’s all-conquering Project X: Special Edition. Alas, the game never made it to gold status and remained dormant for 27 years. Now, in the year of 2020, 1993 Shenandoah launches on the Switch. Can this niche Euro shmup really stand apart from the many other excellent shooters on the system?
From the Bitmap Brothers-inspired art style and in-game aesthetics, the four-channel MOD soundtrack gently calling back to such greats motifs like Turrican or Shadow of the Beast, the Xenon 2: Megablast weapon system, the end of level boss designs... everything, absolutely everything screams Amiga. This game is an unapologetic nostalgia trap and a very good one at that – assuming the player recognizes its brilliance at mimicking Amiga-based horizontal scrolling shmups from three decades ago.
By the numbers, your mission to retrieve the Shenandoah terraforming device will take you across six different planets split between orbital and land levels, a choice of six different Class 1 small fighters and (when in-game currency allows it) three Class 2 ships, along with twenty-five over-the-top and upgradable weapon pods that range from forward-firing to wide and horizontal weapons – and even a few very handy auto-tracking weapons.
This later weapon variety ends up becoming the most fun aspect of the game. Small ships can only mount two of these weapon pods, but the larger ships allow up to four, giving you ample and customizable firepower once you find the shop between areas that lets you spend the hard-earned currency taken from the remains of the smouldering wrecks of enemies. Pay attention to the pre-boss radio chatter, because they drop hints that might lead the player to discover secret Easter eggs that translate into huge profits.
Do understand that, despite feeling like a Commodore Amiga game, this is not just an emulated package. Despite the incredible technology by 1990s standards, the game you play here would never run on an actual Amiga. This one even pulls a feature that few other games besides Quad Fighter K dared to attempt: up to four players in co-op mode (well, it's co-op until everyone realizes that the money isn’t shared and it then becomes a free-for-all money-grabbing slugfest with players trying to get their ship upgraded as fast as possible).
As enjoyable and easy-going a throwback experience this is, we did find some issues. On the easiest setting, you can play see all fifteen stages around the one hour mark. Some of the in-game text gets too small, and the on-screen action is so intense it's often hard to keep track of things when played in handheld mode. Despite the option to tackle the initial planets as you see fit, 1993 Shenandoah remains a very linear game. Oh, and one of the bosses decided to leave the screen entirely and never come back, which was certainly a very anti-climatic way to end a level. While it certainly would have offered been good value for money back in 1993, times have changed and Switch owners will certainly expect a little more bang for their buck in 2020.
1993 Shenandoah is an unexpectedly polarizing title: previous Commodore Amiga owners and fans will undoubtedly love it and blissfully enjoy the sights and sounds of their beloved childhood, but folks who either missed out on the Amiga or are too young to know the machine might feel completely baffled that such titles managed to hold anyone's attention for long. Even so, we can’t deny that having games recovered from decades ago is always a welcome surprise, and for that, we are more than pleased to salute the addition of this one to the Nintendo Switch's ever-growing, ever-impressive shmup library. It's not for everyone, then, but if you loved the Amiga, then you'll probably love this.