If you were to imagine a 1980s side-scrolling shoot-em-up, the images that come to mind would likely be almost identical to the images you’ll see when you boot up 1993 Shenandoah. It’s a classic of the genre, as true to the source material you could ask for and, as such, is equal parts satisfying to play and obnoxiously difficult. How did the developers manage to publish a game in 2020 that is such a prime example of a retro 80s/90s genre? Simple. They started developing it in 1992. It’s literally a 28-year-old time capsule of a game, released on modern media and if that doesn’t get you a little excited, I might have to revoke your nerd credentials – I want your badge and gun on my desk (or more realistically, your padawan braid and sonic screwdriver).
In 1993 Shenandoah you’ll pilot your tiny pixelly space ship through 15 different 2-Dimensional side-scrolling worlds. Each of these worlds will want you dead. Badly. Like you’ve just killed John Wick’s puppy while kidnapping Liam Neeson’s daughter – that sort of ‘wants you dead’. Bullets are flying at you from every direction and death traps are all over the shop. You have a shield that covers around 50% of your perimeter, which you can rotate to wherever the damage is coming from. However, much like Captain America in a real-life gunfight, that shield is woefully inadequate when the world is dishing out damage from every direction.
To help you fight back against the continuous onslaught of death, you’re going to need guns, lots of guns. Your ship starts out equipped with a simple peashooter. As you progress through each world you’ll pick up currency that you can use in the shop to buy more guns. There’s a mind-boggling variety of weapons including lasers, split beam weapons and a backwards-firing gun (which is unbelievably useful when enemies come up behind you and you can only normally shoot one way). You can also use that currency to upgrade your ship.
The game also has a couch multiplayer mode for up to 4 players, however, there’s a pandemic on so I didn’t have the opportunity to try that out. It’s always nice to see a multiplayer mode you can play with people who are physically in the same room and a bit of backup against the horrors of interstellar war would be very much appreciated to dampen the difficulty a smidgeon.
The graphics are a gorgeous throwback to the generations of games that 1993 Shenandoah was supposed to be a part of. Completely retro and faithful to the Amiga, the graphics are something to behold. They have a muted colour pallet and blocky models which look so distinct from games from the 21st century. The loading screen art is also absolutely gorgeous. The screens look like mid-century sci-fi posters and I want printouts of every single one of them to cover my walls.
1993 Shenandoah is such an interesting one. If you’re interested in gaming history then it’s definitely a game for you. But, the intrigue of an honest to goodness 1990s shoot-em-up, not a homage, not a remake but an absolute original, released for modern hardware, without emulation is enough to make the 1993 Shenandoah worth a try in my mind. And once you’ve tried it, the compellingly difficult gameplay might just be enough to drag you down a rabbit hole into some more excellent retro titles.