Data Sheet

Title: Shamus
Publisher: Vatical Entertainment
Features: Game Boy or Game Boy Color, password save
Format: Arcade
Reviewer: Heiss

Screen Shots


In the early to mid-1980s, low-end personal computers from the likes of Apple, Atari, Commodore, TI, Radio Shack, and Sinclair slugged it out for domination. I had an Atari 400 way back then, a nice-looking thing with a membrane keyboard that was murder to type on, but of course as a kid I really didn't care much about typing in programs--all I knew was that I had a computer, and could play games.

The Atari 400 also had a cartridge slot for games, and I remember having lots of them, among them a game called Shamus, produced by Synapse Software, one of the more successful third party game developers during that time.

Well, the computer wars ended, resulting in the once-booming U.S. gaming industry dying a quick death as companies closed one after the other, only to rise again years later with the advent of the NES and its Japanese game developers.

And now, almost 17 years after its initial release, Shamus is resurrected as a port for the Game Boy, and here I am playing this version--talk about deja vu!


Shamus, like most of the games released during the 1980's, is a clone of the classic arcade game Bezerk, but with a few twists. You play a robot detective named Shamus, and you must stop another robot called the Shadow by infiltrating his lair and destroying him.

The Shadow's Lair is deep within 4 levels of 128 rooms, a veritable maze of almost identical screens with several exits. Each room is surrounded by electrified walls that are deadly to the touch. Some rooms have bubbling flasks, colored keys, and question marks lying around; picking up the flasks will net you an extra life, the keys will unlock the right-colored keyholes to access more rooms, and the "?" will either give you bonuses or something more unwelcome.

Making it worse are the hordes of enemies out to get intruders--Robo-Droids, Spiral Drones, Snap Jumpers, and more, all of them dangerous. You're not without defense though, as you have a steady supply of Ion-Shivs (Ionic-Short High Intensity Vaporizers) that totally disintegrates anything upon contact.

These enemies regenerate pretty fast; once you've cleared a room you'll find that there will be more of them once you go back. And staying too long inside any room will make the Shadow come out; a little warning tune plays before he appears, and he'll move quickly, passing through walls to reach you. Shooting will only stun him, so you'd better hightail it out of there fast.

Controls, Graphics, Sound

You move Shamus with the direction pad, and button A fires. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong--you can only fire while moving, and this makes control a tricky and frustrating experience, as often you will bump into an enemy or end up into a wall while firing.

The graphics are sparse, as most games from the 80's are, and looks like an exact match with the original Atari version, right down to the wall patterns and enemy robots. The only additional thing here not present in the original are the animated cut scenes in the intro and before each level.

Sounds effects are very much the same as the original version, including the annoying, grating noise heard when Shamus throws his Ion-Shivs, while music is virtually nonexistent except during the intro screen.

Other Comments

Shamus was one of the best games for the old Atari computers, and it still is, but its incarnation on the Game Boy falls flat. For one thing, controls are terribly awkward to use--it worked just fine during the 80's for the big 8-directional Atari joystick with the firing button on the left side, but it's difficult on the Game Boy's 4-direction D-pad, and angled shots are almost impossible to do.

The regenerative aspects of the enemies will also add to the frustration level, as you have to do lots of backtracking through nearly identical rooms filled with enemies to open locked keyholes.

Overall, they could have updated Shamus for a new generation of gamers, added enhancements like rapid auto-fire, quick saves, and maybe even an automap feature, while retaining the original version as a "classic" option for the benefit of retrogamers. As it is, this 1980's game should've been left well alone.

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