Shamus borrowed the theme “Funeral March of a Marionette” from Alfred Hitchcock.

Game Basics:

  • Review Date: January 16, 2021 (Revised on March 26, 2022)
  • Release Date: A Glorious Day in 1982
  • Platform: Atari 800
  • Publisher: Synapse
  • Developer: Synapse
  • Genre: Shooter
Just look at that eye popping blue background! Room data: #55, orange keyhole, enemy cap 20, Shadow corner lower right. Matching key is in room 44. Penultimate room in blue.

THIS is the game that really started my love of gaming. I was addicted to this game. I memorized everything about this game by the time I was 7: every location of keys, keyholes, extra lives, and mysteries; what corner the Shadow would emerge from; the best route through the game; background patterns; you name it. I know this game inside out. We even brought the game to grandma’s house and played on a black and white television, which really demonstrated how important the colors are in this game. I have a YouTube video for each level on my rarely used YouTube channel (SuperMateo30). All four videos are raw gameplay with no commentary and they’re intended to help players with the routing if they get stuck. Each video is legitimate after the recording started, but pre-video, I used the “disable collisions” function to skip areas and to collect extra lives.

Somehow, after about 50 tries, I made it to the red level legitimately. Room data: #93, Mystery room, enemy cap 40, Shadow corner lower left. First room of red level. Skip Mystery unless all enemies are dead and it’s not in the top row or left column.

Let’s talk about some Shamus! There’s some story about Shamus and the Shadow fighting for some reason, but it doesn’t matter in a game like this. The idea is to fight your way (freely killing any Robo-Droids, Spiral Drones, and Snap Jumpers) from room 0 to room 127 and shoot the Shadow in there. However, it’s far from linear. It’s a maze. Shamus has to traverse four levels (black, blue, green, and red) looking for color coded keys and the keyholes of matching color. There are nine sets in total and Shamus must open them all to get to the Shadow.

I like that the background stays green (or blue or red) with the score visible after a game over, so I can call someone to the TV to show them my accomplishments.

As I look back, trying to explain my love of this game, one reason I came up with was the fact that this is the oldest game I know of with an ending screen. There is a goal to reach and a sense of completion. The ending is far from a great one, and it just starts the game over at a higher speed, but it’s better than anything else from 1982.

Shamus is fast paced action and the idea of matching keys and locks breaks the monotony of killing things. The opening area has only Spiral Drones, but then Robo-Droids are added in room 13, and those pesky Snap Jumpers show up if the room number in greater than 22. Keys are out in the open, but Shamus has to figure out what room they’re in. Six of the keys are in fixed rooms (18, 32, 44, 103, 110, 118), while the other three are randomly chosen from predetermined options (2/6, 53/58/63, 76/79).

Progress is satisfying and players will do a little better each time they play. Besides the maze, the difficulty increases by slight increases in speed as well as adding more enemies in the item rooms. (Caps of 10 in black item rooms, 20 in blue, 30 in green, 40 in red, and 11 in all rooms with vertical exits, regardless of level. Rooms with yellow polka dots in the background rarely reach the caps, though.)

Whenever Shamus hangs around a room too long, a deep tone sounds. This tense, creepy sound warns Shamus that the Shadow is coming. It is perfectly haunting and creepy, made better by the tension trying to run from the invincible Shadow. Said tension that comes from the Shadow chasing you out of a room will make your heart beat faster. I haven’t figured out how the time is calculated, but I did time room 2 at 40 seconds and room 97 at 6.

The maps are well designed; the layout forces you to find every key and keyhole. There is only one dead end (room 22). While the rooms won’t line up properly, it’s still easy to get your bearings (with the exception of that strange loop that leads to the key in room 118).

The level colors are perfect and you’ll have no problem identifying anything you need to, regardless of background color. That means things like Extra Life potions and Mysteries will be easy to see unless hidden under an enemy. Speaking of extra lives, the game is generous with them early on with 5 in the black level alone, but there are only 14 total, including only 2 in the red level. Any Mystery could turn into a life, though, but some of them are not worth the risk (rooms 31 and 93 come to mind).

Room data: #53, pod room, purple key OR extra life, enemy cap 20, Shadow corner lower left. If key isn’t here, it’s in 58 or 63. It’s another wrinkle thrown our way: the pod room. Touch the bar and you’re dead. Don’t try to walk through the hole, either. The trick is to wait for the hole to line up with the item, then shoot the item. The Shadow will appear after 4 cycles. The bars disappear and it becomes a normal room.

So, what can I criticize? That’s easy: The game has NO pause feature if I’m playing on the real hardware. There will also be occasions of cheap kills: a Snap Jumper goes through my shot, a barrage of bullets is unavoidable, or an enemy is waiting at the room entrance. Luckily, they’re not common (well, not in the Atari 800 version; the Commodore version is unplayable because of cheap kills). The game glitches out if I try to play it above the Black level on Expert, but it’s so hard that no one is ever getting there. Room 93 will make you want to break your controller because it’ll be the first room of the red level and it’s higher speed with 40 enemies. Also, getting high scores can be a matter of abusing the system; you can just go back and forth between two rooms, netting at least 250 points per room. That said, if you play through on Novice difficulty trying to defeat Shadow, you won’t see those flaws at all except for the instant difficulty jump at room 93.

To see my routing and to see just how much skill I’ve lost since 1982, go to this YouTube page: SuperMateo30.

Grade: A


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