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Retrospective: Shadow Warrior

Eurogamer sends its regards, Lo Wang.

In development terms, 3D Realms may be the house that Duke Nukem built (and then laboriously took apart brick by brick) but another, less popular, game gave it an extension and built a pond in the garden. That game was Shadow Warrior and, much as the Dukester was in his day, it was designed to ensnare the male teenage mindset at its every level. Naked anime babes! Swords that cut zombie ninjas in half! Casual racism!

Yeah, well, maybe not the casual racism. But we can't go all that far in Shadow Warrior without colliding headfirst with the portrayal of Lo Wang and whether he's a little bit offensive to residents of certain eastern nations - even if the game itself isn't sure whether that nation is Japan, China or some undiscovered country that lies in between. Lo Wang's pantomime voice (there's more than a touch of Widow Twankee to it) is clearly not supposed to be taken seriously - how can it be when he's shouting stuff like "Sayonara, scumbag!", "You are tiny grasshopper!" and "Like Chinese New Year fireworks!" as he runs amok in a shower of blood and explosions? Then again, it's hardly political correctness gone mad to wince and wave frantically in his direction when he comes out with a line like "Just like Hiroshima!" as he sets off a monolithic barrage of death.

Put simply, if Shadow Warrior came out tomorrow, the criticism would be deafening. On a scale of racialism (in which all levels are unacceptable but some bits underlined in extra red pen with worried exclamation marks around them), with Nick Griffin at the top and Sir Peter Ustinov's portrayal of a Chinese mobster in One Of Our Dinosaurs is Missing at the bottom, Shadow Warrior is certainly down at Sir Pete's end. But that doesn't stop it being ignorant. There's no way that, little more than 10 years later, it could realistically be released today.

Slice and dice: the earliest enjoyable melee combat on record.

Shadow Warrior also picked up the phallus-shaped torch left by Duke Nukem and ran with it to ever more smutty climes (despite the frequency of the sexy content in fact being far lower), but it did it heavy-handedly and, its most heinous crime of all, wasn't very funny about it. I'd be lying if I said that as a teenager I wasn't grinning inanely when I first discovered a naked lady sitting on the toilet and heard the line "Hoooo! What you eat anyway, baby?" - but replay it now and it's the scent of faint embarrassment that lingers.

Similarly, a later line about a blue-haired woman's fake tits certainly wouldn't win the Germaine Greer Award for Positive Depiction of Sexy Anime Chicks Doing Their Ablutions When Naked (With a Hidden Uzi). It's also worth mentioning (if wikiquote is to be believed - I didn't hear it during my recent play) that lines like "Oh you faggot rabbit" and "Oh, queer bunny" wouldn't have won the Peter Tatchell Award for Positive Depiction of In-game Homosexual Bunnies.

So why, after all this finger pointing and waving of the Guardian, are we still talking about Shadow Warrior? Well, because it was ruddy brilliant and entirely genre-pushing.