Published by Yacht Game Club, the house that build Shovel Knight, Cyber Shadow hopes to corner another side of the retro revival market, Ninja Em Ups!. Mask on, sword out and jump on, we are going platforming!.
Developed by Mechanical Head Studios Cyber Shadow puts you in the ninja shoes of the aptly named Shadow, he awakes after being in a coma, the world is a mess and the usual tropes from waking up from a coma are in full force. I’ll be brutally honest with this one, I didn’t pay any attention to the story after level 2, I never played NES games for the story and here it’s the same deal. The cutscenes have some brilliant sprite art going on which is absolutely gobsmacking and what I got of the narrative is serviceable IF you need one but honestly this game really doesn’t need an excuse, it’s a product of the late 80s/early 90s everyone was a robot ninja kicking butt.
Graphically Cyber Shadow in my opinion does a fantastic job of nailing the authenticity of looking like a NES title. It is slightly more colourful and detailed than that of the 8bit era but not too much and at first glance could easily be mistaken for Ninja Gaiden, for me this was a giant plus as alot of “throwback” games can’t resist the urge to look like an 8 bit game on steroids.
The level themes range from factories, to desolate ruins, forest stages and even a cyberworld, while not quite as varied as some of the wackier games from the time it fits the theme and keeps within the narrative. Enemy designs are great and you usually get a good idea of what you are dealing with from first glance, animations are also top notch and fluid which helps with the pacing and speed of the game.
Visually Cyber Shadow nails it but what about the music? Well the music is absolutely phenomenal in just about every stage, from the second you boot the game up you know you have something special here and it continues to engage and push you on throughout the game. You’ll hear a lot of the chiptune tracks for longer durations than most due to the amount of restarts some levels require on first playthrough and the music and sounds never once irritate, rather than engage and spur you on to victory!.
The gameplay of Cyber Shadow is that of a 2D Action platformer, you jump, you fight and you boss fight. There are many powers you can unlock after each stage and these dramatically change the way you play, initially it’s quite a restrictive experience with only jump and slash at your disposal. Cyber Shadow employs the old school way of subtly teaching the player how to play rather than forcing tutorials, you’ll instinctively pick this game up if you are remotely familiar with any of its inspirations or played the recently released The Messenger!.
Each level tends to have a mini-boss and a main boss, aside from some tough but rewarding sections in levels, usually involving platforming; these are the standouts. Like all of the old school games it’s more of a case of learning a pattern and knowing when is the best to attack. The game has a great checkpoint system in that you collect a sort of currency and use them to improve the checkpoints, rather than just being a restore point you can upgrade it to restore health and SP for special moves and even extend the length of your blade.
While nothing unique, Cyber Shadow manages to encapsulate that era of 8 bit Ninja games in a tough but fair experience, married with a heart pumping soundtrack and some fantastic sprite wizardry. Level design is fantastic and the subtle way the game teaches and challenges is a master class in game design.
There is a lack of post completion content and the game is screaming for a “speed run mode”, coupled with the rather short 5 hour campaign, it may not resonate with everyone. For fans of retro games, excellent platformers and a genuine good time, it may be worth checking the Shadows for this one.
A near perfect slice of throwback nostalgia pie served up ninja style