Cyber Shadow

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Mechanical Head Games
Release Date: Jan. 26, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Cyber Shadow'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 1, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Cyber Shadow is a cyber ninja platforming/action game where the world has been taken over by synthetic lifeforms.

Cyber Shadow is the first title by newcomers Mechanical Head Studios and published by Yacht Club, the developers behind Shovel Knight. It is also a callback to the Nintendo era of video games. Much like Shovel Knight, Cyber Shadow attempts to blend classic gameplay with modern improvements, which makes it feel like a natural fit with Yacht Club's style. It is not as tightly designed or as packed with content as the original Shovel Knight, but it's still a darn fun game.

Set in the futuristic Meka City, Cyber Shadow has the player control Shadow, a member of a ninja clan that guarded the city in secret. He awakens in a new cyborg body to the devastated ruins of the city. The peaceful robot guardians have gone on a rampage, slaughtered the population, and have systemically killed and stolen the "essence" from his fellow clan members. Now Shadow sets out to save his clan and rescue his master (and love interest) from the clutches of the robot creator.

Cyber Shadow's story is primarily told through simple NES-style cut scenes in an homage to the "Tecmo Theater" style in Ninja Gaiden. There are a lot of cinematic scenes, and they're simple but to the point. The story is told somewhat non-linearly, with new scenes gradually revealing more of Shadow's past and how he came to be in the situation, which adds some flavor to what is otherwise a straightforward story. It's fun but lacks some personality, with most of the characters being forgettable. There are a few standouts, but generally, the story is serviceable and not exceptional.

At its core, Cyber Shadow is a clear homage to Ninja Gaiden, much like the recent The Messenger but with fewer meta elements. The core gameplay is exceedingly straightforward. You can run, jump, and slash, so it's old-school platforming at its most condensed. The basic controls and gameplay feel smooth, and it's a genuine joy to play because the simplicity allows you to focus on execution.

As Cyber Shadow progresses, you unlock additional power-ups, including special attacks that use a spirit meter, the ability to wall-climb and dash, and eventually a charge ability that applies to almost everything you do. You unlock new abilities by playing through stages, and some secret items give you additional health or spirit. Most of the abilities feel naturally implemented. You perform special moves by holding a direction and attacking, and things like the wall-climb fit naturally into the Ninja Gaiden-inspired combat.

Of course, you're not inspired by Ninja Gaiden without some challenging difficulty, and Cyber Shadow absolutely has that. The stages are designed so that every moment or two, you encounter a new lethal challenge, but the game is good about giving you a relatively safe example of a trap or gimmick before throwing you into the deep end, which prevents you from feeling, "How was I supposed to know how to do that?" The bosses are also large, dangerous affairs but have predictable patterns and weak points, so challenging them multiple times genuinely feels like you're learning to beat them. Thankfully, you have infinite lives so you can try a challenge as many times as you like.

An interesting twist in Cyber Shadow is upgradable checkpoints. Each checkpoint saves your progress, but by spending essence at the checkpoints, you can upgrade them to provide bonuses. Some need to be upgraded to restore hit points if you start from one, although many had this upgrade unlocked by default. In addition, you can upgrade them to restore your SP or to start with a temporary power-up, usually something specifically geared to help in the next section of the game. Once you've unlocked an upgrade, it remains permanently. This is a nice way to offer optional help for upcoming segments without making it mandatory or too easy. The bonus usually gives you a leg up, but it won't let you skip the hard parts.

As much as I loved the original Ninja Gaiden games, it's fair to say that a lot of their difficulty was due to awkward and often frustrating design more than genuine challenge. For the most part, Cyber Shadow is excellent about this. While the game is tough, it rarely feels unfair. Usually, if I died it was because I was sloppy or mistimed something, not because of something unreasonable. A dangerous boss attack that killed me once became something I understood instinctively on the second go-round, and it was rare to die more than once to a specific thing unless I was rushing. You'll likely die a fair amount in Cyber Shadow but not because the game was unfair.

One of the few complaints I have about Cyber Shadow is that while the majority of the game is well designed, it occasionally has difficulty spikes that aren't fun. In some of the secret areas, they go overboard with insta-kill spikes and long periods between checkpoints. There are also a few areas that feel bizarrely punishing compared to everything before and after. The forgiving checkpoint system keeps this from being too frustrating, but these moments are some of the few times that Cyber Shadow feels like it's copying the bad parts of Ninja Gaiden.


My other complaint is that Cyber Shadow allows you to go back to earlier stages with power-ups to get health or spirit items that were previously locked. It's frustrating to find a secret early on that can't be accessed, especially when it's early on and you don't know if you're seeing a secret that you can't access yet or you just missed something. Shovel Knight handled this a lot better because you could get secrets during your first run-through. It's a minor complaint, but when I got near the end of the game and started to backtrack for stuff, it felt more like a chore than a challenge. It doesn't feel Metroidvania enough to justify these things, especially when some of the locks are doors that are sealed behind a certain sword level.

Cyber Shadow goes all-in on the NES-style visuals, and it does them masterfully. The game may be simple, but the environments, enemies and style perfectly evoke the genre. It also remains easy to read the environmental details even on the simple sprites, so that prevents traps from feeling unfair or unavoidable. The audio is top-notch, with a ton of excellent music that stands distinctively on its own while making me think of some of my NES favorites.

Cyber Shadow isn't as exceptional as Shovel Knight, but it's a darn good attempt at making a Ninja Gaiden game. In many ways, I had more fun with it than I did with The Messenger, and it feels both modern and nostalgic. It's mostly held back by a few frustrating design decisions and a forgettable cast and story. If you like NES-hard games but dislike NES-frustrating difficulty, then Cyber Shadow will hit the mark for you.

Score: 8.0/10

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