Cyber Shadow proposes to answer a very simple question: what would a Ninja Gaiden game look and play like if it were made today? Admittedly, it's a hypothesis that The Messenger already answered in 2018 … but look, sometimes questions like these can have several good answers, and Cyber Shadow is not the best proof of that.
This retro-style action platform game developed by Mechanical Head Studios and published by Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Game is a really excellent approach to the 2D Ninja Gaiden formula – but more than that, it's constantly evolving and brilliantly adds new gameplay challenges and level design to each new update that you offer. These updates continue to combine to such an extent that when you reach the end of the seven to eight hour Cyber Shadow adventure, it transforms from a simple yet fun platform game to an absolutely wild and occasionally brutally difficult one. that surpasses your inspiration in every way.
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Cyber Shadow puts you in the pixelated ninja boots of the (cybernetic) holder Shadow, who awakens from an incubation capsule to find a destroyed city that has been invaded by out of control machines. It is a useful story at best, told through in-game dialog boxes and nostalgic 8-bit scenes with large, detailed sprites, but still with very low resolution, much like the NES Ninja Gaiden games. His great weakness is that there is very little personality in any of this. Shadow himself is a dumb protagonist, and with one notable exception (which is gone very quickly), all the characters he interacts with seem to exist only to be showcases. There is little reason to worry about the evil Dr. Progen, his master or the members of his clan that he keeps in captivity.
Where Cyber Shadow really delivers, however, is in its gameplay. It really hits on all fronts: level design, enemy design, variety of enemies, character progression, boss battles – it's all top notch. His toolkit starts very modestly: Shadow can jump and cut his sword horizontally, and … that's it. This limited moveset is a big part of what drives the challenge in the beginning, because enemies and obstacles approach from all angles, but you can only hit things that are directly in front of you (much like, you guessed it, Ninja Gaiden) .
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But this is a modern approach to old school design, and comes with modern aids to help smooth the edges a bit: the control points not only provide a rebirth point, but also restore your health when you step on them. If that is not enough, you can spend a coin called essence to unlock permanent upgrades for that specific checkpoint that will restore your magic or provide a powerup when you reappear from there. These powerups are especially interesting because they are almost always designed specifically to be especially useful in the next section; for example, a shield that can block projectiles from the front right that becomes available before a particularly hellish bullet encounter.
My absolute favorite powerup, however, is the one aptly named Swag Blade. This monster ties a saw blade to your character, which can be manipulated through its thrust. So, if there is an enemy above you that you can't hit with your sword, you can just jump in place until the Swag Blade has enough momentum to jump up and down and reach it. Or if there is an enemy right in front of you, you can also strike the blade with your sword to give it an instant boost forward and take it out at a distance. It is a super fun and creative weapon to use, and I wish I had more opportunity to do that than the chapter in which it is available.
Essence and Spirit
Cyber Shadow really hits its pace a little more than halfway through, once you gain the ability to run. It is at this point that it morphs from a Ninja Gaiden-style larvae state and becomes entirely its own animal. Sprinting gives you the ability to use a super fast dash slice that can pass through enemies and obstacles, allowing you to use it both as a devastating attack and to reach new areas – sometimes even both at the same time. Some of the best moments came when I was able to cross a level without ever touching the ground.
Throughout the Cyber Shadow campaign, I never seemed to be running out of ideas and I found myself uniquely challenged by each new chapter, even as my skills and strengths grew. A lot is thrown at you at once, often while forcing you to deal with some other type of environmental nightmare, such as: orbital laser beams, a crawling mass of spikes that kill instantly, a rising elevator that threatens to crush you below in an instant. kill spikes, or safety lasers that, when fired, will activate extra enemy robots and towers that chase you mercilessly.
Needless to say, Cyber Shadow becomes quite difficult, but it is a difficulty that I always felt manageable after learning the various peculiarities and nuances of the many enemies that patrol each chapter. Most have several points where they can be reached and change their behavior depending on the part of the body that you break; others are seemingly impenetrable until you are able to use Shadow's projectile strike to stop your bullets and send them flying back to them; and still others fly at you from strange angles, forcing you to reposition yourself before you are able to take them down. There is an incredible amount of variety in the enemy's design, and it works side by side with Shadow's level design and updates to ensure that Cyber Shadow is consistently new and challenging.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=There%20are%20definitely%20instances%20where%20the%20checkpoints%20are%20spaced%20a%20little%20bit%20too%20far%20apart.”] That said, not all difficulties are what I would classify as "good difficulty". There are definitely cases where the checkpoints are a little distant from each other, which can be the wrong kind of brutal. Naturally, any frustration I felt was eventually washed away by a much stronger feeling of triumph when I finally got to the next checkpoint, but there were definitely several moments in the last half when I was shocked at how long I was playing in a single life without reach a checkpoint or the end of the level.
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After defeating the final boss, I was surprised to find that there is no New Game + or anything waiting in the post-game, but there are a lot of collectibles and upgrades that can be found revisiting previous levels with skills that you will obtain later, which provides some extra value for those who like to aim for 100% completion. In addition, there is also the Yacht Club talent list that provides a unique set of challenges, such as reaching the first boss without killing any enemies or defeating a certain boss without damaging it with your sword. Apparently, there is no reward for completing them, but they are fun and interesting enough to make me want to try and accomplish as much as I can anyway; a task that will keep me busy for a long time.
Finally, it is worth mentioning another similarity between Cyber Shadow and The Messenger: their soundtracks are absolute successes. Each chapter has its own theme song, usually with several arrangements that adjust the mood appropriately, and it's all extremely captivating and well-produced.