Updated: Jan 26
Slice Like A Ninja, Cut Like A Razor Blade
There's a ton of retro-inspired indie games out there now. So much so, that you really need to be careful when perusing your digital storefronts. While some games may look like a game you knew and loved back in the day, janky gameplay would quickly put an end to any feelings of nostalgia that drove you to push that "purchase" button. We've seen many "homage" games that absolutely nailed it, such as Axiom Verge and Yacht Club Games' own Shovel Knight, so it's been proven that a true retro-inspired title can successfully strike that delicate balance between retro game and truly great game. Cyber Shadow is one of these games.
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Mechanical Head Games
Release: January 26th, 2021
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Also on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
In Cyber Shadow, you play as a ninja, having just been revived after a major explosion wiped out the city of Mekacity. Your goal in the game is to save your ninja clan and defeat the evil “synthetics” who are creating havoc across the ruined city. If it sounds like a darker, gritty version of Mega Man, then you’re on the right path. Throughout your journey, you’ll learn more of the game’s backstory, which is filled with elementals, an evil essence, a scientist doing the wrong things for the right reasons, and a love interest. It seems like a lot of info at first, but it all comes together nicely, with 80’s anime-inspired cutscenes that are reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden.
But what would a good story be without quality gameplay? Well, in Cyber Shadow, the gameplay absolutely shines. Each level consists of tight platforming, challenging enemies, and amazing boss battles (more on that in a minute). These levels are not just your mainstay left-to-right affairs; you’ll be snaking all around in different directions. It’s not quite like a Metroidvania type of open area; but somewhere in between the two. And it works. You know exactly where to go, but sometimes there are branching paths and secret passages that lead you to a secret area where you can find an energy or special ability extension. And yes, like Castlevania, you can find health when destroying some walls. It’s no chicken, but it’ll do.
When you first start off the game, you will have very limited abilities. But as you progress and defeat bosses, you will be granted the powers of your fallen brethren; akin to Mega Man. These abilities will help you defeat enemies, and reach some secret areas. You can also go back and replay earlier levels with your new skills in order to search every nook and cranny. And these skills especially come in handy when taking on the super-challenging boss battles. These were some of my favorite parts in the game. They are very frustrating at first, but like any great retro game, you must learn their patterns and counter-attack accordingly. I’ve died plenty of times, but a super-fast respawn system kept my drive going to try again and again. And it’s oh-so satisfying when you do win a battle. One of the game’s achievements (feats) is to beat a certain boss using only your parry move. While at first I thought the move itself was broken, it turned out that it was just my timing. After about 15 deaths and close calls, I finally emerged victorious. And I must say I felt like an absolute badass.
The music in the game is techno, catchy, and fits the graphics and gameplay perfectly. There’s times in the game you are allowed to take a breath, and the music compliments that – just like Resident Evil. Sound effects are also reminiscent of classic 8-and-16-bit games. I could swear one of them was oddly similar to the Streets of Rage “1up” sound effect, but it put a smile on my face nevertheless.
Among all this gushing, there were a few things I wanted to point out. The game is pretty far on the right side of the difficulty bell curve. It comes pretty close to hitting the maddening, controller-throwing (shameless plug), “this is so unfair” levels of difficulty, but stops short of it when you put in the time and effort. Having said that, there may be some that are put off by the challenge. But don’t give up – if I can make it to the end, so can you! The only other annoyance I had was the spacing of the checkpoints. Some are near each other, and some are pretty far apart. There’s this one area where you have to outrun a series of spike walls. I tried a bunch of times, and when I finally cleared them all, I was killed by an enemy a few seconds later. Guess where I had to restart? But I eventually did make it past. Like I said, you learn as you play, and you get a feeling of accomplishment when you do make it to the end. Still a tad frustrating though…
Final Score: A
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Cyber Shadow. True story – during one late-night session, my teenage son called me out: "Dad, I thought you said you were done after this save?" It was at that moment that I realized that I was having so much fun that I forgot that I said I would stop playing. Cyber Shadow evokes a heavy shroud of nostalgia in its gameplay, and is an enjoyable experience for anyone who loves a challenge. Old school, new school – it doesn’t matter. Cyber Shadow is a great game, and worthy of your time.
Review code provided by Yacht Club.