What year is it again? It’s 2021 and Cyber Shadow is definitely hearkening back to the Ninja Gaiden days of yore. Yet, it actually feels more like a modern day game that has adapted to our contemporary play style. Unlike games that I’ve played in the NES app for the Nintendo Switch, Cyber Shadow actually has been adjusted to our modern sensibilities. As one of my games to watch for January, it definitely lives up to what I’ve predicted the game to be.
Despite its cheesy dialogue and really fire midi soundtrack, Cyber Shadow tells a story of an enhanced cyber ninja, Shadow, who died in a nuclear holocaust, brought back to life to aid their ninja clan one last time. Guided by your droid sidekick, L-Gion, Shadow traverses through the ruins of humanity vanquishing evil cyborgs, rogue AI, and renegade cyber ninjas to bring balance back to the planet.
In a way, Cyber Shadow‘s first level really plays out as a tutorial, but with you filling in the blanks whereas most contemporary games would take you by the hand and walk you through what you need to do. It is refreshing how it eases you into the game. The checkpoints are quite generous in the first few bits, but the training wheels are taken off almost immediately after the first mini-boss (Smasher) of the game.
While it may seem jarring at first, throwing you into retro land and quickly turning your experience from an action platformer to a full-fledged bullet hell, it is not frustrating. Sometimes the difficulty spikes really throw you in for a loop, but it motivates you to pick up back from where you last died. Bosses present a pattern for you to follow and if you play along, they are easily vanquished.
Cyber Shadow initially presents itself as a challenge, especially for the earlier levels, but the overall learning curve of the game is quite fair. It becomes Metroidvania-esque as you progress, but still really plays like Megaman if we’re to get all layman’s terms about it. Your permanent power-ups improves the character performance and quality of life as you progress. The moment you figure out certain puzzles or even techniques on how to traverse set areas, it becomes a breeze until your next challenge.
Controls follow the classic NES-style two-button scheme with the attack button and the jump button being used extensively. As you gain other attacks such as the shuriken throw and the blade extend, it adds to the fast-paced action. Power-ups definitely strengthen your character as you gain more HP and SP as well as essence points (visually seen as coins) collected throughout the game could be used to purchase power ups in checkpoints.
If you thought you had the game figured out around the midpoint, it surprises you with temple challenges and other power-ups that push your character to the limit. There are creative ways to use your skills to traverse certain heights, such as using the air attack to reach far platforms by hitting lanterns. Hard to reach bonuses could be attained by using your overheard fire attack and switches could be triggered with a well placed shuriken throw.
Also while there are strict checkpoints, by unlocking switches, you open the level up to areas you don’t have to redo. Also once you’ve defeated a boss and you died before a checkpoint, you don’t need to repeat the battle, which is quite convenient and respectful of your time.
The best part of the game is the midi 8-bit soundtrack. It really brings you back to the old Famicom days where the game score really carried the heart of every game. The story is sparse and you are rewarded with more of Shadow’s backstory as you progress through the stages. It tells a tragic tale of the comrades you have left behind and reminds you of the stakes that you are fighting for.
The overall narrative is better told than many of the retro stories back in the day. Dare I say, it is also better told than some of the AAA story lines that bury you in boring exposition that many a time I would look for a save point just to quit the game and nap.
Besides the gradually punishing difficulty, nothing really stands out as a negative with Cyber Shadow, save for that trope of not being able to crouch. I could’ve dodged so many projectiles with that function, but I guess we have to settle for avoiding it by moving or jumping away.
You gotta respect Aarne Hunziker for single-handedly making this game, it’s a lot of fun and so much love is put into its world and game design.
What We Liked:
- Nostalgia-inducing 8-bit midi soundtrack and retro visuals.
- The game eases you into the fast-paced bullet hell action gradually.
- Simple control scheme that expands as you continue with the game.
- Permanent power-ups open up previously completed levels for better replay value.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Is there a reason why we can’t crouch?
- Difficulty spikes may fluctuate until you figure out the pattern.
Verdict: Buy It!
Cyber Shadow is a fun surprise this early in the year for a bargain price! It’s currently $20USD on the Playstation Network & Nintendo Store and free with the Xbox Game Pass. It is a fast-paced action platformer with a Ninja Gaiden retro look. It actually plays more like Megaman most of the time and every minute was pure joy.
It is quite a quick game to complete as well, it wouldn’t take you more than 5-6 hours to finish, and even after that you’re tempted to pick it back up for speed runs and to complete all the secrets. Basically, you can go back to earlier levels with your souped up cyber ninja and wreak havoc, while getting stronger. I really recommend taking it to go with either the xCloud or on the Switch, as the game really doesn’t need all that next-gen power.
Games like these are definitely marketed to older gamers who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. The game is designed to be enjoyable, presents a reasonable challenge to overcome, and maximizes the hours in your day that you have for gaming. You get to be a responsible adult and you could still be a cyber ninja for a good couple of hours either on the go or before going to bed. Not a bad deal.