REVIEW: ‘Cyber Shadow’ Is a Great 8-Bit Challenge (XSX)

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Cyber Shadow - But Why Tho?

Cyber Shadow is a sidescrolling action-platformer developed by Aarne Hunziker, the one-man studio Mechanical Head Studios, and published by Yacht Club Games. This 8-bit aesthetic, Ninja Gaiden-inspired mecha-ninja game is an excellent and challenging platformer that more than successfully pulls off classic gameplay within a modern engine.

Robot-ninja Shadow awakens suddenly to learn his clan has been decimated, his master missing, and the world in chaos. The plot is thin and confusing to start, but as you venture through the ruins and face hordes of robot enemies, you slowly uncover the truth through the essences of your fallen brethren, notes left behind, and perfectly reminiscent cutscenes. It’s a little bit of a Mega Man type plot, but with enough spin to make it feel original without becoming over-complicated or essential to your enjoyment of the game.

The real star is the gameplay. In classic sidescrolling ninja game fashion, your main moves are jumping and slashing to start. There is no ducking, which is hard to reconcile initially but adds to the challenge and the need for tight maneuvering to avoid taking damage. As you progress, you will unlock more moves, including ranged attacks, direction attacks, parries, and traversal abilities. These are collected mostly after defeating bosses and receiving the dying lifeforce of some of your captured clansmen.

I have long appreciated how even difficult games, especially platformers, are more forgiving than they were in the 80s. Gone are the days of restarting the entire game just because you died five times. This sentiment carries through Cyber Shadow. The game is hard. There are no two ways about it. The checkpoints are spread far enough apart that you can get really frustrated at certain difficult platforming or combat sections when you get set back time and time again. But the game is forgiving too. The checkpoints reload instantly, shortcuts back to certain spots open up on occasion, and some of the checkpoints even have powerups you can pay for with in-game currency to help make certain sections easier. You are never punished for getting a little help, and the game remains just as difficult as ever.

Sometimes, the deaths don’t feel quite like my fault. The invincibility frames are virtually non-existent, which led me to getting trapped inside an enemy’s hitbox with no way to escape time and time again. I have a few small issues with some of the powerup moves, such as the wall slide, where the combination of buttons you have to press is either unnatural or overlapping. However, most of the time, the deaths came from my inability to channel ninja-like patience. And with enough tries or problem solving, I could accomplish anything.

Composed by Enrique Martin and produced by Jake Kaufman, the soundtrack is killer. It holds the ninja and cyber side of the game perfectly while also feeling like it contains a dash of Super Metroid, which is perfect because the game has slight Metroidvania elements. Unlocking new abilities allows you to revisit levels and attempt to find and claim extra health and ability containers.

The replayability of Cyber Shadow is further encouraged by its in-game feats, as well as the achievements/trophies associated with them. While I do not believe that there are any in-game rewards tied to the feats, there are several extra-challenging impositions on your playthrough that will keep you coming back again and again. While not necessarily as daunting as some of Shovel Knight‘s achievements, like beating the game without using a single checkpoint or dying once, there are some speedruns, no death sections, and boss restrictions to keep you busy practicing over and over. For Xbox players, the achievements are worth Gamerpoint amounts that end in either “1” or “6.” So if you’re like me and really hate not having your total points end in “5” or “0,” there is all the more incentive to keep coming back and mastering Cyber Shadow.

As Yacht Club Games’s first non-Shovel Knight IP, and as a work of individual love and passion developed over many, many years, there has been a ton of hype around Cyber Shadow among lovers of indie platformers. Cyber Shadow does not disappoint. While its simplicity compared to another recent Ninja Gaiden-inspired game may leave you wanting a tad more, the game as it is is challenging, creative, and absolutely a blast to play.

Cyber Shadow is available now on Nintendo Switch, Playstation, Xbox (via Xbox Game Pass), and Steam.

Cyber Shadow
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

As Yacht Club Games’s first non-Shovel Knight IP, and as a work of individual love and passion developed over many, many years, there has been a ton of hype around Cyber Shadow among lovers of indie platformers. Cyber Shadow does not disappoint. While its simplicity compared to another recent Ninja Gaiden-inspired game may leave you wanting a tad more, the game as it is is challenging, creative, and absolutely a blast to play.