Cyber Shadow Review

Shovel Knight was a bit of an anomaly to me. After years of indie titles aping 8 and 16-bit aesthetics, I became rather numb to the art style, and everything that usually comes with it like chiptune music and simplistic gameplay. In general, this style of game harkens back to an era that frankly, I have very little nostalgia for, and nostalgia is how these games are usually sold. But something about Shovel Knight always felt different to me. Perhaps it’s because I found the game to be very earnestly using these aesthetics but not being so beholden to them that the game feels like it came out way back then. Maybe the gameplay was just that good. Either way, Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story remains one of my favorite games to this day and I’ve played through it more times than just about any game. Cyber Shadow, a similarly modern game with retro aesthetics, is the first publishing effort by Yacht Club, and the first effort overall from Aarne Hunziker at Mechanical Head Studios. In that respect, the game is a big success, but it’s not without its issues, and overall is a bit less of a success than I think Shovel Knight was.

Cyber Shadow hangs its head almost entirely on its gameplay, which is wise because that’s ultimately the strongest element. Slicing your ninja’s sword sure feels great, especially when combined with the game’s ultra fast precision platforming. Cutting your way through multiple enemies, especially in the game’s largest fights where you need to be mentally checking off who needs to be taken care of first, is loads of fun. Unfortunately, I think the game takes too long to give you the abilities that are the most interesting to use. You start the game only being able to slash and jump. Eventually you will be sprinting, dashing, and countering attacks, but it takes many hours before you unlock any of those abilities, and once you start unlocking them, you unlock them fast, so there’s little to no time to learn how to master them before you’re fumbling with all of these abilities at once.

My other big problem with the game is that it’s a tad too long. I felt like I was done with the game long before I was nearing the end. It doesn’t help that each of the last four levels feels like a finale level but each last an hour or more. It didn’t leave me wanting more like Shovel Knight’s campaign did, and although there are metroidvania elements to older levels that would reward replays with new skills, I doubt I’ll be heading back anytime soon. It sure doesn’t help that replaying levels is so inconvenient. The game features one of the worst overworld maps I’ve ever seen, and levels are multi-hour punishing gauntlets with all too rare checkpoints.

My favorite aspect of the game has to be its unique way of having a customizable difficulty. Each checkpoint has the potential to heal you, fill up your SP meter, and drop a special power-up, but you have to purchase each one of these things individually for a not insignificant amount of points that you pick up off of dead enemies. These things really help out your runs, especially the often overpowered and otherwise rare power-ups, so if a section is particularly arduous, you have a bit of a get out of jail free card. There were certain sections I felt like I wanted to do barebones and others I just wanted to power through, and having that ability through this system was incredibly freeing.

Ultimately, Cyber Shadow is not without its issues, but its still quite a strong debut. Really it’s biggest failing is no fault of its own, and simply the fact that it’s so linked to the much stronger Shovel Knight. But for fans of Ninja Gaiden and other similar 16-bit era action games, there’s plenty of fun to be had here.

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