Ninja Gaiden, Zen Ninja, Strider, Hell may as well throw The Messenger in the mix; there are a plethora of Ninja-based stealth like action-adventures across multiple platforms that will lure you into their premise, originality, overall design and presentation. But at its core, the Ninja-like platformer excels best when demonstrating expeditious pacing, and flexibility. Naturally, it’s been an expectancy among many the aforementioned to deliver these attributes, however Cyber Shadow tries a deviated path in handling this, but seems to stumble. Ninja-based title’s have expectancy to challenge you through a complex arsenal, and moveset that may seem unorthodox, but Cyber Shadow’s offense system strips the well-versed hallmark features we are adept to in a traditional action title, and boasts an uneventful lament in this one-hit wonder.
While it pays tribute to old school title’s of the past – not just of similar genre – its lack in fast-paced exploration tempers flaring expectations to whom may be excited to viciously hack-and-slash their way through this gorgeous game. It’s Contra-esque like aesthetic matches its archetype and level layout, along with swarms of enemy’s and automatic weaponry programmed to kill our protagonist. It pays homage to Shatterhand in many aspects, but its tried and true spirit continues its call back to the master, Ninja Gaiden. However, clearing out the smoke-in-mirrors, the glitz and glamour of its retro 2D-throwback like design that charms its audience in its golden age reminisce, Cyber Shadow guarantee’s three things; elevated difficulty, minor offense, and throwing the player in the deep end. Have fun.
Swing your blade...
So what’s the deal? Is it really that simple? Have they forgotten how to develop Ninja Games? it was confounding to find that our hero could only defend himself with one move at the beginning of the game. The problem; he’s too slow, and that just makes for some expected frustration. While you can jump, you can’t clasp walls. While you can run, you can’t duck or slide. Mercifully, we’re only restricted to the basics at the campaign’s initiation period, but don’t expect much beyond what’s stated. After making it through three-quarters into the story, I finally gained the ability to sprint and slash through enemies. This is where I felt the title was delivering on its promise of something different, but again it only hands the player new techniques in irregular doses. There is some appreciation to the added ability where I liken it to Celeste, in dashing right through a level without planting feet on the floor, once.
It doesn't make excuses, nor does it hold your hand. It preserves the sanctity of gamers who appreciate the challenge
Enemies spawning in unique locations, pre-built cybernetic robots on the attack, machine-guns attached to the rocky cliffsides and underground lair’s screamed Contra. Level bosses adorn the same presentation and delivery as the aforementioned, with oversized brutes blazing our hero, with fiery offense and other abilities that will have the player on immediate defense. But the trek to get there is the real challenge. Multiple facets and features built-in to each stage are overwhelmingly overdone. There’s too much happening at once, and while I appreciate the enthusiasm in challenging the player, you can’t satisfy someone who’s looking to be entertained with non-stop barricades and barrages of threatening baddies. When you have an alien-like wall with fangs creeping from behind, while semi-automatic machine guns are blaring, haunted skulls chasing, and massive laser beams bouncing off the surface of the earth, it tends to become grindy and overcompensated.
Upon learning each enemies attacks, and acclimating myself with the title’s minimal range in skills, I began to appreciate it just a little more but felt as if a lot of its additions were left too late into its campaign. Learning the “Link downward spike”, where if you jump and are falling, you can press the action button and down to point your sword downwards, in hopes of staking an enemy. Wall jumping comes later on, and can be difficult to grasp at first. Checkpoints are sparse, and scattered in some of the weirdest locations in each map. Level length was certainly an issue, as I found myself playing through long slogs without hitting a checkpoint, then finding myself thankfully finding one, only to realise that I had been playing the level for quite some time. At its core, the title’s level design has the right intent, but lacks in direction and finality.
Too Cool for Old School...
✔️Incredible 8-Bit Aesthetic that rings true to the golden era of gaming.
✔️Subtle call backs to Ninja Gaiden and other title’s alike.
✔️An astounding soundtrack composed to match the title’s overall tone in nature.
❌A rough trudge before the campaign displays a glimmer of progression.
❌Level design is in disarray. Some questionable creative decisions.
Walking away from Cyber Shadow, I have to give praise in its design. While level structure may have needed some refinement, it certainly delivered in being a love letter to the 8-bit NES-like era. Finnish indie developer Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker has much to be proud of with its release. From Directing to designing the title, and delivering a one-of-a-kind feat in Ninja side-scrolling. My eyes were heart shaped witnessing the beauty of its daft and stark contrasts, amalgamating many classics of yesteryear into its artwork. Foregoing the sunsets by the ocean, and cloudy blue sky’s of Yacht Club’s Shovel Knight, Mechanical Head Studios looked to position their newfound stealthly superhero into a gloomy terrain that translates a helpless future, but one the Cyber Shadow may ultimately overcome.
Jake Kaufman (Shovel Knight, Crypt of the Necrodancer) and Enrique Martin lend their musical ear to the title, bringing their melodic blend in chip-tune like presentation that matches the title’s ongoing display. The sweet symphonies meshing with many scenarios and action sequences are an appreciated consonant that I can admire. Modern takes on chip-tune themes bestow something a little different from it’s traditional manner in old school gaming. A heightened sensation rings through a passionate rhythm. There were moments I was at a standstill during the game so I could listen back to some of my favourite tracks., of course with Geothermal Towers being its first and most prevalent. Overall an addictive soundtrack that will define Cyber Shadow, for years to come.
Am I let down? Somewhat. Cyber Shadow had all the makings to be another Yacht Club published sensation that carried the studio’s legacy after its prime example in Shovel Knight, but its collective shortcomings may impact its foundations laid here. No doubt, the game will have itself a cult following and the admiration of many that cherish the gaming days of old, given its proposed design delivers on a plighted gaming experience. Will these blemishes hold it back? Not necessarily, but it’s reception will be impacted by some questionable creative decisions made early on in the game. Regardless, Cyber Shadow still consists of many valuable traits that gaming has overlooked nowadays. It doesn’t make excuses, nor does it hold your hand. It preserves the sanctity of gamers who appreciate the challenge granted to them in the title’s mentioned at the beginning of this review. Cyber Shadow is certainly worthwhile, if you’re prepared to get your butt handed to you.