With all that’s been going on recently getting ready for our move, the release of Cyber Shadow came out of nowhere for me! Published by Yacht Club Games (Shovel Knight), the game was impressively created by the one-man team of Mechanical Head Studios. I downloaded it shortly after launch on my Switch and had a blast playing it to decompress at night this last week. Should you try it out? Let’s dive into my Cyber Shadow (Switch) review.
Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!
Cyber Shadow takes a lot of inspiration from Ninja Gaiden on the NES (which I also recently completed with the help of a Hand Drawn Game Guide). The sidescrolling, platforming, epic-boss-laden gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played that series! The sword is your primary weapon throughout the game, but you can also utilize a variety of special moves (a new one is obtained roughly each chapter) using “Spirit Points”. These upgrades (like throwing shurikens and a dash attack) are nicely spaced and cleverly used. Movement is tight and gameplay is smooth and fluid, leading to a pretty thrilling experience!
The graphics are beautiful, and I love the cyberpunk future theme. The cutscenes are very well animated and quite a bit of fun! They play out in every chapter as you slowly figure out what’s going on in this world and learn more about the characters. The critical consensus online seems to be that the story is fairly forgettable and superfluous, but I found myself enjoying it! Part of it might be the setting-I’m a sucker for a good “ruined future where you slowly piece together what happened” approach, like in Breath of the Wild or Axiom Verge. There are some intriguing mysteries and clever ideas brought up. Although not all of them pay off in the end, it’s still an entertaining ride!
Old school meets new school
Cyber Shadow certainly embodies its NES-era difficulty, but has some much appreciated modern touches. Checkpoints/savepoints are present throughout each level, and they generally refill your health. You can also often purchase a Spirit Points replenish or temporary extra weapons (some of which are very useful, especially endgame!) using the in-game “currency” dropped by enemies and in destructibles. I generally found I had enough to buy what I needed for tricky sections, but never so much that it became a moot point. It’s a well-designed system! Save points also always precede boss rooms, which is much appreciated. But even with the quality of life upgrades, the game is tough!
Some of this comes down to the controls. Everything was designed to emulate the original NES controller, which had two main buttons. In theory, it’s a fun throwback, but in reality, the usage of more buttons would have helped make the robust move set easier to execute! There are some options to remap basic commands, but special moves require two buttons. Without the option to change them, some moves never quite felt intuitive to me, even by the end of the game.
Tough but fair?
Imagine Cyber Shadow walking a tight rope with “tough” on side and “fair” on the other. Generally the game stays balanced in the middle, but does veer (sometimes quite precariously) toward the “tough” side! At no point did I feel I was on the verge of rage quitting, but checkpoints are often spaced pretty far apart, sometimes enough to truly frustrate you if die just short of one. The dreaded (or classic, depending on how you look at it) knock back is also present, as are numerous flying enemies and projectiles near instant death pits or spikes. Again, with checkpoints I found everything tolerable (like in Kaze and the Wild Masks), but your skills will certainly be tested! My final death count was 252.
You’re going to need some better headphones
The soundtrack of Cyber Shadow might actually be favorite thing about the game! It was composed by newcomer Enrique Martin and Jake Kaufman (of Shovel Knight fame), and simply put, ROCKS HARD. The theme to the first stage alone should sell you on the game if you weren’t already there! I found the music helpful in pushing me to try again and again in harder sections. I think my favorite piece was in Chapter 7:
Oh, wear headphones while you play if you can. It’s a glorious experience.
A length that’s just right
I love indie games that are “quality over quantity”, such as the spectacular Coffee Talk. Cyber Shadow is lengthier than I thought it would be, but ends before wearing out its welcome. One or two chapters drag a bit (I’m looking at you Chapter 8) but for the most part, between concise levels and zippy gameplay, the experience flies by! The 10 chapters took me about 7 1/2 hours to finish, with roughly 70% completion.
The collectibles for completion come in the form of health and spirit orbs, three of which create a new bar to use. You can go back to previous levels with newfound abilities and find them all, but I never felt that compelled to do so. There are also a plethora of “feats” that are sort of like trophies to attempt if you like to live dangerously!
Should you wield the sword?
If you’re even the slightest fan of games like Ninja Gaiden or The Messenger, then absolutely try out Cyber Shadow! Even if not, as long as you’re up for a good challenge and have some general interest in solid old school platforming and storytelling, check it out. I can’t wait to see what Mechanical Head Studios creates next! (after we get an excellent physical Collector’s Edition, please?)
Are you a fan of Ninja Gaiden or the Messenger? And have you played Cyber Shadow? If so, what would you say in your own Cyber Shadow (Switch) review?