- Developer: Mechanical Head Studios
- Publisher: Yacht Club Games
- Release date: 26/1/2021
- Price: £17.99 /$14.99
- Review code provided by Yacht Club Games
Introducing: Cyber Shadow Switch Review
Cyber Shadow steps into a fairly crowded genre, whilst also having the long shadow of Shovel Knight to live up to. The game is published by Yacht Club Games, and looks very similar to their fantastic debut, but this is the work of Mechanical Head Studios. Instead Shovel Knight’s daddy takes on publishing duties here, whilst clearly offering a little in the way of inspiration and guidance.
There are already a slew of pseudo 8-bit games on the Switch, not to mention those centred around Ninjas. The obvious old-school reference point here is Ninja Gaiden, but fans have been well served by the likes of The Messenger and Katana Zero. Cyber Shadow has a lot of pressure to perform, when you consider the retro lineage it follows and the range of modern-day peers which already offer superb 2D sprite-based action. Thankfully Mechanical Head Games have come up with the goods and offered something special!
Clan In Da Front
The game stars silent protagonist Shadow, a member of a Ninja clan who awakens from stasis to find that his clan has been decimated and his master taken captive. His world has been destroyed and an army of androids have been unleashed to hunt down the remaining clan members. Shadow embarks on a quest to save his master and put things right.
Shadow as a character is fairly bland, but the game manages to show a good bit of depth in its storytelling. It uses short cutscenes and text logs from computers to provide background to the events prior to the game and to provide some interesting character development as thing progress.
Despite the 8-bit trappings, the game manages to tell an interesting story using the simple graphical style and short snippets of text. It’s refreshing to see a simple story told well without the bloat and excess sometimes found in triple A games.
Choose the Sword…
Cyber Shadow plays as an interesting mix of old-school platformer and Metroidvania. It doesn’t fit neatly into either box, but should satisfy fans of Ninja Gaiden and the NES Castlevania games whilst also hitting that Metroidvania sweet spot.
Shadow has a basic sword attack, jump and shuriken attack, but his move set expands significantly as you progress. With the Metroidvania genre that’s par for the course, but here the way the moves are introduced almost feels more like a Zelda game, with each new move forming the basis of your traversal for the next level.
The game is made up of “Chapters”, and gated in such a way that you proceed through them like traditional levels, but early on it becomes apparent that the levels are stitched together into a sprawling interconnected map which loops back on itself not unlike the way Dark Souls’ map does.
…And You Will Join Me!
You often find yourself battling through a section before unlocking a new upgrade and bursting through a locked door or crumbling wall to emerge in a previous area ready to smash the foes that previously troubled you, using your newly found powers. The approach to level design gives the flow of a Metroidvania whilst avoiding the sensation of constantly being lost, which was a bugbear of mine when playing Hollow Knight (forgive the pun).
The combat is simple, with a sword swipe that can only be directed in front, but most basic enemies can be dispatched with one or two swift cuts. Enemies hit hard and have interesting attack patterns, so a big part of the challenge comes from learning these patterns and getting down the muscle memory needed to survive during some of the hairier moments. I’m not usually a fan of this type of combat, as I’m terrible at reading tells, but Cyber Shadow’s enemies are much easier to read and in turn more fun to fight as a result.
As you progress in the game you unlock the ability to charge your attacks resulting in stronger sword strikes and exploding shuriken, which makes traversal and combat a lot easier.
Choose the Ball…
As well as providing some interesting combat mechanics, Cyber Shadow expands the range of movement options as the game progresses. These gradually change the feel of the gameplay from that of an 8-bit Castlevania to something more akin to a violent version of Celeste.
Shadow gains the ability to use a downward strike like a certain shovel-toting mascot and also gains the ability to sprint and utilise a dash attack which renders him invulnerable and instantly launches him across the screen, badly damaging any enemies caught on the way. These gradually expand the ways in which you can approach problems, but the level design is clever in that each is designed to rely on the most recent power you gained. This has the benefit of ensuring every piece of the move set is utilised fully.
Too often in games mechanics are easily ignored. Cyber Shadow feels tightly tuned and stripped of all the fat, with every movement filled with intent and purpose, much like a real Ninja I would imagine!
Protect Ya Neck
Cyber Shadow evolves in a really interesting way as you progress through the 11 chapters. By the end you need to juggle tight combat with hair-pulling platforming sections.
The game’s most challenging, and most satisfying mechanic is its parry. Once unlocked you parry incoming projectiles by simply tapping the D-pad towards an attack just before it connects. This generates a small blue orb which can be struck back, like a violent game of tennis. True mastery of the game relies on getting down the timing for this mechanic. The game even has a fantastic boss battle centred around the mechanic and an achievement for completing that battle using only parries.
Some of the final levels can get a little frustrating as you need to traverse difficult platforming sections whilst fending off attacks from off screen and parrying multiple attacks. The sense of satisfaction when completing these sections is off the chart, but some will find the latter sections more frustrating than fun.
Firm But Fair(ish)
The game is extremely difficult, more so in the latter third, but there are some concessions that would never have been afforded to players of the 8-bit games which act as the inspiration here. Save points are scattered throughout levels, albeit without proper spacing in some levels. You can also gather currency which persists between deaths and can be spent to unlock health and spirit refills at save points as well as unlocking power-ups which can make the game easier.
This offers a buffer, as you can generally collect a small amount of currency each life before dying. If you find yourself banging your head against a wall long enough you can eventually gain some (optional) upgrades which can be the difference between progress or another hour spent swearing and pretending to snap your Switch over your knee, if you’re anything like me!
A Feast For The Senses
Cyber Shadow is a gorgeous looking game. The sprites are huge and chunky and oozing with style. The game progresses through various areas from those with a more industrial feel to areas such as sewers and caves. There are subtle nods to Contra, Metroid, Castlevania and more in the look and feel, as well as some interesting easter eggs, including a fitting tribute to the level 1-2 short cut in Super Mario Bros. I knew as soon as I saw the setup what was coming, but it was still a lovely touch!
The game sounds amazing, with satisfying effects that manage to strike a balance between the weightiness of the combat and the chirpy nostalgic 8-bit simplicity. The music in the game is an absolute triumph, with one level in particular sounding like a long-lost Streets of Rage track. I also got a real Donkey Kong Country vibe from one level in particular. The whole audio-visual presentation is spot on! There’s even a CRT filter and a “Bad wires” option that adds a ghosting effect that gives the visuals a cool VHS style
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise given the way the game looks, but Cyber Shadow is absolutely rock solid in terms of its performance. The action is frantic in the later levels, but the frame rate holds up perfectly whether in docked or handheld. Everything is super smooth, which means that when you inevitably die (again and again), its generally your own fault – a few slightly unfair sections aside!
Cyber Shadow had a lot to live up to, between launching under the watchful eye of Yacht Club Games and also given the lineage and the range of similar games available on Switch. It manages to live up to the lofty expectations and feels equally as polished and accomplished as Shovel Knight. The combat in the game is fantastic, especially some of the boss battles. Some of the bosses have really fun mechanics and the designs are fantastic! The traversal options, which expand as the game progresses, ensure that gameplay remains fresh for the roughly 10-12 hours your first run should take.
The game also includes Amiibo support, with the Shovel Knight range summoning an in-game avatar of whichever character you choose to scan. These travel alongside you acting as an assistant. It’s nice to see developers continue to support Amiibo, even if Nintendo have all but abandoned them.
- Evolving gameplay loop keeps things fresh
- Boss battles look and play amazingly well
- Fun achievements offer replay value
- Difficulty gets a little too high at times
- Some dodgy checkpoint placement