Initial release date: January 26th, 2021
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Designer: Aarne Hunziker
Composer: Enrique Martin, Jake Kaufman
Developers: Mechanical Head Studios, Aarne Hunziker
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
"Review Copy provided by Yacht Club Games and Mechanical Head Studios"
Indie titles continue to amaze me with how they can take inspiration from already established classics and still go on to craft completely original experiences that exceed what the inspiration could even dream to be. We have seen this time and again with titles like Fight N’ Rage, Shovel Knight, Blazing Chrome, Bloodstained, and now we have a game that takes on the OGs of the ninja action genre of the NES era with Cyber Shadow. Developed by Mechanical Head Studios and published by Yacht Club Games of Shovel Knight Fame, Cyber Shadow looks to deliver the ultimate 8-bit ninja action game that stays true to its roots of the old school while embracing modern gaming conventions. Does it succeed in surpassing the legacy crafted by games of the genre like Legend of Kage, Shinobi, and Ninja Gaiden? Or does it swing too high for the fences and commits seppuku in shame? Let’s find out!
MekaCity has fallen to ruin and is overrun by synthetic lifeforms that are harvesting the “Essence” of all sentient life. A lone shinobi, Shadow, awakens from a stasis after having a dream of seeing the city leveled as he clutches on to a pendent that belonged to the Master. After being informed that his clan has been hunted down and on the verge of being exterminated and that the one he loves, the Master, is desperately pleading for his help; Shadow takes up his blade and rushes into the night. How far is Shadow willing to go to avenge his clan? To what lengths will he press on for the one he loves? Who can Shadow trust and how long will his will and determination preserve him as his “Essence” continues to leave his body? The path of the Shinobi is cruel…….
You will often hear people compare this game to Ninja Gaiden over and over and maybe that’s because many don’t have much experience with NES ninja games or maybe that’s because that’s the easiest and laziest thing to compare this to which is funny because there is nothing in this game that is similar to Ninja Gaiden other than having a ninja. This game is essentially a level-based Metroid-Vania with heavy inspiration from Legend of Kage, Shatterhand, and Strider with every area being connected to one another and there being many secret places to explore with breakable walls and powerups and abilities to gain allowing you to come back to earlier levels to try alternate routes.
Your controls are incredibly simple with you technically only using two buttons being Cross for Jump and Square for Attack (or A and X on Xbox/Steam or B and Y on Nintendo Switch). In starting off the game you would assume that this game isn’t very deep and it’s very easy to write it off as a run of the mill modern retro style game with no substance to it; and that is where you’d be wrong.
The simplicity of the controls is done to mimic this being a game that could have been released on a NES or Sega Master System with its two-button load out. As you progress through the games 10 levels, you will end up gaining new abilities that allow you to double jump to not only reach new locations but also to have better aerial maneuverability for the increasingly challenging platforming that is to come. You’ll even get the ability to utilize attacks to attack above and below you as well as throw shuriken to take out enemies from a distance.
You’ll pick up power ups that give you extra range with your sword swings as well as a protective shield that can double as an energy blast and the coolest of all being an orbiting shuriken that can be hit to attack any enemy that is within the vicinity of its orbit around you.
You’ll need to explore levels to find stat boosts for your health and your special meter often times in obvious out of the way areas or with special blockaded doors and objects in the environments. Many times, you will need a power up to be able to destroy them to get to an area that will have the power up.
Enemies usually take a few swipes of your sword to take down or a few hits from your special abilities. As you take enemies down you will earn currency that allows you to buy temporary powerups and health and special meter restoratives at the save/checkpoint stations. Save points are spaced appropriately in the first few levels but as the game goes on toward the last few it starts to become incredible few and far between causing you a lot of trouble when you must restart several sections before you can get back to where you were.
Boss fights are not too challenging and are fair unlike nearly every game on the NES that ever released. You won’t have any situations where you are constantly hit with cheap hits leading to cheap deaths. In this game enemy patterns are all fairly easy to see if you pay attention and are easy to evade leading to it being completely possible for you to take 0 damage. An example being the first boss that has a pattern of throwing two large shuriken’s and then will dash towards you and then hover above you and throw 3-4 shuriken. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This game looks like it launched on the NES with a few exceptions of the cutscenes that could not be possible on that hardware. The games’ 8-bit aesthetics look really good without any of that dithering and flickering that you would often find in a lot of games from that era. Levels are all superbly detailed and have a lot going in the background without being distracting to what is going on in the player-controlled area.
Shadow looks like an excellent combination of Ryu Hayabusa, Strider Hiryu, and Kage (Legend of Kage) on the NES with his own distinct flair thrown in. He animates smoothly from running to jumping to attacking.
Enemies are well made but don’t have the range of motion or animation that Shadow does, but they aren’t slouches, however, bosses are the exception here in most cases as they animate a lot although not as much as Shadow. The final boss looks like they were pulled straight from a Castlevania or Bloodstained game with how colorful and grotesque they look.
The ONE thing this game has in common with Ninja Gaiden is it’s cutscenes and the style in which they are done and at times even the tone is similar, however, Cyber Shadow has a much darker story tone in presentation than the original Ninja Gaiden games did. The way the game flows in the story cutscenes mid game is awesome as it narratively makes the most sense.
This game has an amazing OST made by Enrique Martin that perfect hits on every beat of the cyber dystopian neon city vibe that the game has. The first level theme “Geothermal” just SLAPS! Everything about that theme tells you that the composer is not only well versed in making chiptune music but is also a lover of the classic ninja and action games of yesteryear and is able to take influence from them and craft something majestic!
You’ll hear a lot of standard NES sound effects for when you hit enemies to the swing of your sword to explosions and more. None of that stands out nor is it trying to as the real MVP here is the OST. Listen to the boss theme for when you fight Apparitor titled “Apparitor” and tell me that doesn’t pump you up to go out and slice up some baddies! One of the themes has some Streets of Rage influence and another even has the 007 theme intermixed into it! Biohunter is completely inspired by Mega Man X and Ninja Gaiden, the riffs and shredding in that track are EPIC!
MekaCity Ruins alone sounds like the perfect amalgamation of Castlevania and Megaman and just is orgasmic to the ears. Yes, I said orgasmic, sue me. I absolutely love this OST!
Can’t really think of any downsides other than a lack of the ability to duck/crouch and the parrying mechanic you gain later on is spotty when it decides that it does want to work. Other than that, this game has honestly no downsides.
I’m going to say this and it’s going to be controversial; indie developers are making games that are far better than what AAA companies are because it shows in games like Shovel Knight, Blazing Chrome, Gunvolt, Shantae, and now Cyber Shadow that they know more about crafting a game that remembers that it is an actual game and not an interactive press one button walking simulator movie. Mechanical Head Studios has seriously crafted a game that deserves to be turned into a franchise with many more entries as it is simply phenomenal with it’s tight and engaging story, near flawless controls, brooding dystopian atmosphere, open-world nature, and all at the perfect length make me happy that Yacht Club Games signed on to help publish this gem because it is one of the absolute best games of 2021. If you are in need of some retro goodness and want a game that will challenge you and reward you for meeting that challenge, then make sure you pick up Cyber Shadow today!