I always love when a game takes me back to my chiptune phase of 2014. Happier times. Cyber Shadow does just that with its classic look and feel that just screams The 80’s. Taking on a Metroid and Ninja Gaiden style of gameplay, Cyber Shadow provides an intense challenge with satisfying and rewarding gameplay. But sometimes the challenge can be a little too intense.
I was immediately won over from the game’s opening title and intro cutscene alone. The opening gives us a bit of exposition showing the main character fighting what look to be robot ninjas, to arrive at a potential final boss. What’s not to like? After this, the title forms with an almost watery effect. Amazing what pixels can do these days. Similarly, I was very excited to see the setting to make my flat screen TV look just like a CRT with filter options in the settings. I hope this trend never ends. Much like the trend of achievements having Gamerscore value that is not a multiple of five, like this game has.
You play as Shadow, a cybernetic ninja left for dead after the rest of his clan is captured, and home is destroyed by Dr. Progen and his synthetic army of robots. Shadow awakens underground in a stasis chamber to a friendly robot named L-Gion. It tells Shadow that their master is in danger and that Dr. Progen is siphoning the clan’s power.
As you take Shadow through the ruins of Mekacity, you learn more about what got him here. A cataclysmic explosion which levelled the city and caused the uprising of the synthetics with Dr. Progen at the head. Rebuilt and saved, Shadow must relearn his training while fighting through the synthetic occupied wasteland of Mekacity.
It’s great playing more and learning new parts of the story as you go on from bosses and L-Gion. While the new abilities and upgrades are a worthy reward, it’s nice to have that little extra in the form of exposition. And if you ever need to be reminded what you’re fighting for, the back menu shows a cool futuristic and digital locket with a picture of Shadow’s master inside.
Now I’m not sure if it’s just me (probably is), but I found this game incredibly difficult. Cyber Shadow feels very much like it’s designed for a certain type of person, that type of person being a masochist. But in reality, it’s not as black and white as that. Sporting a very simple control scheme of left/right movement, jump, and attack, Cyber Shadow makes even these easy controls hard to master. At various points in the game I found myself in a situation where there was a lot going on. Ground-based enemies running at me with flying enemies bugging me. The worst of them being these tiny little flying robots. They’d swarm me knocking me from left to right and off platforms.
While there’s not much to say about the simple combat, it is a lot of fun fighting to the end of a level and finding out what the next ability is. Then testing it a bunch an wasting all the special attack I have saved up. There are few pickups in Cyber Shadow in the form of health, special, and an attack extension power-up. Conserve your health and special though, because you won’t see them dropped nearly as much as you’ll need them.
The bosses in Cyber Shadow are great fun to fight. Some require you to use the environment to attack them, while others are your average everyday boss with a set amount of moves to avoid. If there’s one thing fighting these bosses taught me, it’s that I’m very greedy. When ever I got a chance to attack, I would mash the X button to get as many hits in as I could. I would die quickly by standing there swinging my sword indefinitely. All I wanted was to finish the bosses quickly, but ended up prolonging it more than was needed. Until I actually took my time of course.
The level design is mostly what you’d expect of a game like this. Very well thought out and not repetitive. Not as many puzzle moments, but there was one moment that was quite memorable. Two towers of boxes being built constantly by dropping them from the ceiling. You need to use these perpetual towers to climb higher by interrupting the order and speed at which the boxes fall. It was a great personal triumph to figure that out.
One gripe I had with the level design was the frequency of checkpoints. Checkpoint placement is so few and far between in Cyber Shadow and fueled my frustration. I would work my way through tough platforming sections and enemies, begging for a checkpoint only to die just a few pixels away. This did however make for some very satisfying moments once I did finally make it to a checkpoint.
The style of Cyber Shadow feels so familiar yet brand new. Everything looks exactly like it came straight from the NES, which is amazing for an original game. The cutscenes are also spectacular and look straight out of The 80s. The low frame rate and sprites sliding across the screen will never lose its charm.
What’s a retro style platformer without a killer soundtrack? Cyber Shadow’s soundtrack is full of the usual synth, drums, and electric guitar sounds in chiptune form you’d expect. But the speed of the music is really what sets it apart from others. The music made me feel like I was going a mile a minute. And while it loops and repeats quite a bit, it never gets boring. The amazing music made for a much more enjoyable experience, considering the difficulty I had playing.
An infrequent guitar riff, something straight out of a buddy cop show, was something I couldn’t get enough of. This played when acquiring a new ability or skill. It made me feel even more powerful than the new ability did on its own.
Overall, Cyber Shadow is a perfect love letter to an older generation of games without trying to be. A challenging and unforgiving difficulty makes for a very rewarding and satisfying gameplay. Cyber Shadow offers a fun and compelling story that only gets more interesting with additional play time. Now I’m off to get all the achievements for this to correct my Gamerscore.
You can buy Cyber Shadow for $19.99 here! Or install for free with Game Pass Ultimate! Be sure to checkout out some of the best games to play with your partner and a few reviews: Doodle God | The Faconeer | The Medium