Over the past couple of years, there has been a notable resurgence in stories revolving around either a ninja or samurai protagonist. Between Sekiro, Ghosts of Tsushima, and Nioh, it’s hard to deny the popularity of games inspired by the violent but beautiful history of Feudal Japan. Cyber Shadow is another excellent entry in the genre and manages to tell a strong narrative using only an 8-bit aesthetic. While the game’s biggest weakness could be its difficulty, many players will want to continue their adventure through Mekacity for both the challenge and the story.
Cyber Shadow is available now for PS4, Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
Story – Rise from the Ashes
Our story begins as the world around our hero ends. Shadow is a loyal ninja who belongs to a clan dedicated to taking care of and protecting Mekacity. With recent developments in synthetic human technology led by Dr. Progen, the smartest man in the city, self-sustained robots now populate the area to serve the public. The local police and laborers are now positions filled by these robots, for better or worse. Shadow and his clan now spend most of their evenings cleaning up the streets and taking care of malfunctioning synthetics.
One night, as Shadow looks over the city, an explosion is seen over the horizon. The blast catches Shadow almost immediately, and he is left unconscious in a regeneration tank on the outskirts of Mekacity for an unknowable amount of time. Until one day when a little robot named L-GION comes down to wake you up before you are fully recovered. The world is in trouble, and the master of the clan needs our help. With almost no health or abilities, Shadow runs forward, ready to embrace his destiny.
I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and emotional drive behind the narrative in this game. By meeting people from Shadow’s past to battling cyborgs in the apocalyptic present, the journey never hesitates to flesh out its world with a new twist or flashback. I really felt terrible for Shadow, a tragic character who woke up one day to find out that he has lost everything. I wanted to help him unravel the mystery of the explosion that destroyed his home, and the game constantly surprised me with new details about these memorable personalities and lore throughout.
Gameplay – Shuriken Throwback
Heavily inspired by the NES era’s action-focused platformer titles, Cyber Shadow takes the best parts of Metroid, Castlevania, and of course, Ninja Gaiden and combines them to create a game with a satisfying upgrade system and difficult yet rewarding platforming. Playing this title feels like a blast from the past, as it simply requires two buttons for actions. Only being able to run in a direction, jump, or swing a sword sounds incredibly simple, but the level design in Cyber Shadow is designed to make even jumping across a gap seem like a challenge. Fortunately, there are multiple checkpoints in each level, but getting to those checkpoints sometimes felt like trying to get to the next fog door in Demon’s Souls. While the journey was sometimes difficult, arriving at one of these, felt worthy of a sigh of relief and a pat on the back as I got ready for the next leg.
While Cyber Shadow is a difficult game (I died about 365 times during my nine hours of playtime), it does what it can to help struggling players make it to the next level. Shadow will collect essence throughout the game, either by defeating enemies or breaking boxes, and using the essence for helpful upgrades at each checkpoint station. Essence is a bit scarce, and the player might need to do some grinding to collect it, but it can be a game saver if used wisely. The player can choose to use their essence on health or spirit recovery and have those bars filled after every respawn.
Shadow can also use essence to purchase an item designed to help him get through a specific zone. These items can range from spinning blades to a shield that absorbs most enemy attacks. You can not choose which item you receive at checkpoints, though, and having that flexibility could have helped allow the player to experiment with different tools until they found the right one for them.
From Zero to Hero
Like Samus Aran at the start of most of her adventures, Shadow begins his journey with barely any health and only the ability to wield a weapon. Hidden throughout every level are secret rooms with often challenging platforming sections. Successfully clearing one of these rooms usually rewards the player with 1 of 3 health orbs they will need to upgrade their health bar or an upgrade for the spirit bar. Even if you decide to ignore these bonus challenges, Shadow is almost always given an upgrade after a boss battle. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a health upgrade to game-changing new abilities like wall-jumping and shuriken throwing.
Cyber Shadow‘s combat is more enjoyable once you start mastering all of Shadow’s techniques and movement. While I spent most of the boss fights on the edge of my seat, chipping away at their health while knowing a single hit from them would send me back to a checkpoint, conquering one was always an amazing feeling. You will be asked to fight characters from the protagonist’s past, making these battles both intense action sequences as well as moments to fill in some back story and provide exposition.
Graphics and Audio – 8-bit Sensei-tion
Cyber Shadow is a beautiful game to look at, whether you are hacking and slashing your way towards your goal or enjoying the cut-scenes that fill the player in on the story. Near the end of the game, when there were more enemies on screen than ever before, the game continued to run without any hiccups. The title also uses lighting effects incredibly well, between the flames covering Mekacity to the lightning that flashes in the distance. The only complaint about the game’s look was that some levels felt too similar in design and could have used some more environmental diversity throughout.
The wonderful soundtrack composed by Enrique Martin adds an incredible amount of atmosphere to the world of Mekacity. The slow synth build-up on the main menu is ambient enough to transition the player from reality into the game world smoothly. Emotional story beats are scored by slower melodies, while many of the boss fights and levels contain 8-bit beats that sound like they came from an old, lost Mega-Man title.
Cyber Shadow was reviewed on the PC.
I love the nostalgia factor, Shovel Knight was perfect, I will have to pick this up