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Review: Cyber Shadow

Video transcription below:

Cyber Shadow is a first for Yacht Club Games, in that it’s their maiden voyage into the world of game publishing. Since the studio released Shovel Knight back in 2014, I’ve been following them and playing each of shovel knight’s expansions. When I learned that Yacht Club Games would be publishing Cyber Shadow, I figured it would be something I should keep on my radar. Now that I’ve gotten a chance to play it, I’ll let you know what I think.

Cyber shadow is a side-scrolling action-platformer in which you play as a ninja trying to save the last of your clan after a mad-scientist causes city-wide destruction in a last desperate attempt to save his dying daughter. The game takes place in Mekacity, a ruined city set in the near future, and has you travelling through factories, reactor ruins, and more on your perilous journey. Along the way, you will find power-ups and access hidden shrines to grow your skill set, which will help you take on the many different enemy types and bosses you encounter. Throughout Cyber Shadow’s short and sweet play time of roughly seven to ten hours, you will face many tough challenges, but I had a great time playing this game, and I think anyone with a taste for hard-but-fair games will love this game too.

Cyber Shadow presents itself as a classic-looking and -sounding game with an old-school difficulty level. In some ways, its first impression is accurate; the game gives you a set of tight controls and a few abilities to work with, and makes you master them in order to progress. You start with a limited amount of health and energy, and extra health pickups are few and far between. Some enemies hit hard, and every time you’re hit, you’re knocked back a bit, which can cause you to fall into insta-kill spike pits, which the game liberally scatters throughout each level. This can all combine to make the game pretty difficult at times, especially when you are traversing some of the more platforming-intensive sections of the game with a swarm of two or three different types of enemies. I found myself dying often on some of these more difficult sections, whether by a devastating kill shot or by falling into a bottomless pit.

However, Cyber Shadow also thankfully includes a few new-school mechanics to minimize frustration and smooth out the player’s experience. First, the game spreads out its checkpoints perfectly. Every time I felt like I was in need of a checkpoint, one would appear in the next room. This isn’t to say the game floods you with them. In fact, Cyber Shadow intelligently places its checkpoints far enough apart to give a sense of tension, without straining your endurance past its breaking point. While checkpoints aren’t anything groundbreaking, it’s what Cyber Shadow does with its checkpoints that’s of note. For starters, you don’t always get all of your health back when you reach a checkpoint. Instead, most checkpoints have a sort of upgrade system. If you collect enough of the game’s currency (found by killing enemies or breaking boxes), you’ll be able to upgrade some checkpoints, allowing them to fully restore your health and/or SP, or even give them the ability to synthesize other power-ups for you too, such as a shield or an auto-turret, to name a couple. Thankfully, if you don’t initially have enough money to unlock an upgrade you want and find yourself repeatedly dying on your way to the next checkpoint, you can usually keep picking up money drops on each attempt until you accumulate enough money to buy the upgrade. In this way, the game makes sure that it gradually gets a little easier for you if you are having a difficult time between checkpoints. Unfortunately, there are a couple sections of the game that don’t give you any opportunities to pick up any extra currency, which will leave you permanently locked out of an upgrade if you don’t have enough money the first time around. This didn’t happen often, but I did sorely miss those extra coins on the few occasions it did. One other thing that helps ease the frustration of a difficult section is the fact that minibosses don’t respawn after you die. This means that if you barely make it through a miniboss, but there still won’t be another checkpoint for a while, you won’t have to fight the miniboss again on any subsequent attempts of that section. This will hopefully leave you better equipped to handle the rest of the section until you get to the next checkpoint. Thanks to Mechanical Head Games’ careful execution of all these elements, we get the best of both worlds in Cyber Shadow: tough, retro-feeling difficulty, with friendly, more modern enhancements that make the game a great experience to play.

And, just as Cyber Shadow’s difficulty stays true to its clear inspirations, its pixel art style and chiptune soundtrack also add to the game’s retro feel. Each section of the game has its own distinct look and sound, and the sparsely scattered cutscenes are simple but atmospheric, channeling both the minimalistic feel of 8-bit era games and classic samurai movies. Enemies and projectiles are all visually distinct from each other, and contrast well with the environment and background. Little touches like the lightning effects on certain attacks or the way your character’s headband flows behind you really show exactly how much work the developer put into the aesthetic of this game.

Cyber Shadow does a lot of work with what it has, and doesn’t overstay its welcome for a second. The difficulty, while tough, never feels unfair and really helps you appreciate the game’s rock-solid movement mechanics. With a couple hidden secrets and optional challenge rooms, Cyber Shadow leaves enough optional content to make exploration worthwhile without getting stale. If you like a challenge, or are a fan of 8-bit era games, I highly recommend checking this game out.

Heisengerm Rating: 4/5

Developer: Mechanical Head Games Publisher: Yacht Club Games Platform: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch Release date: January 26th, 2021

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