Developers are still struggling to overcome some of the challenges of the pandemic but last month we were able to see the release of several highly anticipated games including Cyber Shadow which was developed by just one man, Aarne Hunziker. Cyber Shadow takes a lot of inspiration from classic games like Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden so that should give you some indication where the difficulty sits with this game.
Actually, Cyber Shadow is a lot like if Ninja Gaiden and Megan Man had a child as the gameplay is all about navigating increasingly difficult sections of platforming and enemy resistance while constantly being given new upgrades for Shadow.
Shadow, the cyborg ninja
Cyber Shadow is about a cybernetic ninja who was brought back to life by the AI of his old master. Upon revival, Shadow must find where his master’s spirit lies, defeat his old rival who happens to be following a new master. Their plan is to take the powers of people within the ninja clan and combine them with the technology being provided by the new master.
The premise for Cyber Shadow is phenomenal. I love the juxtaposition between tradition and technology for both good, evil and everything in between. One of my favorite characters isn’t even remotely human (look out for the motorcycle sequence in the latter half of the game) but I have to admit that I didn’t really care for the overall plot that much. It never engaged me like other text based stories have done like in Hollow Knight but that might have been because I was not all that interested after struggling on one section of a chapter for over an hour. The game became more about whether I could overcome the obstacles in my way rather than any narrative thread but that’s okay.
The story is more or less a reason to give Shadow his gameplay mechanics and a really enjoyable final boss battle and that’s all a story really has to do in a game like this. However, I can’t help but see the potential that the game could have had and looking back I feel more could have been done to expand on the lore of the game beyond a few terminals. For instance, if the game would have had more characters that would have fleshed out the world rather than the lifeless terminals it could have given more sense of a living world.
Either way, the basic plot gives enough for a world to be built out of and I hope that more can be done with the property in the future because I think there is a lot of potential for the world. The ending sequence is also incredibly fulfilling from a gameplay perspective, more so than from a story perspective. The writing can come off with a Saturday morning cartoon vibe but in the worst possible way with characters over emphasizing their actions or just being overly chummy. The lines are overly dramatic with little humor and I’m almost surprised there isn’t a line of toys to coincide with the brand.
The art and music sounds like I just booted up an old NES with the 8-bit art and dark shades of blue, green, and red being the predominate colors. Cyber Shadow’s music was composed by Pentadrangle and is a perfect fit for Cyber Shadow’s tone and fast paced gameplay . The music blaring in your ears as you work through perfecting a particular level helps to make each stage a little bit more pleasant to struggle in. Games like Cyber Shadow need to have top notch music and luckily it succeeds. There were a few stages I was stuck on for a very long time but thankfully pieces like the chapter 8’s track help to keep you bobbing your head through the pain of many failed attempts. Just listen to how the game starts you off in chapter 1’s track. You immediately know what kind of this game is as the tempo of the little click clack beats forces you forward in your journey.
The 8-bit art style can also be really nice to look and aids in level design as enemy weak points, destructible walls, and other hazards are easily picked out. I was struck by how well done the cut scene art was done so much so that I would be okay with letting the scene pause just to look at a particular piece for a little while.
Robot ninjas are awesome
The game is hard, very hard, there is no doubt about that but it is not hard because it’s unfair as Hunziker was able to give players enough tricks to get through the stickiest situations. The game starts out fairly easy giving Shadow only a small sword to begin his journey but Shadow quickly begins gaining new abilities like shurikens, a dash, and the ability to cling to walls. Each time a new ability is added, you better master it because the game is going to expect that you know what you are doing with that new skill.
The entire experience feels like you are constantly being given a new ability and adapts the gameplay and level designs to better incorporate those new mechanics. Each level becomes a puzzle waiting for you to master how best to approach it. There are some later levels though that will have you pulling out your hair in frustration because you conquered only 5/6 rooms required to get to the next checkpoint. The checkpoint spacing seems very inconsistent and there are times when it is even cruel as I die and lose 8 minutes of my progress. That might not seem like a lot but when you are doing your best to pick your way through the industrial hell scape of some levels, you might wish you had a checkpoint in every other room. It can be rough but that is also part of the allure of Cyber Shadow.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to beat the game the first time but as I ran through it a second time for screen shots I realized how much the game taught me in that first playthrough. I was able to get to the end of the game in a quarter of the time it took me on my first attempt and if that isn’t fantastic game design I don’t know what is. Those same levels that used to give me trouble, I can dash, jump, and slash my way through without any issues at all.
You can resist the platforming sections of each level to try and find SP containers, hidden items and health upgrades to make it through the game easier. Some of these items might be inaccessible until you return with an ability from a later level so it’s good to make a mental note of something that you believe you should be able to access because chances are you can later. Health and SP upgrades are so important for new players as they make the game much easier to progress through so don’t be afraid to hop around the levels in search of secrets.
Fantastically designed bosses
Cyber Shadow’s bosses may not have as much personality like in games like Cuphead or Hollow Knight but the bosses can be just as well designed in difficulty. I made the mistake of becoming too comfortable with the first few bosses. Apparitor and Laserbrain lulled me into a false sense of confidence only for me to be absolutely stomped by Mekadragon, a giant robotic snake that flies around the map with reckless abandon.
I had become too comfortable with trying to use only my sword and shurikens and had neglected to utilize other abilities like Rising Fire and the parry system. Cyber Shadow wants its players to use every tool in Shadow’s arsenal because if you don’t you will see your progress completely stop.
Each boss in the game will require you to put everything you learned in the previous chapters on display and while some bosses require that you pay attention to your platforming as well as the incoming fire, most bosses don’t incorporate this system.
I think the bosses are great but I would have preferred more story behind each one so that I could be a little more attached to them like are they all just built by the Professor or Apparitor and are at their beck and call? What’s Scrambler’s motivation to stomp Shadow into the ground? That being said, I can’t complain at how well they play against the player. From a design perspective, the bosses are some of the best in any game.
Cyber Shadow is one of the most difficult games I have played in quite some time but it is always fair. There were plenty of moments of frustration but the levels and bosses were designed well enough that I never felt cheated out of a victory. It was always my fault for not learning the appropriate lesson to progress and I am admittedly a very slow learner. But through the hair loss, I managed to defeat the big bad boss at the end and you can too. If you are struggling with the bosses, why not try out this guide I wrote over at Cultured Vultures? I guarantee it will help with some of those tougher bosses.