Developer: Mechanical Head
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platforms: NS, PS4, XBO, PC
Version Played: Switch
When I first saw Cyber Shadow around 3 years ago, my first thought was, Ninja Gaiden 2099. But while there is definitely some Ninja Gaiden influence in Cyber Shadow, it's much more than a futuristic Ninja Gaiden. Cyber Shadow is sort of like the Shovel Knight to retro 2D action games. You can clearly see the influence of games like Shatterhand, Batman, and Contra, among others, in Cyber Shadow. But like Shovel Knight, it still manages to feel like its own thing.
Cyber Shadow takes a lot of inspiration from NES classics; however, I feel like it's structured a lot like a certain SNES classic, Mega Man X. In Cyber Shadow, you play through levels in order, but you can teleport to previous levels and find hidden power ups using your new abilities, like in MMX. The HP and MP upgrades even look like Mega Man E tanks, so I don’t think I'm imagining things. A lot of the abilities are also rewarded to you after beating a boss, which is definitely a Mega Man thing. I think the game would have worked just fine as a strictly linear game, and you can play it that way, but the hidden areas and power ups add a little bit of replay value and I had fun looking for them to 100% the game.
If you know your NES action games, you're probably thinking Cyber Shadow looks a lot like Shadow of the Ninja. And I agree, it does look a lot like Shadow of the Ninja. I don't think it plays a lot like Shadow of the Ninja, though. I think it plays more like a mix of Mega Man X and Ninja Gaiden. Cyber Shadow makes Shadow of the Ninja feel slow and clunky in comparison. Shadow’s basic running, slashing, and jumping feel a lot like Ryu Hayabusa’s, and once you start getting abilities like the air dash, longer sword, and wall slide, Shadow starts feeling a lot like Zero. The gameplay gradually becomes flashier and faster-paced as you get new abilities, and by the end of the game, you’re clearing screens full of enemies without even touching the ground. It almost feels like a 2D Devil May Cry at times. I love the abilities, the pace in which the game gives them to you, and how the level design changes as you get them.
Even with all the abilities and subweapons, you could totally play Cyber Shadow with an NES controller. You can do everything in the game with only the d-pad and 2 buttons. You can dash with R instead of double tapping the d-pad, like in Mega Man X, though. I would actually recommend that since double tapping to dash can be a bit finicky. One weird thing I didn’t like about the controls is that you can’t duck. That’s just something people used to playing these kinds of games expect to be able to do, I guess. I don’t think the game really needs it, but there were definitely times when I was missing a duck.
Like Ninja Gaiden, Cyber Shadow’s gameplay is very combat-heavy. The enemies in this game are relentless. There are slower cool down moments in the game, but most of it is very fast-paced and action packed, with enemies coming at you from all sides. It’s very arcade-like in that way. The level design is much more varied and interesting than something like Ninja Gaiden, though. There’s a lot of platforming, wall climbing, and traps to avoid, all while fighting tons of enemies. I also think the game does a great job in changing up the enemy and level design as you get new abilities. The game is always putting your new skills to the test.
If you guessed that this game is hard as hell, you guessed right. Cyber Shadow is just as challenging as any old NES game. It’s not downright sadistic, like Ninja Gaiden, it's not going to pull something like sending you back 2 levels after dying, but It’s harder than any Shovel Knight campaign. Thankfully, it has a checkpoint system that is very similar to Shovel Knight’s. You can tackle each level in small chunks, you get infinite lives, and there’s always a checkpoint before a boss, so it rarely gets too annoying to die and try again. I did feel like a few very difficult sections went on for too long without a checkpoint, though. You can also buy HP and MP refills at checkpoints, along with subweapons, so that’s something that might help you out if you need it. Although, I felt like it was really hard to find money around some checkpoints when I didn’t have enough to buy something. I really enjoyed the challenge of Cyber Shadow, and even though you don't unlock anything for beating the game or finding all the upgrades, I went out of my way to 100% it just to play all the different areas.
Of course, the thing that caught my eye about Cyber Shadow when I saw it on Twitter years ago was its gorgeous NES-style graphics. Cyber Shadow gets that NES look many people associate with games like Batman, Shatterhand, and Shadow of the Ninja just right. The color palette, level of detail in the characters and backgrounds, and even the Ninja Gaiden-like cutscenes all look like something that could be done on NES, even if thought they’re probably a little too good for NES. I also really liked the designs of the robots in the game. They’re very reminiscent of the designs in the European versions of Contra, Probotector.
The music is also very NES-like. It has that 80s synth kind of sound that was very popular in NES games from the late 80s and early 90s. It’s very reminiscent of 80s action movie scores. I was also reminded of NES games like Mega Man, Double Dragon II, and even Zelda II, but that was more the familiar NES style sound of the instruments than the composition of the tracks. Overall, a really awesome and memorable soundtrack. I also heard a lot of very familiar sound effects straight out of NES games, like the Castlevania meat sound, which I got a kick out of.
Cyber Shadow is a must play for fans of NES action games and fans of 2D action games in general. Especially Ninja lovers. It’s pretty much everything I hoped for. I love the gameplay, level design, and bosses. It has beautiful NES-style 8-bit graphics, a rocking soundtrack, and a really cool story that builds a world full of potential for more badass cyber Ninja games in the future. I wish the game had a few unlockables for beating the game or some easier difficulty levels for those who are not into old-school challenges, like me, but I still think it’s a great game overall.