Cyber Shadow review for PS5.
Shovel Knight was one of the breakout retro platformer hits in an overcrowded market of retro platformers because of its ability to carefully blend modern, NES, and SNES-style design. That reputation undoubtedly attracted Yacht Club Games to publish Cyber Shadow, a game aiming to do to Ninja Gaiden what Shovel Knight did to Mega Man and Duck Tales. But instead of learning from the best, Cyber Shadow is a dated, frustrating gauntlet that can’t be saved by its amazing soundtrack and boss fights.
Most of Cyber Shadow’s problems are due to its limited controls and occasionally cheap level design. Shadow’s move set from the outset is simple, only starting with a basic jump and slash. This means that the beginning stages don’t throw a ton of interesting platforming sequences at the player since they aren’t given the tools to do anything intriguing. Despite how it makes sense to start out slowly to properly onboard the player, it’s a bit dry.
But the tame gameplay of its intro quickly gets frustrating as traversing over pits and through enemies becomes more of a chore. No one of these jumps is hard, but the game links these jumps into more of an endurance test that light on health packs and heavy with one-hit kills that Shadow can easily fall into. While a cybernetic, deadly badass in looks, Shadow gets flung around easily by the smallest enemies, making him just a pathetic cosplayer in ninja garb during gameplay. A robot or bullet the size of a toddler’s shoe can send him flying into the nearest pit or bed of spikes, which happens far, far too often.
Some cheap spawns and fast, off-screen enemies exacerbate this problem as it only adds to the sheer number of things that can pinball Shadow around to his untimely and unearned death. The later stages also devilishly add more enemies and thus further make the latter half significantly more annoying as it confuses these many one-hit kills for an smooth, fair difficulty curve. Any sort of quick air recovery move would have worked wonders to modernize this painful relic of platformers from decade’s past. A perfect string of jumps and slashes can immediately be undone by one stray projectile, which was not fun in the early ‘90s and is downright infuriating in 2021.
It takes Cyber Shadow too long to give the player any abilities that would make the platforming more engaging as the dash and double jump are doled out quite late. But the game doesn’t even make much use of these powers. Instead, it likes to rely on the same types of endurance runs of relatively elementary jumping with an overwhelming onslaught of robots over more satisfying and shorter chunks of skill-based platforming that take advantage of Shadow’s growing move set.
Its stunted and underutilized list of abilities doesn’t allow for fun platforming challenges and instead mostly leans on long gauntlets of tediously weaving through scores of fast foes that are hard to hit. Such design seems devised in a way only to suck quarters out of players as if it were stuck in some arcade. Only a small handful of its projectile-light rooms that take advantage of Shadow’s dash and double jump show what could have been as they show a better balance of platforming and combat.
A welcome challenge
Boss fights are the exact opposite of the platforming as they are rewarding duels that more meaningfully put the player’s skills to the test. Cutting them down takes proper timing and knowing how and when to attack and back off, making them well-paced battles with a good amount of back and forth. Memorizing their patterns takes just the right amount of time, too, as none are easy enough to beat on the first try yet none will take all afternoon. Satisfaction earned is more satisfying, after all.
These boss fights point out why the platforming is so underwhelming. Bosses are condensed challenges confined to a single room that force players to use their abilities to stay alive. Platforming sequences are long, drawn-out challenges that leave too much room for archaic, dirty tactics and don’t take full advantage of the player’s abilities. One is streamlined and the other is laborious.
Cyber Shadow’s pixel art is relatively decent, even if the many urban environments can be aesthetically drab, but the soundtrack is the standout in the audiovisual presentation. Its array of catchy tunes evoke the time period it heavily draws from while still sounding good today. Fast chiptunes like this are always a natural match for platformers like this, even if the platforming doesn’t hold up its end of the deal.
Cyber Shadow Review | The final verdict
Shovel Knight was an example of an indie platformer that did hold up its end of the deal on both ends and that comparison doesn’t work in Cyber Shadow’s favor. Its boss fights and soundtrack can compete with other modern indie greats, but the rest of its gameplay inherits many of the antiquated parts that have been stripped out in other thoughtful throwbacks. This dichotomy makes Cyber Shadow a lot like its protagonist as it is made up of parts both old and new. But unlike Shadow, Cyber Shadow is made up of obsolete pieces, resulting in a rusty, defective cyber ninja that’s stuck in the wrong time period.
Game Revolution reviewed Cyber Shadow on PS5. Code provided by the publisher. Cyber Shadow is also on PS4, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.