Yacht Club Games didn’t create the first faux-retro NES game, but they did craft one of the best in Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight helped showcase that legitimately great games can come from Kickstarter funding, and their continual post-launch content releases have created one of the longest tails in sales for a game in modern history. Now, they’re using the cache of credibility they gained from that series of high-quality releases to give the rub to a young upstart. Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker has crafted something that, like Shovel Knight, tries to evoke the past while modernizing the experience.
Recently, I covered Street Cleaner, a throwback side-scrolling action platformer with an emphasis on being as accessible as possible to all players. Cyber Shadow, also a throwback side-scrolling action platformer, is a love letter to games like Ninja Gaiden and attempts to offer a challenging experience while including some modern features. The end result is a game that certainly accomplishes that goal but winds up a bit lower on the accessibility totem pole.
Street Cleaner aimed for a mix of short and long-range action and ran the risk of not nailing either. Cyber Shadow is a short-range action platformer through and through with few exceptions. Shadow starts off with a lot of his prior powers depleted and learns his clan has been taken over by a former mentor. The plot is developed through Ninja Gaiden-esque cinematics, only with far more detail than would be seen on the NES and with a greater emphasis on character interaction and motivation.
Shadow’s abilities scale up nicely throughout, and every new stage makes him feel stronger through gaining new moves and the increase in the player’s skills and experience. It’s a tough game, but it’s not unfair. The developer has thrown in some modern conveniences like an in-game shop that allows for health regeneration or a minor power boost. There’s no fail state if Shadow runs out of lives, only checkpoints that require a bit of retreading. Checkpoints are usually fairly frequent, but there are some stretches where there’s a large gap between them filled with easy-death scenarios that cause the experience to drag a bit. They’re few and far between but really kill the flow of the game when they happen.
The overall game feel of Cyber Shadow is rock solid even though a few controls aren’t quite as responsive as they could be. That kind of issue takes it down a notch from the absolute upper echelon of action platformers like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, but it’s only a small notch, and for a one-man crew, that’s remarkable. Cyber Shadow is an incredible game to play and one that requires precision, which makes it a mixed bag when it comes to accessibility in some regards. The minute-to-minute platforming requires great precision, and anyone with fine-motor impairments will be unable to enjoy that aspect of the game. Combat against rank-and-file foes relies on timing, and a turbo controller won’t really help there.
The boss patterns will require a loss or two to really nail down, but using the 8bitdo SN30 Pro+ for the Switch version made the game easier in several ways compared to the Pro Controller. Even with a newer d-pad, the Pro Controller doesn’t quite nail down pixel-perfect platforming as well as it should. Here, that manifested itself in quick left-to-right movements not registering, but they worked out fine on the SN30 Pro+. 8bitdo’s controllers also have a nice turbo functionality that I wouldn’t recommend for most players, but if you have tendinitis or arthritis that makes repetitive button presses difficult in a prolonged period, give it a shot. Personally, it helped out with minimizing joint fatigue and stiffness after a three-hour play session.
Cyber Shadow is quite accessible from a visual point of view thanks to using bold colors and large text. There’s also a lot of contrast in the game’s world, so the player can easily see Shadow against any stage. This makes it much easier to play than a lot of 8-bit action platformers where players could easily lose track of their character due to colors being too similar to one another. This is actually one area where Cyber Shadow tops Street Cleaner because Street Cleaner uses a bold blue color for the main character and often puts him against blue backdrops.
From an auditory perspective, Cyber Shadow benefits from having a text-driven plot with bold white text on a black background. At that point, the only thing one could really ask for to be more inclusive of those with hearing impairments would be a description of the music, especially during the cutscenes where it’s used to punctuate a dramatic moment. There, having something akin to a stage direction like “LIGHTNING STRIKES LOUDLY DURING ATTACK” would definitely help drive home the drama of the story. While it’s not an in-depth tale, it does still tug on the heartstrings and brings up the importance of being true to one’s self when facing adversity.
On the AV side of things in general, Cyber Shadow delivers a great-looking and sounding experience that evokes the past while making use of more modern game design flourishes. The highly detailed backgrounds showcase a variety of environments and keep things fresh visually, with the exact level of detail one would expect from a game paying homage the 8-bit era. Animation is spot on, with just enough detail to allow for precisely timing attacks but not so smooth that it takes too long to execute. The chiptune soundtrack is top notch and truly does manage to craft something that would be right at home with the best 8-bit soundtracks of the time. The sound design as a whole is strong, and each attack type sounds different, which keeps the combat experience varied and fresh.
Overall, Cyber Shadow is a must-play for anyone who loves action platformers and wants a mix of modern-day quality of life with 80s difficulty. There’s a ton of challenge, but it’s all spaced out nicely, and the deck is stacked in the player’s favor more than it may seem thanks to the skill progression system that ensures some balance. It could stand for some accessibility improvements, like less reliance on pixel-perfect platforming and difficulty settings to help reduce the number of enemies. Visually, it looks great and uses bold colors with large text to create a welcoming experience for all players.