Cyber Shadow does not hold your hand. In fact, it feels like a game actively avoiding your hand altogether. Much like the NES games it’s clearly inspired by, Cyber Shadow expects you to wing it and learn the large majority of its mechanics on your own. Unlike those NES games that ultimately felt unfair, though, Cyber Shadow is always leaving you breadcrumbs to make the tasks in front of you possible, which is what makes it so great.
The easiest part of Cyber Shadow is the very beginning of the game. Not the first level. As in when you push start and awake in a room with nothing but a strange robot to talk to. The robot will immediately throw names and plot at you, but obviously, you don’t know what any of it means. Much like the mechanics, you’re just gonna have to go out there and figure it out. You get a chance to briefly understand the weight of your character, Shadow. He can jump and has a sword with which to slash. That’s it, and once you’re used to how he moves around you better be ready for a wild ride.
Cyber Shadow is an extremely challenging game. Levels consistently test your reflexes and judgment skills. New enemies are thrown at you frequently and they can be placed in some pretty devious ways. Any time you feel like you’re finally hitting a groove, a new enemy or challenge is thrown in front of you. But those challenges all come with a reward, whether it’s just a checkpoint station or a new ability, to make the test worth passing.
But Calling Cyber Shadow a Ninja Gaiden clone would be unfair, if only because Yacht Club games was more so inspired by the NES as a whole. The influences are everywhere: every time you defeat a major boss you get a new powerup similar to Megaman. There are knockback and bottomless pits that feel way too much like Castlevania to be a coincidence, and the oftentimes brutal difficulty is so akin to the era that anyone who grew up playing those games should feel right at home.
But that doesn’t mean the game is trapped in the past: Cyber Shadow does enough to feel modern game despite its retro inspiration. The art is phenomenal, the movement is perfect for what it’s trying to be, and it runs smooth. What makes it feel modern more than anything else is the brutal challenge still feels fair. When you die in Cyber Shadow it will rarely feel cheap or the fault of poor design. Part of why NES games were as difficult as they were was because they were limited technologically. Cyber Shadow doesn’t have that problem, and the checkpoints also play an integral role in how the game plays while keeping things fair.
Throughout the game, you collect a currency called essence, which allow you to buy upgrades such as SP restoration, a weapon upgrade, or a health boost. When you do that, the checkpoint now will always perform that task. This makes currency something valuable and important which in turn creates risk vs. reward. There’s a chest you can grab that likely will have essence in it, but you’ll have to cross over some insta kill spikes. How badly do you need that weapon upgrade at your next checkpoint? These are the kinds of decisions you’ll be making throughout your playthrough that add depth to the game in a very real way.
Like Ninja Gaiden, the game is at its best during those moments where everything clicks. There’s no greater feeling than after you’ve died a handful of times and then you get the magical run. Jump here. Slash this enemy. Wait a moment and now move forward so you can avoid the guy that was going to knock you into a bottomless pit. You start to move almost on instinct and it all moves so seamlessly and quick, just like a ninja should. This is going to be a plus for players that want to play after they’ve seen the end credits and get better at it. It’s pretty much designed for challenge or speed runs.
The game is going to need this kind of post-credit interest because it is rather short: it should take about five to six hours to beat it, and while length does not equal quality it can feel like the ride was over just a little too soon. There are plenty of things to do once you get to the end, though: on PlayStation, there are more than 40 trophies to collect and if you really love the game then you’re going to want to play it more than once.
Cyber Shadow may feel like one of the NES games of old, but underneath that classic exterior is a modern title and one that is fun for anyone that enjoys retro games or platformers. It’s a challenge, but it’s one well worth taking. You will groan in frustration and cheer from triumphs, but it will rarely if ever feel unfair.