Cyber Shadow from Yacht Club Games is a new, old skool game; one that features everyone’s favourite Japanese cliche, ninjas. It promises some extremely difficult action, based on principles of pixel perfect jumping and fighting, as well as swearing and the banging of one’s head against the wall. So, come with me to a world of blades, baddies and bad dialogue as we attempt to save the world. Again.
The story of Cyber Shadow is suitably bonkers, seemingly coming straight from one of the more believable video game nasties of the 1980s. The world has been taken over by synthetic lifeforms, and we are Shadow, the sole survivor of our whole clan of ninjas. We are in rough shape, and seemingly made up of more than a few cybernetic upgrades. As the game opens, we find ourselves hibernating in some kind of pod, awakened by our faithful robot buddy, who goes by the designation L-Gion; he is our only guide through what remains of Mekacity. Now, I have to be honest, the story here is more kind of hinted at than spoon-fed, but it would appear that the chief baddy – Dr Progen – has used the souls of the ninja to power his evil army, exterminating all life forms on the planet. Only we survive, and so the scene is set for a massive ruck with revenge at its heart.
Cyber Shadow transported me straight back to the glory days of side-scrolling platformers as a love letter to the games of olden times, both for good and for bad. You see, the good parts are very good indeed, with a beautiful hand-drawn look to the sprites, and backgrounds that scroll in a mesmerising parallax style – the best I’ve seen since my days with the SNES. In fact, the design of the enemies and backgrounds are all beautifully realised. The animation appears to be period correct too, and the controls are absolutely pin-sharp so any deaths (and there will be some, make no mistake) will be entirely your fault. Sound-wise it is all bang on as well; swishes with a sword, shurikens and a pulse-pounding retro soundtrack by Enrique Martin.
So, the look, sound, and the way Cyber Shadow controls are all ripped straight from the retro classic playbook. Another leaf is taken from the book though, as when you start the game the pool of talents that Shadow has at his fingertips is exceedingly small. He can jump, and he can slash with his sword, and sometimes he can jump and swish at the same time. This is what we have to work with initially as we make our way through Level 1, delivering sword-based justice to the enemies in our way, including a couple of bosses on the way to the end.
At the end of each level, there tends to be a pod, similar to the one that we were encased in at the start of the game. The ninjas we pull from these pods are in too rough a shape to live, but before expiring they bestow upon us some new abilities. The first one, for instance, gives the ability to throw shurikens, which can either be used as ranged weapons or to trigger switches from a distance. You can only have a certain amount of throws as well, controlled by how many power points you currently have. With many more powers to obtain, including a double jump, parries, dashes and wall slides, you’ll soon be an absolute badass.
And it’s just as well, as not only is the path ahead full of enemies and bosses to dispose of, the actual design of the levels is also out to get you. Small passages with spikes, platforms that seem to be just out of reach and perilous pathways to traverse will take their toll on you as much as the enemies do. Luckily, there are shrine-looking things that act as checkpoints, although not quite as many as you’d like. Luckily, as I mentioned a little earlier, the controls are sharp enough to allow you to chain together jumps, dashes and slides into an almost balletic dance through the enemies.
Of course, there are issues with Cyber Shadow, but only really a couple of note. The first is one of my pet hates in games of this type – the exaggerated knock back that occurs if you take a hit. There’s nothing more annoying than taking a leap of faith, and an enemy appearing in mid-jump who immediately recoils in horror, forcing you to go backwards, usually into a spike pit or oblivion. The same happens when running – if a projectile hits you you are thrown back, typically into another trap. I didn’t like this in the ‘80s and I don’t like it now; it just feels like a cheap way of punishing the player for a small mistake.
The other thing that is strange is the way the powers are used in Cyber Shadow, such as the shuriken for instance. The game tells you to press up and attack to use the power, but what it doesn’t tell you is that you have to use up on the D-pad to use the power. So if you are playing the game using a thumbstick, like a regular person, you have to stop moving in order to use a power. It all just feels counter-intuitive to do this. Other than these niggles, the game is punishing but fair, and I have enjoyed my time with it.
Should you be in the market for a retro-styled ninja game, Cyber Shadow on Xbox is quite possibly the game for you. It plays well, it sounds good, and aside from an odd use of powers and damage from knockbacks, there’s not an awful lot missing – just be aware that your controller may come out the other side with more teeth marks in it than when you began.