Ninja guidin' with Cyber Shadow

Carry on up the cyber

It was pretty clear that Cyber Shadow was going to be good. From first stumbling across it on the developers’ Twitter as a one-man passion project, I made a mental note to Get It Played. I wasn’t, however, expecting Shovel Knight maestros Yacht Club Games to pick it up for publishing honours. One suspects that neither were the developers, but it brings me no end of pleasure to report that not only is Cyber Shadow bleedin’ good, as predicted, but it’s also a worthy stablemate to the aforementioned flagship hi-bit indie, Shovel Knight.

Strong praise, I know, but it’s warranted – the polish on display here matches Yacht Club’s previous release with aplomb, and the level design is truly exemplary. While it’s not a Metroidvania, the levels fold in on themselves cleverly and tease connections accessible only later in the game as you unlock more skills for your ninja. Brilliantly, though, the lack of these skills in the early game never made me feel hamstrung without them, just increasingly powerful and capable as I racked ‘em up. This is not an easy thing to do, but it’s testament to the smooth movement and ultra-responsive controls that Cyber Shadow manages it with grace and style. Put simply, the game feels excellent from start to finish, with no moments of underpowered frustration or obvious, laboured shortcuts. When you replay an old level with your new means of traversal it’s your ingenuity that finds the newly-accessible secrets and side-routes, not some glowing neon sign pointing you directly at the Content.

This is a very small, very Stuart Gipp thing to focus on – forgive me for being who I am, Nauties – but I sort of love the fact that you can’t crouch in this game. My suspicion is – and it’s probably bollocks – that this was a Yacht Club suggestion, because Shovel Knight can’t crouch either and it helps to make the game laser-focused on your jumping skills. Cyber Shadow is the same, and limiting the basic motions in such a simple way actively forces you to engage with the level design more actively. I even took a few hits because I tried to duck under things when there is no duck. Good. Stooping down to avoid things is rubbish. No ninja worth their salt would ever crouch down to avoid something they could jump over. Only ninja facts from these fingers, my friends.

Aesthetically the game is an absolute treat, with the same “Hi-bit” graphics giving the vibe and feel of an NES on steroids. Listening to the rather brilliant music I found myself thinking “wow, this is very Jake Kaufman (Virt of Mighty Switch Force/Double Dragon Neon/Shovel Knight fame)” and, lo and behold, he is the music producer. Let’s be sure to give credit where it deserves to the obviously hugely talented composer Enrique Martin, though.

To boil the thing down to comparisons, it’s basically Shadow of the Ninja but less punishing; in another Shovelism you can tinker with the checkpoints, here spending in-game currency to upgrade them to give you various buffs and power-ups when you die and restart. You have infinite lives, too, which while I’m not a fan of I never felt like the level designed had been compromised to account for it.

It’s a thoroughly polished, exceptionally playable side-scroller that manages to stand out even in a world with no shortage of the same. It’s also ten times better than The bloody Messenger, which I might add is crap.