Cyber Shadow review (PS4)

After the massive success of Shovel Knight and its expansions, a lot of people were eagerly anticipating Cyber Shadow – a new title from Yacht Club Games. This one was developed by Mechanical Head Studios and recently launched as a multiplatform title. As with Shovel Knight, the retro appeal is strong with this one, but does it also strike the right chord? We tried it out on a PS4 to find out.

Taking the ninja genre as a source of inspiration, Cyber Shadow had the retro gamer in me excited before I had even played a second of it. I grew up with home conversions of games like Ninja Warriors, Shadow Dancer and The Last Ninja, so this one certainly took me back. Cyber Shadow has a layer of cyberpunk on top of all the ninja stuff though, because hey – doesn’t every other game have that these days?

As Shadow, you battle through Mekacity after a hostile takeover by AI robots, taking them by surprise with your ancient ninja skills and your trusted katana – in a way, the game reminded me of the parkour-centric Ghostrunner that came out late last year, a game that also used a cyberpunk angle combined with ninja skills.

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Cyber Shadow looks and plays like a very different game though, and behind its carefully designed 8-bit facade lie some deviously designed levels and ditto boss fights. Luckily, the controls are both intuitive and responsive, so whenever you fail it always feels like it’s your fault for not taking a different approach or making a mistake along the way. In some cases, success can also be just an upgrade away, since you keep them even after you die.

Despite the 8-bit look, Cyber Shadow features plenty of visual detail tucked away in the game’s backdrops, animations and other subtle details. In a similar fashion, the soundtrack is a throwback to the classic chiptunes of the mid to late eighties, but delivered with a much richer soundscape that sounds great no matter if you play it through headphones or a surround sound setup.

The level and gameplay design also feature plenty of modern sensibilities that you wouldn’t find in a game that’s 30+ years old. There are plenty of enemy types that often need a unique approach to defeat them, and the gameplay stays fresh because new abilities get added to Shadow’s range of moves as you progress through the story. Shurikens provide ranged options, which aerial moves, dashing and sliding all add more free-flowing combat to the mix. Scenes are carefully designed to make use of these abilities as well, so after unlocking a new ability the odds are that you’ll run into a scene that uses exactly that skill to great effect.

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Many special abilities are tucked away in secret areas that offer specific challenges, so even though they’re optional their rewards make it worthwhile to persevere and get through them. Doing so regularly will, over time, greatly increase your HP and SP gauges – the latter of which you’ll need to use some of your special abilities.

Despite some of the modern sensibilities, Cyber Shadow also features its fair share of retro elements that keep it grounded in the past – for better and for worse. The controls are responsive, but movement isn’t always as nimble as you’d expect based on modern games. This can take some getting used to, resulting in quite a few deaths in the progress. Some from enemies, others from environmental dangers. This can cause frustration, but is ultimately something you know comes with the territory if you played games in the era that inspired this game.

Expectations were high, but as far as I’m concerned Cyber Shadow absolutely delivers on its promise and expertly mixes nostalgia with modern gameplay and design.

Score: 8.3/10

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