Review: Cyber Shadow

There’s a moment when playing an action game where you fall into a rhythm and everything just clicks, making your deft dodging and precision platforming feel less like conscious choices and more like you’re just acting off of pure instinct. When a game manages to get you into that zone, it can be the difference between enjoying said game and loving it. Cyber Shadow is a game that’s filled with these moments of pure 2D action and platforming bliss, but it’s also filled with a lot of bullshit that can rip you right out of that rhythm. Yet none of the lows of Cyber Shadow are enough to outweigh its highs.

Cyber Shadow is a very good video game that hearkens back to the “tough as nails” platformers of my youth like Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man, but it’s never nearly as punishing as those games solely because there isn’t really a way to lose. When you die, the worst thing that happens is your robot-ninja protagonist is sent back to a previous checkpoint which admittedly are spaced out pretty poorly, especially in later levels. It becomes pretty annoying when you have to trudge through these previously cleared sections just to attempt to decode what new enemy or level mechanic is going to kick your ass on the next screen. To be fair though, it is very satisfying when you finally do manage to make your way through these nightmarish gauntlets and onto the next checkpoint, I just wish that these sections weren’t as punishing as some of them are. But that’s certainly a “me” complaint, whereas I’m sure other people though Cyber Shadow was fairly easy and just breezed through every section that gave me trouble.

Yet despite these spikes in difficulty and the several times where I had to quit the game out of pure frustration, I always ended up coming back the next day to tackle a challenge with a clear head. Eventually I’d find myself in that fugue state where I wasn’t even thinking about my next moves because I was just leaping and slashing my way through the levels like some sort of murderous, sword-wielding gazelle. Those are the moments where Cyber Shadow stops feeling like a good game and truly feels like a great one, and there’s plenty more of these moments than the ones that make you want to uninstall it all together.

What I really enjoyed about Cyber Shadow is how it doles out abilities and new items as you progress. At the end of each level or so, a boss you defeat will drop some sort of new ability for you, whether it’s throwing shurikens or shooting fireballs into the air, each ability isn’t only viable for combat but also helps you traverse levels. For instance, you unlock a ground pound early on that allows you to smash through certain floors and boxes, but it also allows you to bounce on the heads of enemies and avoid falling into death-pits. All of these abilities can utilize your energy meter, which you can refill by breaking stuff in levels or just slicing up some robots. But even without energy, these abilities are still usable albeit without the extra damage boost or special effect.

One of the more interesting mechanics in Cyber Shadow however, is how they handle checkpoints. Aside from them being scarce and in some cases, poorly spaced apart, they have this interesting mechanic where you have to activate the unique properties of a checkpoint by buying it with in-game currency. This currency is also found by breaking shit in the environment and dispatching enemies, and is expressly for usage at the checkpoints. Every checkpoint has at least one of three purchasable upgrades that can either refill health, refill energy, or spawn an item. Most checkpoints have the health regeneration ability unlocked already, allowing you to just step onto the checkpoint and refill your health, but some will charge you for that feature. These purchases don’t carry from checkpoint to checkpoint, making you have to choose if it’s worth it to unlock that cool item at this checkpoint.

As someone who has beaten the game already though, I can say that you shouldn’t spend your money on refilling your energy because those things drop like crazy throughout the levels. Instead, you should buy the item at the checkpoint if you can afford it. The items are all pretty great with the exception of the first one which just makes your sword slashes a little bit longer, while the cooler ones are like auto-firing guns that hover around you, a shield that you can propel forward, and a saw blade on a chain that you can swing around and hit to gain more murderous momentum. I don’t think the items are randomized, meaning that if the game is giving the opportunity to buy the gun, it’s probably because it’ll make the next section a lot more manageable. My only real issue with the items is that you never really get to spend too much time with any of them, as early level items are nowhere to be found in later levels. I would love to use that dope saw blade again, but I never had the opportunity to buy it.

There’s also a story in Cyber Shadow that you can pay attention to if you want. I however didn’t find it that interesting or engaging, as it mostly served as a way to stop the action so I could see a cut-scene of some people being very dramatic and talking about robots. I think there’s a Dr. Wily figure that’s making all the robots do bad stuff, but once again, I kind of checked out of the story pretty early on. Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t play Cyber Shadow for it’s narrative and don’t feel like I missed out on much. However, if you find yourself uninterested by the story, Cyber Shadow has one hell of a good soundtrack that you should most certainly pay attention to.

The things I like about Cyber Shadow far outweigh the things I dislike about it, but I do feel like I should mention that there are a few levels that are real momentum killers. Whether it’s checkpoints making these levels more laborious than they actually are or the level itself is just filled with nonsense garbage that can only be tackled through trial and error, Cyber Shadow isn’t without flaws. Yet despite those rage inducing moments, I still made my through the entirety of Cyber Shadow because the action is that good. There are also some later levels that break from the structure of what you’ve been doing for most of the game that are really enjoyable. Cyber Shadow isn’t my favorite action-platformer by a long shot, but it’s still a very good one that’s deserving of your time if you find that there’s a robot-ninja sized hole in your heart.

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