Cyber Shadow looks and plays like an HD take on the NES Ninja Gaiden games but with Ryu Hayabusa transplanted into a cyberpunk future. Mechanical Head Studios’ debut action-platformer has a story, if you’re interested, in why the dark future still has ninja clans. But the real draw here is the retro thrill of running, jumping, and slicing your way through gorgeous pixel art environments.
Cyber Shadow is the first externally developed game published by Yacht Club Games, and it fits right in with the tone the Shovel Knight dev has established for itself. Like that 2014 hit, it looks the way you remember, but with a significantly expanded pixel count and colour palette. And, more importantly, with some of the rough edges sanded off the gameplay.
Not all the rough edges, though. Cyber Shadow is the toughest platformer I’ve played in a long time, and that difficulty can, unfortunately, come from some frustrating design choices.
Unlike other recent masocore platformers, though, Cyber Shadow has a nasty habit of separating checkpoints by really long distances. You thankfully have unlimited lives, but even with that modern convenience, I was often stuck on one section for an hour at a time. The level design is consistently engaging, but the varied threats that kept me on edge quickly became frustrating. I found myself wishing that Mechanical Head had kept the same content in place, but with extra checkpoints to take some of the edge off.
Cyber Shadow offers minor tweaks that can make the difficulty less punishing. At each of the checkpoints, you have the option to spend orange orbs that you can collect throughout each level on upgrades that can provide a small buff. This system feels pretty undercooked, though. Given that you can keep orange orbs when you die, I always had more than enough to buy upgrades every time they were available.
Additionally, the upgrades on offer are inconsistent, and, often, when I reached a really difficult section, there was nothing useful for sale. So, rather than feeling like a potential purchase to help you proceed through especially difficult moments, these purchases instead feel like foregone conclusions. Of course you’ll buy it. What else are you going to do with all this cash? Not that it will help much.
Overall, Cyber Shadow is a fine homage that does little to differentiate itself from the many tough-as-nails action platformers that came before. Its one innovation feels inessential. But, if you really like being a ninja who is having a hard time, check it out.
Cyber Shadow’s boss battles are tough but creative, and these encounters are the one arena where the game’s difficulty feels most fair. With checkpoints right outside the boss chamber, you can focus purely on nailing this one short but challenging encounter, instead of maintaining a high level of performance across drawn-out platforming.
Cyber Shadow has tight platforming, solid action, and impressive art, but feels most defined by its frustrating difficulty.
Genre: Action-platformer | Format: PC (tested) / Mac / Linux / PS4 / PS5 / Xbox One / Switch | Developer: Mechanical Head Studios / Publisher: Yacht Club Games / Price: £17.99 / Release: Out now