The age of the Nintendo Entertainment System may be three decades past, but its influence on the video game industry remains to this day. Countless titles release daily across a multitude of platforms made by developers who grew up playing with the console and looking to recreate the same magic they felt as kids. Most fall short of this lofty goal, but every so often a game like Cyber Shadow manages to capture that special feeling of 8-bit gaming so perfectly. Made by a single developer, Aarne Hunziker, and with the help of a publisher who also managed to capture the NES magic in a bottle in Yacht Club Games, Cyber Shadow is just as enjoyable as any of the legendary titles in two-button gaming.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a title developed in the spirit of the NES is getting the movement just right. Super Mario Bros. 3 and the Mega Man series set the benchmarks for attributes such as run speed, jump height, and just the overall feeling of movement. Cyber Shadow succeeds in emulating this feeling. It didn’t take long for memories of Saturday mornings as a young boy to start flooding back. In the same way that Astro’s Playroom illustrates how incredibly innovative the PlayStation 5 controller can feel, Cyber Shadow proves that the D-Pad quality of the same controller is equally strong. Modern consoles rarely have a D-Pad that measures anywhere close to its 80s counterpart and this is a blessing as playing with the stick just doesn’t do Cyber Shadow justice.
Sticking to a two-button philosophy could have limited the gameplay of Cyber Shadow, but each of the ten chapters manages to feel unique in its own way. Most of the chapters each end with a unique boss, and the reward for victory is the unlocking of a new power or mechanic. The utilization of this mechanic is then worked into the preceding chapters, culminating in a final few levels that challenge the player’s mastery of each skill. Special attacks like the ability to throw ninja stars, a downward attack akin to Shovel Knight, and a phase shifting rapid attack all quickly become second nature as the environment provides fertile ground to learn each and every one. On top of the basic and special attacks available to Shadow, each save point during a chapter makes a unique weapon available. A particular standout is a chakram attached to a bungee cord of sorts that allows Shadow to slash the weapon towards enemies.
The roster of mid-level and end chapter bosses is quite impressive, each with their own personality and attack patterns. Early bosses like the Smasher begin with rudimentary physical attacks, but boss fights evolve throughout with neat mechanics such as laser blasts dropping from the sky. A fine line is straddled between predictability and making the boss battle feel like a puzzle. With careful observation, many of the patterns of the bosses can be deciphered to the point where victory could be obtained without losing health. This doesn’t really take away any of the joy of defeating a boss as the satisfaction of figuring out the pattern is its own reward but does come awfully close to being a tad too easy.
An interesting story is revealed throughout the game and is accompanied by a terrific soundtrack that really fits the mood presented. Cutscenes in between chapters stay true to the aesthetic and add a pleasant interlude between the fast action pace. However, even a console as powerful as the PlayStation 5 couldn’t escape some minor performance issues. Surprisingly, a few areas with a particularly high enemy or pixel count results in a few dropped frames. Missing frames and a max resolution of 1080p are the biggest complaints though and neither detracts from the enjoyment. A few different graphical options such as a CRT filter are also available for those looking for a truly retro experience.
Though they downplay the amount of their contribution, the influence of the folks at Yacht Club Games is certainly felt in the level design. The placement of enemies and the ramping up of the difficulty feels very familiar to the Shovel Knight titles. Though they have their similarities, Cyber Shadow feels like a much different game, but one that still captures the essence of what makes an 8-bit title great. Thankfully, at least one game with Cyber in its title this year managed to exceed my expectations.
- Excellent level design
- Pleasant increasing pace of difficulty
- Nails the look and feel of NES greats
- Great assortment of abilities and weapons
- A few dropped frames in some of the busy areas
- Max resolution of 1080p (at launch anyway)