Anyone who experienced the golden times of the 8 and 16-bit generations, between the 1980s and 1990s, knows well what to expect from Cyber Shadow. Today, at a time when games have difficulty selectors to ease challenges, the new platform game from the Finnish studio Mechanical Head Studios goes against the grain of modernity to pay homage to the era of sadistic and ruthless games.
Published by Yacht Club Games (producer responsible for the franchise Shovel Knight) and designed by a single developer, Cyber Shadow it takes us back to childhood, to the generation in which the act of finishing a game was a matter of persistence. I remember never being able to close Super Ghouls’ n Ghosts, Hagane: The Final Conflict and Contra III: The Alien Wars (all borrowed from an extinct rental company), although he invested dozens of hours in them, perhaps hundreds. Even without having zeroed them, they are still among the best SNES titles I’ve experienced.
For better or worse, Cyber Shadow provides an old-fashioned, costly experience, one that requires patience and agility. It aroused the same feeling I knew in the aforementioned nineties games: a mixture of frustration and personal fulfillment. After more than 300 deaths registered in the accountant (and counting), I can finally report with propriety how much I suffered. Let’s go to the impressions.
Nineties fun and visual crispness
I was enchanted by Cyber Shadow from the start. It is a side-scrolling platform game with a pixelated aesthetic, made by hand sprites, that lives up to the main titles of the genre to which it belongs. Before delving into the details of this analysis, I would like to clarify a point: Cyber Shadow it’s a great old-school game, but you like the idea of refraining from modern elements. In practice, this may not be quite what you are looking for, as it does not add anything new to the formula we know.
Here you take on the role of Shadow, the only survivor of your clan after a disaster struck the city of Mekapolis. With the help of the L-Gion robot, the hero must rescue skills and ninjutsus from his lost partners in order to face Dr. Progen and his synthetic army. In my opinion, the narrative is not one of the main characteristics of the game, but it brings interesting dialogues, although punctual, and a rich universe, full of descriptions to explain it. The texts are even in Brazilian Portuguese.
The atmosphere is mirrored in Super Metroid, Nintendo classic from 1994, and Shinobi, SEGA franchise forgotten in time, and focuses on the sense of discovery. In fact, the color palette of the early stages took me back to the adventure of the heroine Samus Aran – I even quenched my longing. As you progress, the scenarios take on vibrant colors and different biomes, which jump between industrial areas, laboratories and temples inherited from feudal Japan, each with a unique visual identity, attractive in its own way.
Blood, sweat and a lot of pixel welling up on the screen
Contrary to the market trend, Cyber Shadow it obeys the linear structure and, to the surprise of many, it is not metroidvania. You can revisit phases whenever you want and as often as you want to accumulate points and unlock secrets hitherto inaccessible, but the world is not interconnected. Backtracking, in fact, is optional, requiring only those who intend to complete 100% of the maps.
Gameplay mechanics have clear influences from Ninja Gaiden and demand precise movements, whether to beat enemies with acrobatic combinations or to overcome lurid obstacles. The gameplay finds a particular rhythm, I would say that even a little more paced than I would like, instead of running at 180 per hour, along the lines of a The Messenger. As you progress through the world, new skills are unlocked and put to the test as soon as they are acquired.
The first stages are dedicated to learning and mastering new techniques, such as dodging, double jumping and cross-cutting. However, from the fifth stage onwards, that is, in the middle of the game, the difficulty increases sharply. From there, the phases introduce additional challenges to the platform parts, making the player need to use and abuse his shinobi skills. Like it or not, the learning curve is not at all subtle – and that is not good for anyone.
Strange as it may seem, the most peaceful moments of the journey are the battles against the bosses, refreshments on the platform stretches. They require different strategies, of course, but all bosses have attack patterns that are easy to read and memorize. The highlight is that the creatures have neat animations and exquisite design, which contributes to the encounters being always fun.
Distant checkpoints and welcome power-ups
In addition to the high difficulty embedded in each zone, there is another aspect that further complicates progress: the save points. There is no generosity on the part of the studio, so the distance between points A and B, without checkpoints, is exaggerated. A single wrong move, out of sync, will cause Shadow, the hero, to restart from a very distant area. Died? Do it all again. In summary, Cyber Shadow it will test your patience and force you to play better, even if it results in frustration.
As a type of facilitator, checkpoint portals allow some special features (in a power-up scheme) to be unlocked to help you overcome specific sectors. You can, for example, use the points of shot down enemies to enable drones and amplify attack power, as well as equip yourself with shields to gain defense. These temporary techniques are very useful throughout the phases, but they must be renewed in newly discovered rescue stations, creating an interesting management dynamic.
It is worth it?
Cyber Shadow is a one-way ticket to the era of ruthless games, when games were designed without the excessive concern of attracting Greeks and Trojans, that is, casual and experienced players. There is no denying that Mechanical Head Studios made a work that lived up to its inspirations, although it lacks a touch of modernity and robustness. The high difficulty can compromise the fun, yes, but I assure you that persistence will reward you with ample doses of nostalgia.
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