When it comes to retro action-platformers like Cyber Shadow, there's a lot going against them. Not only are there plenty of pixelated competition on the market, there are many different expectations that come with them. Not only does it want to pay homage to the NES era's obsession with cyberpunk dystopias, ninja mysticism, and early 90s anime trappings, but it wants to take the controller-snapping difficulty of simple two-button combat and elevate it to its breaking point for a modern audience. Despite all of those qualifiers in mind, all of that saturation and ambition that could overshadow this production, Cyber Shadow might just be one of the best action games I've ever played.
Essence of the Ninja
The minute Cyber Shadow starts, you are thrown into the action. You awaken out of a stasis pod in an abandoned laboratory. There are robots everywhere, a destroyed city, and it looks like fellow members of your ninja clan have been captured. Within minutes, you are slashing through enemies as exposition is slowly drip fed to you through computer screens and dialogue with a helpful robot companion.
While the gameplay is center stage in Cyber Shadow, I love how the game is dedicated to the kind of storytelling pioneered by the classic Ninja Gaiden titles. There are cutscenes and environmental details all stringing the levels together with a coherent plot that is overflowing with pulpy sci-fi camp. No doubt this game is laser-focused on putting you through linear gauntlets meant to test your reflexes, patience, and spatial awareness. But it does this all while spoon feeding you worldbuilding details like the madman behind the robots and how it ties into the secret ninja clan's inner workings. It mixes really well with the garish color palette and stylized visuals to make the whole thing feel like the greatest NES game never released.
The levels don't just funnel you into nonstop last-second button presses and frantic pattern recognition, but offers that as an alternative route if you're quick and skilled enough. There's always a way through each challenge that rewards patience and diligence as well as quick and reckless speed.
Ultimate Cyber-Ninja Warrior
I do not invoke Ninja Gaiden lightly either. Cyber Shadow's fundamental gameplay is full to bursting with the kind of action-platforming that raises blood pressure and snaps controllers in half. By the time I reached the credits, I had died over three-hundred times, some serious hand cramps and a smile on my face.
This is because this button-mashing brutality is a masterclass of escalation. The game starts with you just having two actions: jumping and slashing. Considering how tricky some enemy placements can be and how little health pickups are, the game trains you to be deliberate and cautious with your every movement; the classic gameplay strategy of “move correctly, do not die” played to the letter. But at the end of each level you are given a brand new ability like throwing ninja stars or a wall jump, opening up your movement options as well as your combat tactics.
By the time I had reached level seven of Cyber Shadow I was slicing through an entire gauntlet of enemies, all while jumping and twirling through a nightmarish stretch of bottomless pits and instant death spikes. Yet, this wasn't due to aggressive trial and error made by the game just upping the punishment and getting stingy with its checkpoints – although that still happened – but growing to understand the tools given.
The levels don't just funnel you into nonstop last-second button presses and frantic pattern recognition, but offers that as an alternative route if you're quick and skilled enough. There's always a way through each challenge that rewards patience and diligence as well as quick and reckless speed. Speedrunners and Iron Man mode players out there have plenty to chew on with this one.
If there is one issue, it is that there isn't a lot of replay value. There are hidden paths and various upgrades you can find, there are even secret bosses and bonus challenges unlocked by revisiting earlier levels with your new weapons and tricks. But aside from the initial seven to ten hour adventure, there isn't much else to enjoy. A minor criticism when those very hours involve fighting dragons and action setpieces with motorcycles and power armor, but be prepared to enjoy what you have.
Cyber Shadow | Final Thoughts
Cyber Shadow is an utter triumph for director Aarne Hunziker and his team at Mechanical Head Games. A slick, stylish, and exciting game of robot ninja action filled with cheesy but sincere charm. Mixing retro brutality with modern design polish to create a new action classic. If you love platformers, gorgeous pixel art, or the thrill of high-speed action, this is the one you've been waiting for.
TechRaptor reviewed Cyber Shadow on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and Nintendo Switch.
- Crisp, Gorgeous Pixel Art
- Sharp, Slick Action Platforming
- Remarkable, Rewarding Level Design
- Lacking Additional Game Modes