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Cyber Shadow Freshens Up the Ninja Gaiden Template

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Cyber Shadow

These days, you can’t swing a stick in the game market without hitting a retro tribute to a classic from the 8-bit era. Luckily, a few manage to stand out not just by evoking the look and feel of classic games, but also by both understanding what makes them work and bringing new things to the table to make them appealing to new audiences. And in the case of Cyber Shadow and its creative debt to Ninja Gaiden, I’m glad I had a chance to try it out.

Cyber Shadow

From the moment your ninja pops out of a stasis pod, missing his powers and tasked with saving his master and the city from an invasion by nefarious cyborg baddies, it’s clear that Cyber Shadow aims to recall the days of tough-as-nails action platformers. In fact, if first impressions are everything, Cyber Shadow comes across as almost antagonistic to players unfamiliar with the hostility of those early games. The initial stages of Cyber Shadow are arguably even more arduous than its closest inspiration: Ninja Gaiden. Like Ninja Gaiden, Shadow the ninja can only walk, jump, and swing his sword along one plane (there’s no slashing up or down by default). Unlike Ninja Gaiden, Shadow is at first actually less mobile than Ryu Hayabusa, lacking some of the jumping and climbing abilities at the outset.

Thankfully, this initial weakness isn’t rooted in some sadistic impulse by the one-person team at Cyber Shadow developer Mechanical Head Studios. Instead, it’s thanks to the more modern innovations designed in to make the game feel better to contemporary players. The game incorporates clever progression elements, doling out expansions to Shadow’s move set as the stages rack up. You’ll soon pick up staple maneuvers like a double-jump and a wall grapple, but after a few chapter bosses, you’ll have crazy dash moves and air-slides that allow you to practically fly through a stage like you were doing an extremely violent take on Celeste‘s mid-air insanity.

Cyber Shadow also expands your repertoire with new weapons and offensive techniques. You’ll gain upward fire slashes and even a fun bullet-reflecting shield. Practicing with all these new techniques is also a breeze, seeing as the game is progressive enough not to stick to the antiquated “lives” system of yesteryear. Instead, players can run Shadow through one of many through generously placed checkpoint locations to save their progress.

Better still for scrubs like yours truly, one can pay currency earned in-game at these checkpoints to refill health, add temporary beneficial effects, or even deploy special weapons make the going a little smoother. My personal favorite is a shuriken on a chain that orbits Shadow like a helpful and sharp drone buddy. It all holds up remarkably, despite some lapses with regards to checkpoints in the latter half of the game. In those instances, it was somewhat frustrating to go for fairly long stretches without relief, but they thankfully were the exception, rather than the rule.

Cyber Shadow

The visuals and mood of the game also nail the retro feel–or rather, my memories of it. The detailed pixel-art graphics are certainly more advanced than what the original Ninja Gaiden could manage. It’s more of an SNES-era than NES, if you get my meaning. But I can’t bring myself to nitpick that sort of stuff when it all looks so good. It even breaks up the pace with some cool set-piece events, like a pitched motorcycle level and a level where Shadow pilots a rollicking mecha suit. Like the older games, the narrative isn’t much to write home about. Parts of it feel like someone decided to play famous parody show Ninja Slayer straight and without irony, but it does the job and doesn’t get in the way.

Cyber Shadow channels the spirit of Ninja Gaiden effectively, but isn’t satisfied with mere homage. Instead its innovations serve to make the game palatable to a modern audience while building on the legacy of its inspirations.

Cyber Shadow is immediately available on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

Josh Tolentino
Josh Tolentino helped run Japanator as Managing Editor since 2012, before it and Siliconera teamed up. That said, it's been years since he watched enough anime to keep his otaku license valid. Maybe one day he'll see enough of a given season to pretend to know what's hot. Until then, it's Star Trek reruns, gacha games, and bylines at Destructoid and GameCritics.