Yacht Club Games Debuts as Publisher with Heartfelt Tribute to Early Ninja Gaiden and the NES
Before getting into the good and bad of Cyber Shadow, it is worth considering what this game is up to. Or, rather, about what its authors and editors -especially the latter- want to consolidate in the independent scene. This is important because, at this point, who else knows the least that this sincere tribute to the Ninja Gaiden of the old NES is the debut as publisher of the American studio Yacht Club Games, which is not silly since it is they who raised the “NES-style games” to the rank of its own subgenre capable of playing in the big leagues. What the studio that brought us to Shovel Knight now wants is to put its stamp of quality on other similar projects, who knows if with the long-term idea of ending up in a kind of Yachtclubverso. Points in common are not lacking, it is clear in advance, to a video game that aims to prop up the first level of the neo-retro scene a little more.
Like Shovel Knight and many others, Cyber Shadow is an NES game that could never run on an NES. Exactly like the adventures of the shovel knight and his crazy followers, this robotic ninja – what a dream of the eighties, by the way – moves at a speed and maneuvering with a determination that would short-circuit any Nintendo 8 Bit console. However, and this is possibly its greatest virtue, Cyber Shadow takes for a walk the combination in which Yacht Club is excellent: the audiovisual aesthetic of the NES is fused with a great design brand of the house and levels with novel features, but without crossing the line. With this premise and a dose of talent, Arne Mekaskull Hunziker and his Mechanical Head studio manage to stand out from the crowd of indies with retro aesthetics. Yacht Club Games is right with this German designer.
Honoring an NES … idealized
It has always been said that Shovel Knight remembered Megaman a lot, and we will not be the ones to deny it, nor can we ignore his influence in this Reviews. A game of this type is obliged to handle a series of influences, but in the case of Cyber Shadow it gives us the feeling that they are somewhat more heterodox than on other occasions. It is clear that the game drinks from the first Ninja Gaiden even more than The Messenger already did, but throughout the campaign there are moments for everything. From motorcycles or the occasional Contra-style final boss, to backgrounds with effects that could sound like those of more than one game for Mega Drive. Of course, all of this happens as we are reminded of other brawls with ninjas, such as Taito’s sensational Blue Shadow. The older ones will also admire a phase design and a color palette that is quite reminiscent of that of another great on the NES: Sunsoft’s first Batman. And, of course, the Shinobi saga of Sega, especially in their games for consoles.
Well armed with the spirit of all these ninjas who came before him, our robotic warrior faces ten phases that fuse the best of the Nintendo 8 Bit lore with some modern trends, all topped off by the classic final bosses that They will make it quite difficult for us until we learn to read its mechanics. Without many surprises –but doing things right–, Cyber Shadow has fun from the beginning thanks to levels in which everything is where it should and each enemy is located on the stage for some reason. Some enemies, by the way, that can be eliminated in more ways than with the simple frontal attack, because in Cyber Shadow the course of the game is marked by the different abilities that we find in the first levels and that, of course, are made increasingly essential due to the design of the campaign itself. To such an extent that the game gives the sensation of being divided into two rather unequal halves.
Progressing to the ethos
These skills that every mechanical ninja must master will not award anyone the nonexistent Nobel Prize for innovation. Namely: shurikens, a Shovel Knight-style attack from above, or flames to hit high objects and enemies. All these gestures are joined by a dash that we have found the most uncomfortable element of the game, since sometimes it does not react as well as we would have liked. The truth is that our ninja gets a lot out of these gestures and that their introduction gives us a sense of progression, but not all of them behave equally well for the weight they have in the campaign. In our understanding, that dash with a vertiginous attack that goes through almost everything – and encourages us to combine attacks – can be extremely fun at many times, but it has also made us face the main drawback of the last levels … in which we are blatantly incites their use and abuse. A pity, because in them we embody a warrior who has already completed his training.
Tide of skewers
Whether or not we get used to this funny and chaotic gesture, the truth is that there is a big difference in what the last phases convey if we compare them with the path that has led us towards them. The fundamental issue is that these last levels have practically no firm ground, but rather a carpet of spikes that would have caused Megaman to resign in 1987. If we consider that these spikes – and other environmental threats – cause immediate death, we will understand why that higher speed at which we are encouraged to play has not seemed all the achieved that it should. Any bounced bullet or small miscalculation is a death to add to the scoreboard, which does not add up to how polished everything else in this title is. Although things were like this years ago, falls to the spikes come to have unfair aspects – almost randomly – that today are not acceptable: it is not funny that a bounced bullet or a small error in the jump on an enemy us pull into a pit that sends us to the previous checkpoint. Although we are clear that there will be those who like these reactions, precisely because of that historicist realism that Arne Hunziker seems to like.
Even with these backpacks behind it, it is obvious that Cyber Shadow has a huge job behind it, and it certainly ranks in the highest range of games with this aesthetic, a category not as abundant as it may seem. Mainly, this fact is due to the fact that not all games have elements as well planned as the level structure and control points that this title takes as its flag. Although there are some checkpoints that are too far apart from each other –they become quite annoying in those last bars of the campaign–, the game offers linear levels to which we can return to return to open doors that we could not access before. This point gives us a feeling of very successful opening, which never comes close to the proposal of a metroidvania, but which together with some shortcuts that we can open at various levels tell us about a level design very well carried out. Although we must regret that these backtracks and the additional challenges that we will find in them are the only thing that the game has to encourage us to replay it. At least for now.
Cyber Shadow is not a perfect arcade. These discomforts that we discussed could have been more polished, since it is a game that shines with the style of those individual developers who work for years on their project until it is completely ready. Luckily, the facets that stick out make it strong enough to shape a game that will excite the most retro players. Visually, the echoes of Yacht Club Games’ works in its cutscenes fill it with a very special character, and its music deserves an honorable mention. The pieces by the composer Pentadrangle – now solemn, now a typical video game of the eighties – are on their own merits among the best chiptune we have heard lately. Both its graphic finish and the sound aspect contrast –very much– with a somewhat disappointing story, light years away from the enchantment with which Yacht Club Games told us the exploits of Shovel Knight and his rivals. In any case, the first foray of this team in its new role as publisher shows that we are facing a study that came to stay among the elite, although the difficulty of the last levels of Cyber Shadow will take out of the game those who do not have enough patience to play very calmly, and this was something that never happened in previous projects by the boys of Sean Velasco and David D’Angelo.
Cyber Shadow continues the path of Shovel Knight with good design and undeniable audiovisual charisma. Although some inconsistencies leave him a little lower than the adventures of the Yacht Club Games hero, this cybernetic ninja successfully pays tribute to the old Ninja Gaiden in a game with a very well measured duration, unfair peaks of difficulty aside. Confirmation that neo-retro has an eternal battlefield on the ideal NES.
- Ninja-Robot. References to Dragon Ball, Super Mario Bros 1 …
- Stellar chiptune on his soundtrack
- Very good level design
- Some skills have seemed somewhat less controllable
- Excessive difficulty peaks with a somewhat random point
- He could have used some reasons to replay it