If you had told me a month ago that the first game I’d play at Yacht Club Games’ booth wouldn’t be Shovel Knight: King of Cards, I’d probably would have been very confused. Yacht Club Games is one of my favorite developers in the business. I’ve bought Shovel Knight five times for myself, plus as a gift for friends. I’ve beaten it countless times, earned the Platinum on Vita, and snagged each vinyl of the killer soundtrack. But Yacht Club Games threw me a curve ball the day before PAX East 2019 and announced the next game they are publishing—Cyber Shadow.
I showed up at my appointment with my favorite developer at the show and booted up Cyber Shadow right off the bat. It did not disappoint. If there were more levels available in the demo, I easily would have played this for the entirety of my appointment, forgetting to check out Shovel Knight: King of Cards altogether, because Cyber Shadow is so good.
Cyber Shadow is being developed by the one-man army at Mechanical Head Studios. Aarne Hunziker is behind everything you see and play. The music is being created by Enrique Martin with production by Jake Kaufman. While at a glance it may just look like another ninja game, Cyber Shadow features a medley of mechanics that are a joy to discover.
The first level I played was near the start of the game. I had no fancy power-ups, just my sword. The character movement is tight and precise, feeling exactly how one would expect. Playing with a Switch Pro Controller felt swell, but I couldn’t help but wonder what playing with the NES Switch controllers would feel like. The game really succeeds at capturing the NES era from the outset. Even though the Ninja Gaiden inspiration is obvious, the game also echoes Castlevania with its jumping and attacks. There was a heft to the movement that was satisfying.
Enemies were tough and persistent. It’s clearly going to be a game of memorizing patterns and adapting to the attacks on the fly. Your ability to adapt is going to be the key to surviving the onslaught. Dodging projectiles and then striking when there is an opening is just the kind of ninja combat I’d expect in a game like this. It’s grounded early on and proves that patience and skill are all you need to succeed at a level.
In the second level of the demo, I had access to two power-ups: One was shuriken by hitting up and attack, while the other was an upward sword slash that launched three fireballs by pressing down and attack while on the ground. This opened up my options for attacking, especially when it came to the airborne enemies, but it didn’t make combat a breeze. These power-ups are tied to the SP meter beneath the health bar. You can replenish the meter with pickups or by paying at a checkpoint, but this limited meter keeps you from spamming these fancy attacks.
These power-ups can also unlock new parts of the older levels. With a dash of Metroid, you can take new power-ups you acquire to access secret areas. I’m not sure if these rooms will just unlock new items or skills, or entirely new areas and levels. At the end of the second level, I got a downward strike ability and immediately thought of the breakable floors in both levels I played where I could use my newfound skill.
Outside of techno ninja abilities, there are also items that you may use. You summon them at checkpoints by spending the game’s currency that you pick up throughout the level. It’ll cost you 50 to summon a random item to use. I got to try out an energy sphere with yo-yo-like properties and the other was a shield that you can shoot out. These last for a set period of time and are fun to use. It’s great to see a cost associated with them too; both the actual cost and the RNG you risk. It helps emphasize the need for patience and skill, rather than becoming over reliant on perks and power-ups.
The world design is rad to look at too. With its Matrix-esque cybertronic world domination, the enemies are robotic, which is a great mash-up with ninja style. Combined with a bumping soundtrack and crunchy sound effects, the vibe is hypnotic as you hack and slash your way through the robot overlords. I can’t wait to hear the entire soundtrack and jam to it all the time.
The levels each ended with a boss battle. The first was against a stationary machine which took me two attempts to nail down the pattern and succeed. The second boss was much harder. Named “Biohunter,” this flying mech boss used a big ol’ laser gun and explosions to kill me—multiple times. I finally got in the groove of dodging his attacks and emerged victoriously. It was one of those triumphs that felt genuine. I was clearly getting better and proved it by defeating the Biohunter, creating a PAX East moment I won’t forget.
Cyber Shadow is a perfect fit for Yacht Club Games’ lineup. It’s wonderful to see them help a fellow developer out with the experience, know-how, and influence so that Hunziker can focus on making the game he wants too. 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for Yacht Club Games and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into Cyber Shadow when it launches later this year on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
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