If there are two things commonly found in retro games, it's robots and ninjas. Having one game throw the two archetypes together just makes sense, right? Cyber Shadow manages it rather well. Developed by Mechanical Head Studios and published by Yacht Club Games, this is a side-scrolling action platformer about saving a futuristic city from a synthetic army. Inspired by classic 8-bit titles like Mega Man, Shadow of the Ninja, and Ninja Gaiden, this modern take is a stylish, challenging experience.
Playing as the titular Shadow — the sole survivor of his ninja clan — you start off with little health and basic jump and slash abilities. Of course, things don't stay that simple for long; as you progress through each stage, you'll unlock more and more powers that enhance your robot-destroying talents, as well as upgrades to health and SP (needed for certain moves). It's classic game design, but it works: get through a level, beat the boss, earn an upgrade. Abilities like ninja stars, summoning fire, and deflecting projectiles add up steadily, keeping things fresh for most of the game.
You'll need all the help you can get, too, because the level of difficulty keeps up with you all the way. This is a pretty challenging game, and it doesn't really let up. However, we'd say that the balance is about right, save for one or two boss fights that will take a good few attempts. Occasionally, segments of levels can be particularly tricky, and checkpoints are often quite far apart, which can become a little frustrating. The truth is, you always have enough to make it through, but the game tests your skill pretty much the whole way.
This might sound obvious, but you'll also need to actually make use of all your abilities to move forward. While you can brute force through some enemies with regular katana slashes, you're often required to use secondary powers, giving all your unlocked powers purpose. This is true of bosses, too, where the right strategy — instead of just spamming your regular attack — will win the battle. Very rarely, some abilities can be a little tricky to pull off; we found dashing with a double tap of left or right would misfire every now and then, resulting in the occasional unearned death. However, controls are mostly as responsive as you'd expect.
Alongside the gameplay runs a simple but interesting story. We won't go into too much detail, but Shadow's origins are explored alongside the main conflict, and it's just enough to keep you interested. There are some great moments we won't spoil here.
As you progress, you'll come across between-level checkpoints where you can hop to any previous stage. This is because you simply won't find everything on your first trek through a segment. If you want to find all the health upgrades and other secrets, you'll need to come back later with more abilities. As well as filling out the game with more to see and do, this lets you blitz through earlier levels as a far more capable ninja, which is always a good feeling.
We've been playing it on PlayStation 5, and of course, performance is a rock solid 60 frames-per-second throughout and loading is instantaneous, and that's almost certainly the case on PS4 too. In fact, if you have a compatible display, the PS5 version will run at 120 frames-per-second, making it an even smoother experience.
Cyber Shadow isn't afraid to just be what it is: an unapologetic, retro-inspired action game. Steady upgrades mean you'll be introduced to new mechanics for most of the adventure, keeping things interesting all the way. An old-school challenge awaits, and while it's mostly a fair fight, checkpoints can be a little far apart, and some bosses might stop you in your tracks. Still, if you're looking for a rock solid side-scroller, this is absolutely worth your time.