Cyber Shadow, the first work of Mechanical Head Studios, finally arrives on the shelves, offering us a tasty return to the past: let’s find out in this review
It is no mystery that the last few years have been characterized by a kind of cult for the past . Many of the most successful products of the last decade were born from the legacy of the great classics of the 80s and 90s. We come to think of masterpieces like Divinity: Original Sin II , or the last two DooMs , which reproduce in a modern style the experience of the original chapter released in 1993. In the context of independent titles, of course, the phenomenon has become almost a practice . A lot can be produced with a minimal visual style, and a viable alternative to the mass market can be proposed by focusing on ideas and intuitions, rather than on production values .
Like many other things, however, the world of video games is also subject to changing fashions . If proposing a retro experience a few years ago could still seem like a breath of fresh air and a counter-current choice, in 2021 the release of yet another videogame inspired by the classics risks appearing to the most almost cloying. Indeed, some might say, it would be a twice-old game . In our opinion, however, the philological love for pixels of the past continues to be a real ideological stance towards large productions and there is still a need for works of this type.
In a world where indie titles are crushed by other indie titles, and no longer by big productions, the first work of Mechanical Head Studios would have passed over in silence, if the guys at Yacht Club Games (developers of the Shovel Knight series ) did not had decided to help the small studio in publishing the project. In the end, a certain amount of anticipation was created for Cyber Shadow, which, as we will see in this review, has largely paid off.
After the media case of Cyberpunk 2077 – which attracted the attention of the general public well before its actual release – this type of setting has found more and more space within the market. Cyberpunk is one of the literary genres that most of all has managed to capture the contradictions of the contemporary era and, in some cases, to anticipate the existential possibilities that right now we are finding ourselves living, at least in part, on our skin. .
“We wanted new things to become thinkable, describable and perhaps even convincing,” said Bruce Sterling , one of the best-known authors of the genre. Mechanical Head Studios succeeds in combining the push forward typical of stories such as Neuromancer or The Broken Matrix with an aesthetic and playful style that recalls the old games for Super Nintendo , and specifically the glorious Shadow Warrior (now also known to us as Ninja Gaiden ). This is an apparent contradiction that makes us wonder if cyberpunk has really become just a visual fascination suited to the masses , like a simple nostalgia for the eighties. Which, of course, would really be cyberpunk; but perhaps it is not right to load the unwitting Aarne Hunziker, author of the title in question, with this weight so great.
In this review we will see how Cyber Shadow is a more than dignified action platformer, released perhaps at the least suitable moment to allow it to shine.
Essential Lines – Cyber Shadow Review
It is interesting to open the Cyber Shadow review by analyzing its simple narrative lines . The surface level of the story is represented by the city of Mekacity and the evil Dr. Progen, who has taken possession of it with an army of synthetic machines . The player will take on the role of Shadow, a ninja cyborg who is also the last remaining member of his clan. His task will be to save his Mistress and to defeat the antagonist and his henchmen .
The plot is not exactly the most original , but it unfolds along a series of static cutscenes that are very pleasant to see. The aesthetic style is the result of a very successful pixel art and an artistic direction that brings to mind a little Ninja Gaiden , a little Ghost In The Shell (especially the original, the colorful one designed by Masamune Shirow). Shadow, a mute hero, will have to make his way through hordes of cyborgs, gaining new powers and deepening the antagonist’s reasons through terminals and dialogues .
It feels like reading a comic . Cyber Shadow expresses itself with essentiality, without ever weighing down the action, at times reminiscent of a shonen manga. We appreciated the rhythm of the story , just as we appreciated the simple reflection on transhumanism proposed by Hunziker.
Shadow, the last heir of his clan, will become stronger by meditating at some altars and passing some tests. In short, his real strength lies not in cybernetic enhancements, but in his nature as a warrior and as a human being. The alternative worlds to be accessed through the aforementioned altars represent some of the best moments of the title , both aesthetically and narratively. A bit like it happened in Celeste , the difficulty of the title sometimes also becomes a vehicle for diegetic meanings . And then it is easy to turn a blind eye to the revival of an aesthetic that has perhaps already had its day.
Between Megaman and Ryu Hayabusa – Cyber Shadow Review
Cyber Shadow gameplay is a tribute to the side scrolling action platformers that were all the rage in the late 1980s. The controls are really simple and include a button for the attack and one for the jump, although over time we will unlock new skills that will require a few more combinations. Basically, therefore, we will not have to do is jump and shoot down enemies, without the possibility of ringing combos or enhancing our statistics.
Combining all this with the retro technical aspect, the feeling you get is that of playing a modern Ninja Gaiden . There is more attention to level design and the difficulty level is immediately high , but not as much as in the evil Tecmo title. At each checkpoint, in fact, we will be able to unlock temporary upgrades relegated to that specific area (they are not permanent, in short) that will give us a big hand in advancing.
We go from a barrier capable of absorbing the blows of the opponents to an aerial turret that will fight alongside us, up to a power sword and much more. Point management therefore becomes a fundamental choice in progression. Better to spend points now or save them for use in the next checkpoint? Everything will depend on how well we feel able to overcome a certain sequence.
Cyber Shadow, as anticipated, is really, really difficult, but never frustrating . You will die often, but you will always have an incentive to continue. This is especially noticeable during the beautiful bossfights, all diversified and stimulating. To proceed, you will need to concentrate and enter Zen mode. Calm and coolness , for once, will be really essential .
The last element of gameplay to analyze is represented by the special and permanent abilities that we will collect at specific moments. Over time, Shadow will become more and more mobile, providing a certain variety to the gameplay. The repertoire is quite varied and includes both the classic consumable shuriken and, towards the end of the adventure, a graceful step forward that reminded us a lot of the Megaman of Capcomiana memory. For all its approximately 8 hours of duration Cyber Shadow is able to entertain the player by putting it to the test, reaching its main goal.
There is one flaw, to tell the truth, and it is the only one: it is a reactivity to the commands that is sometimes a bit low . We’re referring to the jump button, which sometimes takes a little too long to convert input into on-screen action, causing some unwarranted death. Wall climbing could also be handled better. Sometimes the protagonist will arbitrarily decide to throw himself down, compromising our game. This is a venial flaw, which, however, affects a lot in a game where precision is everything .
Digital Manuscripts – Cyber Shadow Review
There is little to complain about the technical aspect of the Mechanical Head Studios title. Cyber Shadow recreates the atmosphere of a Super Nintendo title thanks to a delightful pixel art style . It is not a very original choice, to be honest, even if the characters and the atmosphere denote a certain formal elegance . The cyberpunk aesthetic of the title is the somewhat superficial one that is the most popular these days: a nostalgic fascination , rather than a complex vision of reality.
However, we appreciated the desire to reconstruct the appearance of a vintage title in an almost philological way. The feeling was that of leafing through a digital manuscript of the past, a bit like when you dig up those old game codes that have never been published to test them with an emulator. If the artistic style is just a simplification of the cyberpunk genre, its slightly naïve vocation fits very well with the author’s intentions.
Even the audio sector, after all, sparks the 80s from all pores and makes us run with our minds to that distant world made of arcades and tokens to no end. One wonders how many of the people who will try the title have really lived that period on their skin. What matters is that the 8-bit melodies are really successful and will accompany you with great pleasure throughout the adventure.
A jump in the past
Arriving at the end of the review of Cyber Shadow we can say that, paradoxically, the title of Mechanical Head Studios is precisely the son of its times . On the one hand, the almost childlike desire to reconstruct the atmospheres and dynamics of old titles in a modern game; on the other, an aesthetic that chases the fashion of cyberpunk in a sometimes superficial way, reducing it to pure visual fascination.
What matters is that the title presents a truly successful gameplay , capable of engaging the player and gratifying him enormously once the many difficulties have been overcome. Too bad for some uncertainty in the commands related to platforming that undermine its effectiveness. All in all, however, we were very impressed with Aarne Hunziker’s first work.