Throughout the history of gaming, there have been some iconic ninja characters. From Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa to Nioh’s William Adams, these iconic assassins have played a huge part in a lot of gamer’s lives. Little do they know a new, overpowered ninja has entered this scared dojo. His name? Shadow Bug.
In Shadow Bug, you play as the titular ninja as you hack your way through monsters and avoid obstacles to reach the end of each level as quickly as you can, while also collecting as many light orbs as possible. It’s a simple premise with simple execution. There isn’t much of a story to be told, but what’s there is an obvious man vs. nature tale. The game doesn’t require any dialogue for you to know what’s going on, and it’s all the more refreshing for that.
The art and style of the game is the stories greatest characteristic and conveys what you need to know about Shadow Bug’s mission perfectly. His journey begins in lush forests but quickly descends into factories and even hellish radioactive wastes. Each level is brought to life with bold shadows and sometimes some pretty horrifying creatures. You don’t have to care about the ninja’s journey to save his forest, but it helps to have a purpose as you flit from enemy to enemy chopping them to pieces with insane precision.
Everything about the gameplay is smooth, whether playing mobile or docked on the Switch. The levels can start to fly by and you get more and more used to the controls and how the game works, but it is constantly adding a new backdrop, puzzle, or enemy at you to keep the gameplay fresh even 20 levels in. It does what it sets out to do with near perfection; it’s a tough platformer that rewards precision and knowledge of level layouts. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re going to be playing levels over and over again to ace the level. Even if you’re not, you’re going to be scratching your head at some puzzles or repeating certain areas over and over again. For as cute as Shadow Bug is, his world is a brutal one.
The baddies you fight are as much a part of the platforming as anything. Shadow Bug kills everything in one hit, but the enemies are really just there to help you move through the level. There is no jump button. You just move Shadow Bug and click on enemies you want to attack. It’s a cool mechanic that makes for some interesting puzzles later in the game when certain areas don’t allow you to attack through walls or require you to keep enemies alive in order to succeed.
Then there are the bosses. At the end of each “world”, there is an enemy that Shadow Bug has to defeat which he can’t defeat with just one blow. The bosses are a great change of pace, and really offer a way to test your skills up to that point. Some are pretty simple, just avoiding attacks and striking when the time is right, others require you to do some puzzling to defeat them. They are all varied enough to enjoy replaying their stages and provide some thrilling battles that feel amazing to win. The thing about the boss stages though, is how inconsistent they are with difficulty. Some have checkpoints that you’ll start back at when you inevitably die, but some don’t have any at all.
Shadow Bug dies in one hit to anything, so getting far in a long boss battle only to die from the slightest touch is frustrating, but especially so when you have to start the entire fight over again. This is most apparent when fighting the final boss, whom I won’t spoil here except by saying that it was probably the only time I wanted to quit playing the game and just flat out give up. It didn’t ever really feel like I was using my skills up to that point, which is what the final boss of a game should offer. It just felt like I was memorizing the attacks and layout until I finally just got it perfect. It was an unfortunate ending to what was otherwise a stellar experience.
That difficulty spike never really translated to any of the regular platforming levels. When you die in Shadow Bug you know it’s because you made a mistake, even when fighting most bosses. It never feels truly unfair, just challenging. The only issue I would sometimes have is with the controls.
Shadow Bug utilizes either motion control with the Joy-Cons, or a touch screen that players who played the game on iOS or Android are likely familiar with. I played through the game with the Joy-Cons, aiming the right Con where I wanted Bug to attack, and moving him with the left joystick. The motion controls work well for the most part, but when there is a lot going on it can get lost. You can centre your reticule, but when you’re midair jumping from enemy to enemy this is close to impossible to do without dying. Even with the touch controls there could be too much going on to really keep up, but this only really happened with either scheme in the very last few stages.
All in all, Shadow Bug took me between 5-6 hours to complete. The last hour of that playtime accounted entirely from me just trying over and over again to defeat that final boss. Besides that final stage, the game is a joy to play through, and I can see myself coming back to play stages that I didn’t manage to ace on my first run. There are some tough puzzles, some beautiful art, and the smooth gameplay that really never gets stale. The game does what it sets out to do, with very little to complain about. By the very end, I felt like the overpowered ninja Shadow Bug was training me to be.