How Cyber Shadow is Benefiting From the Expertise of Shovel Knight's Developers

How Cyber Shadow is Benefiting From the Expertise of Shovel Knight's Developers

We check out Yacht Club's first publishing venture, and talk to its developer, Aarne "Mekaskull" Hunziker.

Cyber Shadow's debut at PAX East this weekend was a first in more ways than one. It was also the first opportunity for its designer, Aarne Hunziker, to meet his publishing partners at Yacht Club Games in person.

The Shovel Knight designers have been working closely with Hunziker on his gorgeous new 8-bit platformer, but all of the collaboration to this point has been remote. With Cyber Shadow appearing for the first time at PAX East, Hunziker was encouraged to make the journey from Finland to show off his game to the public for the first time. Yacht Club Games co-founder Sean Velasco told USG, "We told him it was a huge deal and he had to come out. He's been down there running that demo the whole time."

In the run-up to Hunziker's journey to PAX East, Yacht Club has been mainly lending its expertise to the level design. "There's lots of back and forth with level design," Hunziker says. "They have this thing where they say level design teaches players about the game. Enemies should be placed in ways that complicate a situation and gradually increase the difficulty."

Velasco says Yacht Clubt Games has mainly been advising Hunziker on elements like enemy placement, jumps, and other balance issues. "When you're working alone, you can really have tunnel vision. So just working with other people can be enormously helpful. Even those two levels in the demo, we just honed them and improved them."

Velasco stresses, "[Cyber Shadow] itself is cool. It was cool before we got to it. So I don't want to say Yacht Clubt made it cool, because we didn't."

Yacht Club originally discovered Hunziker on Twitter, where he tweets under the handle of "Mekaskull." It's easy to see why it was so impressed with his work. His feed is filled with elaborate animated gifs chronicling his ongoing work on Cyber Shadow. Working almost entirely alone, he's managed to crank out some very impressive pixel art.

In December 2017, Hunziker tweeted, "This milestone event means Cyber Shadow is 60% complete. What it does? Only the ninja master knows." The gif he included showed his cybernetic ninja meditating at a dragon statue and the screen fading to black."

Fast forward to March 2019, and Cyber Shadow is looking extremely impressive. With a darker and edgier vibe, Velasco says Cyber Shadow is the Ninja Gaiden or Batman NES to Yacht Club's Mega Man. It features a character who is killed in a nuclear apocalypse, only to rise again as a cybernetic ninja.

Though frequently compared to Ninja Gaiden, it has only superficial similarities to Tecmo's classic platformer. Cyber Shadow focuses far more on combat than the platforming that defined the legendarily difficult Ninja Gaiden, and includes many more abilities. The main hero takes up more space on the screen, carries multiple permanent abilities that can be accessed via the d-pad, and is unable to crouch.

It's also far more forgiving than Ninja Gaiden, at least so far. While I certainly died more than once, I had no trouble clearing both of Cyber Shadow's demo stages. Health potions are sprinkled liberally through both stages, and Hunziker says he plans to ramp up the difficulty much more slowly than Ninja Gaiden, which features a famously nasty difficulty spike in its second stage.

Cyber Shadow was a pixel art darling before Yacht Club Games picked it up. | Yacht Club Games

It goes without saying that Cyber Shadow is gorgeous. With its large, detailed sprites and detailed stages, it measures up nicely to the other ninja-themed indie platformer at the show, The Messenger. Hunziker approaches his design with the eye of an artist, at one point observing that the boss of the second demo stage utilizes the Mega Man color palette.

It's a unique opportunity for both Hunziker and Yacht Club. For Hunziker, it's a chance to break into the upper tier of indie development and win real notice from the industry. For Yacht Club, it's an opportunity to truly break into indie publishing and become known for being more than just The Studio That Makes Shovel Knight.

The results are looking very promising. The two sides may have only just met in real life for the first time, but it's already been a fruitful relationship, as the media is already proclaiming Cyber Shadow "the new Shovel Knight." No release date has been announced yet, but Cyber Shadow is pretty far along, so expect it sooner rather than later on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Read this next

The 10 Best Indie Games of PAX East 2019

Indies are where the ideas are, so here are some of the best and most unique titles of PAX East 2019.

Starting Screen | PAX East 2019 Wrap-Up: From Borderlands 3 to Cyber Shadow, It Was a Busy Weekend for Games

The USG team hit the showfloor of PAX East 2019 to bring you the latest and greatest in gaming.

What Retro Game Do You Still Play Regularly?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Mario 3? Planescape Torment? StarCraft? We want to know what classic games are still in your regular rotation.

Trials of Mana Interview: The Developers on Topping the Fan Translation and the Possibility of New Mana Games

"[T]he localization team took a look at the translation and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to show them up.'"

Oninaki Review

Oh now feel it, comin' back again.

The Pride Flag in Marvel's Spider-Man is a Small Gesture That's Made a Large Impact

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Pride flags in Marvel's Spider-Man, edits to Yakuza re-releases, and an Ion Fury backtrack show publisher actions speaking louder than words

More

Trials of Mana Interview: The Developers on Topping the Fan Translation and the Possibility of New Mana Games

"[T]he localization team took a look at the translation and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to show them up.'"

Where Nintendo Switch Online Has Gone Wrong

The reasons Nintendo's online service is flaccid, and what it can do to pump things up.

What To Read, Play, and Watch Before Playing Telling Lies

Back at GDC 2019, Sam Barlow filled us in on the syllabus for Telling Lies.

Remembering the Early Days of BioWare with Co-Founder Trent Oster

Beamdog and BioWare co-founder Trent Oster talks about the early days of the studio, before Electronic Arts.

More on PC

Trials of Mana Interview: The Developers on Topping the Fan Translation and the Possibility of New Mana Games

"[T]he localization team took a look at the translation and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to show them up.'"

Oninaki Review

Oh now feel it, comin' back again.

Remnant: From the Ashes is Quickly Becoming 2019's Breakout Hit

A multiplayer Souls-shooter is picking up steam.

Former Artifact Designer Says Expansions Were in the Works Prior to His Departure

He hopes the maligned card game can still find an audience.

Final Fantasy 14 Director Details Upcoming Job Changes for Ninja, Samurai, and Summoner

Future collaborations with other games remain top secret.

More Platformer Games

Every Game and Trailer Shown off During the August Nintendo Indie World Showcase

Did you miss this morning's Indie World showcase? Let us help you.

Recovered Super Mario Bros. Super Show Animation Cels Bring Us Back to the Franchise's Weirdest, Most Aimless Days

If you can't mix Super Mario Bros. with Billy Idol, then what's the point of life?

Nintendo Switch Could Be Getting a Wireless SNES Controller

FCC filings point towards the Super Nintendo arriving on the Switch.