By Alex Irish / April 12th, 2018
|Release Date||March 30th, 2018|
|Platform||Switch, mobile, PC|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
Shadow Bug is what you might get if you combined Super Meat Boy with Wii Remote controls. This potent set-up of controls and level design makes for plenty of creative level designs with fast action and clever puzzle solutions to navigate through. The buzz around Shadow Bug has been minimal, but it absolutely deserves recognition for its unique style of play.
Playing as a shadowy ninja bug, the game’s main action is targeting enemies nearby and lunging at them for an attack. This move is also used as locomotion to complete every level in increasingly clever ways. The shadow bug’s attack has you avoid falling hazards, move through walls, and avoid enemy attacks. The levels themselves consistently remain varied and creative. One minute, the game involves simple platforming, another minute you’ll be hunting for keys to enter locked passages, flying across massive pools of acid, and flying through the air to avoid a giant spike ball. The 36 levels are so brisk, in fact, you’ll breeze through the whole game in a matter of hours.
Boss fights punctuate the platforming levels with equal variety and creativity. The game’s first boss, a giant drill tank, requires straight attack runs while later bosses feature multi-stage puzzles. One boss is a giant spiked catapult you need to lure to hit the ground to take damage. Another boss is a massive tentacled arm you don’t just run from, but also attack to navigate the level and solve a wider puzzle to finish it with. The boss fights are likely where you’ll die the most given their tricky, challenging patterns.
The above comparison with Super Meat Boy is apt; not only does the titular bug resemble Meat Boy in silhouette, the levels are similarly bite-sized and hazardous, where you will die often. Shadow Bug is not as cruel a mistress as Super Meat Boy is, however. It’s more fair in that all deaths are your own mistakes rather than sheer brutal cruelty. Cheap deaths, in fact, come rarely in Shadow Bug, and it’s fairly easy to learn what the levels expect from you.
Shadow Bug offers several control set-ups, but the aforementioned Wii-style control scheme is the best one. Be it on the TV or in tabletop mode, you use split Joy-Con to move your bug and aim at the screen to target nearby enemies. When your aim is true, the trigger button draws the bug to them with its slash attack. These controls are the most intuitive way to navigate levels and make good use of the Joy-Con. It takes some getting used to at first, but you can recalibrate the pointer at the touch of the ‘Y’ button at any time.
If you absolutely can’t play Shadow Bug while flailing the controllers around, it can also be played in portable mode with touch controls. They work with exacting precision for the most part, except for when your hands start to cover the Switch’s screen. Surprisingly, you can also play with the Pro Controller, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s gyro pointer is not as intuitive or reliable as the right Joy-Con.
Shadow Bug‘s art style mixes inky black creatures and platforms with gorgeous, atmospheric watercolor backgrounds that range from naturalistic to industrial. The musical score goes for that East Asian ninja-vibe that’s not the most memorable and repeats on a loop, but it doesn’t distract from the action.
In terms of replay value, all levels come with default times and high scores for you to beat (marked via ninja shurikens). Time trials average in at a minute or so to clear (my average turned out to be two and a half to three minutes). The high scores themselves are not hard to beat at all, although you’ll need practice to beat the clear times. Levels also contain a larger white orb to hunt down and collect, which only serves to raise your high score.
Against its platforming deftness, Shadow Bug has one glaring flaw — the lack of any narrative or context. The lack of a material motive for why you’re traversing as a shadow bug is pretty obvious the deeper you get. That’s probably not the point of Shadow Bug; as is, it’s just a collection of levels that challenge you arcade-style. But without a story, it lacks the kind of narrative beat that make platforming contemporaries, like Super Meat Boy, and more recently Celeste, so memorable.
On a platform that already has dozens of acclaimed platformers, like Celeste, Shovel Knight, and Sonic Mania (I could just go on and on), Shadow Bug is a genuine surprise addition to such esteemed company. It crept up with the makings of a sleeper hit, and it deserves greater recognition. The default control scheme is delightfully intuitive and the level design takes great advantage of it. The lack of story and short length are the only downsides to an overall fun, short-but-sweet escapade. For your next Switch platforming fixation, at the bargain price of $8.99, Shadow Bug is the successor apparent.
Review code provided by developer
Muro Studiosnintendo switchShadow Bug