Game: 9 Years of Shadows
Genre: Action, Adventure
System: Steam (Windows)
Developer|Publisher: Halberd Studios | Freedom Games
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £ 13.40 | US $ 15.99 | € 15,99
Release Date: March 27th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Stride Pr.
Not so Black and White
2D adventure games are in abundance in gaming, making it an incredibly competitive market to stand out. On the surface, 9 Years of Shadows appears to fit the very familiar template that has come before, yet it manages to elevate itself above the rest with tight controls and a gameplay loop which is swift and rewarding. It doesn’t do a lot new, but every element of its design has been refined to make it an experience well worth keeping an eye on. Also, it features a cute teddy bear as a companion.
The plot is a familiar one. The world has been in disarray for 9 years thanks to a horrible shadow causing havoc on the land, so much so the colour has literally drained from the realm. As the young heroine, Europa, who has been training for years, takes up her halberd decides to take on Talos Castle, where the cause of the curse resides. But despite her efforts, she fails, only at the last minute, to be saved by the cuddliest of video game heroes… a teddy bear called Apino. After being rescued, colour is now restored, which reignites a fire in Europa to attempt the fight again. She’s not there yet, though, she has a whole castle to explore, finding new abilities to get stronger, and of course, you have a teddy bear at your side. Maybe the world is not doomed after all.
A Pixel Picture
The graphics are striking. The pixel art is reminiscent of the 16-bit era, very much tickling my nostalgia for the Mega Drive era of gaming. Characters and environments are detailed with intriguing details to design and colour. There are shots in this game I would not mind having framed and put on my wall. Just try not to pause too long on those boss battles, as you may receive an unpleasant blow from an enemy.
To add further to the immersion, 9 Years of Shadows has a captivating soundtrack. Energetic and memorable, this is one to switch off the podcast and become fully present in. From exploring the world to taking on a giant boss, there was never a moment I wasn’t taken in by the score. This will certainly be added to the Steam soundtrack list. Music is even weaved into the game’s narrative with NPCs you encounter jazzing out with some musical instrument. Some of the collectables you find are also musical notes which are used to power up your abilities.
The template is very familiar. I’ve typed out adventure game reviews so frequently that I feel like my keyboard is starting to show signs of wear and tear to the same buttons I keep pressing. In case you’re new, let’s get the general design out of the way.
The overall goal of the game is to take on the big bad by collecting power-ups (or runes here) to unlock new abilities, each of which will allow access to a new area of the castle. You can explore the world looking for secrets and collectables, some of which will help power Europa up further, and some just add a bit of lore to the game’s story.
9 Years of Shadows can be saved at various spots on the map; I liked how you jam on the piano to save. Exploration is easily tracked with the map, and even hidden walls are hinted at, which may be good news to those that don’t like to stress too much while finding a secret. If you’re familiar with this genre, 9 Years of Shadows practically follows this formula to the checklist. So what’s different? Well, 9 Years a Shadows struck a chord with me thanks to its excellent pacing and combat.
Combat With a Cuddle
Europa’s weapon of choice is a halberd, one of the more unusual choices for a video game. Regardless, it gets the job done and provides quick strikes to any foe foolish enough to get in its way. Europa can also use a useful dodge move where she will dash quickly backwards at the push of a button. Enemies larger than life tend to give you a tiny flash hint when they are landing a deadly blow, allowing you a chance to react if you are quick. Melee doesn’t always get the job done, which is where your bear friend comes in. He provides a long ranged projectile which can be fired from a safe distance.
The drawback to this is that it costs light energy, which kinda acts as your health bar. When you fire projectiles or take a hit, the bar depletes; if you take a hit with it totally depleted, you lose a health shard. You can rejuvenate the bar by attacking enemies which encourages you to press on rather than fall back. However, if you want to play it safer, you can press a button to literally hug your bear friend and replenish some of the life bar, possibly one of the cutest things I have seen in an adventure game to date. Overall, it’s a great design to allow the player to choose for themselves how to play and engage in combat.
Gameplay Flows at a Nice Pace
My other favourite aspect of 9 Years of Shadows is it just flows together so well at a nice pace. You’re regularly unlocking new abilities, usually in the form of a pretty new dress. You’re then presented with a section to become familiar with the new abilities then the game moves on before the formula gets tired. Enemies don’t take a lot to defeat. It was very refreshing to play boss fights where they are tough encounters without stupidly large health bars.
So many games want to be Dark Souls these days, and it’s boring. 9 Years of Shadows still brings the challenge, it just doesn’t take forever, and your thumbs won’t be sore after. It really brings back that fast fluid approach of the 16-bit games, only with a modern coat of paint. In this case, a very pretty coat of paint.
Conclusion – Colour me Surprised
9 Years of Shadows may not reinvent the wheel with regards to the genre but one can’t deny the quality on display here. The gameplay is fun and addictive, from the game’s tight combat to exploration, encouraging you to seek out every secret possible. On top of all that, you add beautiful pixel graphics and an excellent soundtrack which makes the experience all the more special.
9 Years of Shadows is a great example where it’s ok for a game to play off the same music sheet, so long as the band playing is skilled and brings a top-quality performance. I’m trying to say the game is great and well worth your time. Even if you are tired of adventure games, this may just renew your interest.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up