Originally releasing for mobile last year, Shadow Bug has now flown onto the Nintendo Switch in its best form. This action-platformer from Muro Studios is very simple to pick up, but offers a challenge for those seeking it. While not a deep game to understand, it’s still not as simple as it looks. In short, it’s fun. It’s short, but sweet.
For probably about the past decade, a particular artistic style has been the direction for a number of indie developers. The minimal design or use of silhouettes — especially for games that look dark — has been used appropriately, but it’s been starting to wear out its welcome for being original. One may take it as laziness on the developer’s part to not focus on such details. Shadow Bug takes that route (it’s even in the game’s title), but it seems Muro Studios wanted to make good use of the style here. Most, but definitely not all, of the traversable platforms and enemies are mere black shadows just as the main character is, spare teeth and eyeballs. What is striking just like the ninja bug are the beautifully hand-drawn backgrounds with a painterly look that actually works. Suddenly, the foreground just pops and everything is much easier to notice and properly navigate. While it leaves a lot to be desired normally, it seems to work in Shadow Bug’s favor.
There’s only 1 move to be done in this platformer and it doesn’t even involve jumping. In-fact, the little bugger can’t jump. With the few control options available players can move left or right, but most of the platforming is performed by attacking enemies by targeting them in order to gain a homing attack directing to that enemy and even gain a little momentum in doing so. Depending on which enemy you choose to attack, any enemies you come in contact with before reaching your destined target will be diced to death in the process. Skipping certain enemies at first glance will be to a speedrunner’s advantage.
Players have the option to play a few different ways, such as using only the touchscreen to start. Pressing left and right on the screen will move the character in either direction and tapping on enemies will attack them. It’s that simple. The Pro/Grip control methods works well, too, but you’re now in charge of guiding a sparkly flying bug serving as an on-screen cursor via motion control aiming. It works well enough and you can always recenter your wingman by pressing Y, but separated Joy-Con is the ultimate way to use this function and was my preferred method. Interestingly, you can swap between all methods in real time. If you want to play in handheld mode using your left hand to control movement with the Joy-Con and use your right hand to tap on the screen simultaneously, you can do that. The touchscreen method is responsive, but I preferred separated Joy-Con. An on-screen indicator felt more precise to me than my fingers getting in the way of the screen during intense moments. That isn’t to say the touchscreen method is flawed in any way. It works perfectly. After all, this originally was a touchscreen game to begin with.
Level design is pretty linear, but each one of them is built with optional speedrunning & collectables in mind. You can take as much time as you want and pick up the least amount in any level, but a ranking up to 3 shurikens can be earned per level with one requirement per shuriken. Little white orbs and be picked up all through a level when you’re just an inch away from them, but they can also be gained from slashing away at enemies as well. 1 big white orb can be picked up and they’re usually harder to reach or tucked away in a hidden area. Completing a level in a specific time is also tallied. These tasks aren’t necessary, but I found myself going for the challenge which made it more fun. Levels can generally be completed in less than a minute or may take up for a few minutes. To keep the flow of gameplay going all enemies who you kill will respawn in their original positions after about a second so you can remain aerial for the time being. More often than not you’ll need to be. There’s also an option to put up a timer for each level if you desire.
The mechanics are very simple, but just hacking away enemy after enemy won’t get you very far. The way the levels are constructed means you must be mindful of when & where to attack. It’s easy to get to another side of a wall by homing directly to an enemy who’s on the other side, but definitely not when there’s spikes on that wall, for example. There are 36 levels to get through and 6 of them are fun boss fights to be had. Themed accordingly to their own worlds, Shadow Bug does a good job of adding a few new level ideas along the way. At times you’ll need to find keys to unlock a gate or deal with various hazards that behave differently. Using switches to guide an enemy away from hazards to then use as an access point to reach a platform also comes to mind. The boss fights put your finesse to work. They involve finding their weakness, but it’s easy to figure out. Overall the game isn’t as difficult as some of the other twitch platformers such as say, Meat Boy or Celeste. It’s a much lighter take, but occasionally towards the end it may feel brutal due to needing to get the rhythm down better. The art is beautiful, yes. The music is decent, too. It has a nice Asian flavor to it and hits the action notes well. You can get through the game in a short amount of time, but mastering it will take longer. There’s even online leaderboards for gloating purposes. It’s a good game for people who play in short bursts.