Friday, March 30

Review: ShadowBug [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The emergence of tablets, devices with large and high-quality touchscreens, really opened up new avenues for games. While traditional controls are often superior there are gameplay experiences that simply aren’t very well-suited to them. The option to simply touch the screen at a specific point can replace awkward attempts to move a pointer around, neutralizing the many benefits of a full-fledged controller pretty easily. This is definitely the case with the new action puzzler ShadowBug, which feels right at home on the Switch’s touchscreen.

In the game you’ll play as the title character, a ninja who moves fluidly but whose true powers for mobility are unleashed when he moves to strike enemies. His attack is so powerful it will allow him to break down or move through certain walls, making it as useful for traversing a level as it is for safety. While those skills are generally enough to get you started as you progress you’ll need to become much more clever, solving puzzles with switches, locked doors, and having to carefully manage things like fluids around you.

Measuring your success on each level is a combination of factors, including simply completing it, collecting lighted orbs along the way, and doing it quickly. For each of these you’ll be awarded a throwing star at the end of the level, but for a bonus you can find and then try to grab a large orb that is sometimes hidden and sometimes just tricky to get. Boss battles hit periodically and will put your acquired skills to the test, often requiring some pretty quick and careful maneuvering. As a whole the play tends to be light and fun, you just need to roll with the punches, carefully observe the level to figure out what you need to do next, and then work to execute.

Traditional controls, to a degree, are supported so you can play in docked mode but I very much wouldn’t recommend them. Without the convenience of the touchscreen you’ll need to use the pointer controls for aiming and then hitting your enemies. As has been the case for pretty well all games with pointer controls implemented this quickly gets both awkward and frustrating as your “center” will shift slowly but surely into an odd direction and leave you either strangely contorted while trying to retain control or stopping the game often to recenter. It does work but the touchscreen is obviously far superior. That said, using the analog stick for your base movement is far more precise than movement that isn’t based around attacks with touch. In particular in a few key spots where crisp and quick movement were essential the more muddy touch controls were a bit of an impediment, though not so much as to make it impossible by any means.

When everything is clicking the fun and flow of ShadowBug is quite a rush. While it could have probably had some success as a more pure action game the inclusion of some crafty puzzle solving creates a terrific balance that elevates the experience quite a bit. The attempt to allow for play in docked mode is valiant but the reliance on the ever-wonky pointer controls falls a bit flat, though in terms of speed and accuracy that method of control would have still been inferior anyway. If you’re looking for something that’s fresh, fun, and continues to throw in twists and surprises with its level design ShadowBug is well worth checking out!

Score: 8

  • The flow of movement in the game feels wonderfully natural
  • Boss battles are varied and will challenge you in different ways
  • Puzzles to solve along the way help keep things varied and the action from getting stale

  • While it is playable in docked mode as a whole the pointer controls make it sub-optimal
  • The further the levels progress the more the creativity begins to wane