Note: This piece was originally published in 2017 on now defunct publication Two Credits.
Shadow Bug is a 2D sidescrolling action platformer where you play as Shadow Bug, whom the game describes as an overpowered ninja that lives in the forest. Unlike most other platformers, you’re actually not able to jump on command – at least not in the same way you might expect. The only methods of movement at your disposal in Shadow Bug are walking left and right and jumping to enemies to kill them. In short, if you want to jump, you’ll need to find an enemy to jump to. This unique core mechanic is the foundation for the entire game, and it works a lot better than I had originally anticipated.
Designing a platformer with such a simple control scheme is a pretty brave move. From the very start of the game to the end of the final level, the control scheme remains the same. You’re not given access to any upgrades, new abilities, or alternative methods of movement at any point. Instead, the world of Shadow Bug changes as you progress in order to accommodate more and more difficult puzzles. Even the longest of the early levels can be completed in just a couple of minutes due to the simplistic design you’ll be facing off against. However, I was incredibly pleased to see that the game gets significantly more difficult later on. Instead of just worrying about jumping back and forth between enemies and avoiding the occasional projectile, in the later levels you’re forced to become very precise with your movements necessitated by small time windows and dangerous hazards, to think about where you’re going to go and what your objectives are, and to learn the layout of the level in order to avoid the various level-wide chase hazards that are after you.
The boss fights are surprisingly good as well, actually! The bosses are quite difficult and learning their patterns and figuring out how to approach them will probably take you some time. They’re challenging enough where it felt really satisfying to beat them, but not to the point of requiring so many tries that it inflicts tedium. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that all of the bosses are entirely unique and all have multiple phases that offer unique challenges and opportunities. In short, the bosses are well-rounded, reasonably challenging, and satisfying to beat. Good luck trying to get good enough to speedrun them, though.
The Story of Shadow Bug is a rather simple one – some generic “evil” corporation is destroying the beautiful forest that you live in and corrupting life, and thus you are on a journey to tear it apart piece by piece. At the end of the day it’s pretty forgettable and really is just going to be a write-off for many people, but I don’t mind. The narrative does what it needs to do and was never really intended to be at the forefront of the game, and that’s absolutely fine. I vastly prefer games being able to admit that their stories are simple and unimportant and just leaving it off to the side than the ones that try to force some uninspired drivel down my throat.
Aesthetically is one of the areas where Shadow Bug really shines, and brings up the rest of the game significantly. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is really quite good for what it is, but Shadow Bug absolutely nails the aesthetic and presentation. The silhouette style reminds me of a cuter Limbo but with absolutely gorgeous backgrounds that are really a pleasure to look at. I did have a small issue on one of the levels where one of the hazards was a bit hard to see, but other than that the game does a great job of indicating what objects are hazardous and what parts are safe.
In terms of music and sound design, Shadow Bug is fairly decent. There’s nothing super memorable or noteworthy here but the sound effects and music do what they need to do. I don’t particularly like the music or sound effects but I don’t hate them either – it’s better than nothing, certainly, and works well enough for what it is, but is not something I would listen to outside of the game.
The PC port is done reasonably well and runs without issue. It is however missing proper windowed/fullscreen modes which I would have liked to see.
All in all, Shadow Bug is an excellent example of how to take a simplistic core mechanic and turn it into something with a reasonable level of depth and challenge. Slicing up enemies is a lot of fun and completing the levels is very satisfying, especially if you’re able to do it in a quick enough time to earn yourself a spot on the leaderboard. The game has a gorgeous aesthetic, a simplistic but well fleshed-out core mechanic that is fun to use, and nicely designed and challenging boss fights. The music and story are both pretty much writeoffs but the rest of the game is good enough that for platforming fans this is probably worth a look.