As gamers, we are genuinely spoiled when it comes to 2D platformers on Nintendo Switch. From Sonic Mania to Celeste, there certainly isn’t a shortage, but when one comes along and dares to mix up the classic formula once again, our interest flares. Shadow Bug, for the most part, takes the platforming genre and successfully manages to tip it on its head and deliver a formidable experience that offers a unique and gratifying way to play.
One of the first things that helps Shadow Bug stand out from the densely populated platforming crowd is its uncommon control system. Easy to learn but challenging to master, traversing the bite-sized levels as a tiny ninja bug is, at first, tricky to nail. You’re not able to jump, but with the right Joy-Con being used as a handy pointer to lock on to enemies, we have our little critter zoom over to them and automatically rid them with a satisfying slash of our swords with a simple squeeze of 'R'.
Timing your dash to avoid spiked platforms, deadly lasers and insect-hungry robots is where this game stopped us from blissfully gliding through its 30 something levels. Carefully timing your dash is paramount to success and, at times, is super challenging. One boss sees us frantically slicing our way through a circle of constantly regenerating bots - all while avoiding a chunky laser beam emitting from a rotating mechanical cube. You can instantly tell that the developer had a great deal of evil fun with this unique mechanic, and battling through its designs is a real joy.
The game is best enjoyed with the Joy-Cons detached and the action played out in TV mode. There’s the option to play in handheld mode, but we run into some annoyances when using just one finger to control our dinky creature. Important and hard-to-see areas are often obstructed because of the need to constantly hold down where we want our Bug to walk. Physically jabbing at enemies is fun to start with; however, having access to a responsive pointer via the use of the right Joy-Con made the gameplay far more straightforward.
Within minutes we find ourselves chaining multiple attacks, zipping across the screen while grabbing as many orbs as possible before reaching the end gate. Unfortunately, there’s no notable, outstanding reward for nabbing all of the orbs in a level. Thankfully, Switch-exclusive in-game global leaderboards have been added, which makes it a cut above the mobile iteration and will be a popular addition for speed-runners.
There are a total of three Shurikens per level that are rewarded by simply completing the stage, exceeding a quota of collected orbs and by reaching the gate before a certain time limit - it’s not too difficult to 100% the game. Checkpoints aren’t marked, so it’s down to guesswork when it comes to dying, but restarting tougher situations is a breeze with next to no load times. The length of the levels varies considerably with some taking over five minutes to complete, but a few had us clearing them in under a minute. The variation is well received and is perfect for those shorter play sessions on your lunch break or commute.
Something that can’t go unnoticed, however, is the lack of storyline. We were plonked on a stage and left to our own devices with zero explanation as to why you’re slicing through hundreds of bad guys. Checking out the description on the eShop gave us a minimal amount of context, but even so, we feel like this could easily be included in the title.
Where it lacks in a story though, artistically, it can’t be faulted. The art design of the levels in particular looks great on both the small and big screens. The picturesque parallax backgrounds are often breathtaking and fondly reminded us of Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition, which is in no way a bad thing. Speeding our way through the levels with an expansive steampunk environment layered behind our Bug, coupled with colossal chainsaws falling towards you is pleasantly beautiful.
Deadly neon-green slime, brightly coloured bubbling lava and the ambient glow of the sunrise makes for a real treat for the eyes, but never detracts from the hectic action that unfolds right from the start. With its pastel colour pallet plastered among inky black foreground pieces, the game positions itself as one of the most visually striking games currently available on the eShop.
Shadow Bug is a welcome breath of fresh air in a stuffy virtual space that’s up to the ceiling with 2D platformers. Experiencing the title with detached Joy-Cons on the big screen, as opposed to utilising the touchscreen; you’ll be cheerfully surprised by its unique art style and play method. Slicing your way to the end boss won’t take more than a couple of hours for some, but for those wanting to beat global high scores and to collect all three shurikens per level will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, get more bang for their buck.