So many games today are focused on being jam-packed with content that it can sometimes feel like a chore just to play through one. When you feel overwhelmed by big games, a classic pick-up-and-play retro arcade experience is the perfect antidote. Shadow Archer is the latest eShop title that aims to bring you back to that arcade feel; let's examine how well it does so.
Like most arcade games from the '80s, you won't find any backstory here. Starting the game up brings you to a basic title screen with nothing more than your best score (labeled as TOP just like in the old days), copyright info, and a logo. Pressing the Plus button launches you right into the action with no plot to slow you down.
Shadow Archer tasks you with moving around a landscape and defeating enemies with your trusty bow — your only controls are to move and shoot. At the start you'll encounter only green spiders who take three hits to defeat. While you can hold a maximum of six hearts, your arrows are also limited — you begin with 99 arrows, but frequent pickups from enemies allow you to hold over that number.
Speaking of pickups, they're implemented extremely well and really contribute to keeping the game moving. As long as you're not shooting around wildly, 99 arrows is enough to get you well on your way to racking up a high score, and packs of 10 arrows are dropped by defeated enemies often. If you do ever drop to zero arrows, you're defenseless and have no choice but to succumb to your enemies.
Enemies can also drop hearts, silver arrows that can pierce through multiple enemies in one hit, and a spread shot that lets you shoot in three directions at once for a short time. Later on you'll encounter the red arrow, which works against you by costing two arrows for every shot. Plenty of hearts keep the game from getting frustrating, but it's not a cakewalk — pickups disappear quickly, so you'll need to be nimble to keep grabbing them and keep a healthy arrow supply.
Like any good arcade game, Shadow Archer keeps track of your score. Defeating the enemies nets you multiples of 100 points, with hearts giving an additional 50. Every 5,000 points, the game throws new enemies at you. First you'll find orange spiders that move more quickly and take more hits to defeat; later, ghost enemies that move slowly, must be defeated with the silver arrow, and cost multiple hearts if they hit you.
This game's difficulty balancing is excellent. You won't have any trouble shooting up the green spiders at the beginning, but soon you'll have all sorts of enemies crawling all over the screen and might become low on arrows. Thankfully, when you die, it only takes a few minutes to get back to where you were.
The game nails the presentation of a classic arcade game. The sprites look great and the dark background contrasts nicely with the colourful enemies and power-ups. The sounds, especially when defeating an enemy, have great pop to them and the music never feels repetitive, even after multiple tries.
The only downsides in Shadow Archer are minor. The controls are a bit slippery; your character slides just a little after you let go of a direction, but it's something you'll get used to within a few minutes. Also, the hitboxes of certain enemies can feel slightly off at times, but it's not anything that will consistently send you to a game over.
Two small changes would make the game even better. We wish that the silver arrow power-ups stacked, so that if you grabbed multiple arrow drops you could fire more than one shot (currently, you can only hold one). In addition, it would be nice to have a dedicated button for special arrows like the silver and spread shot, so that you can choose when you want to utilize them instead of them taking effect immediately.
In the end, these are only nitpicks to an otherwise excellent retro arcade game. Shadow Archer feels like the sort of minigame that's initially included in another game, then becomes popular and receives its own game (something like Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty or Captain Toad in Super Mario 3D World). This title is as fun in long sessions as it is in short bursts, and we bet you'll say "just one more try" at least once when playing this one.
Shadow Archer is a fantastic arcade game that deserves a download from any fan of simple, classic games. The great difficulty balancing, accessible gameplay, crisp aesthetics and pretty solid control make this an addictive experience. Whether you're looking to perfect a high score run or just need something to play in short bursts to blow off some steam, Shadow Archer gives a lot to love for the price.