With mobile gaming reaching new heights on smart phones and tablets and the rise of the indie developer, no one can count out the potential commercial success of mobile and indie titles in today’s ever-more perilous market. The huge successes of titles like Angry Birds and Plants Vs Zombies has not only opened up the idea of great financial and commercial success to the mobile market but have also brought with them another new development within the industry. For the longest time, mobile games and console/PC games were kept separate, however it is this line that has now begun to blur. The demand for these titles to make the leap from the small, portable screen to the larger, less casual one is where we find the retro-style platformer Shadow Blade: Reload.
Initially released as a mobile title in January, Shadow Blade found success on iOS, Android and even with a more niche market on the Ouya. Set for release before the end of the year, Shadow Blade: Reload seeks to not only bring what made the original successful to a new market but also seeks to iterate on the games features. The question is has developer Dead Mage’s PC update lost something in translation? The answer strangely seems to be both yes and no.
Right from the offset the inspiration for Shadow Blade is clear. Part Super Meat Boy part Mark of the Ninja, Shadow Blade seeks to be more of a test of skill and endurance rather than a magnum opus in storytelling. This is not to say there is no story present however. It concerns protagonist Kuro, a young man on a mission to become the Shadow Blade, a ninja of legendary status. In order to achieve this however, Kuro must fight, sneak and jump his way through a whole host of increasingly difficult stages in search of the last remaining Ninja Master and the wisdom he possesses. It’s about as basic as they come regarding the narrative and it serves as merely a backdrop to the games action and an excuse for its structure. As story is almost never the portable gamers primary concern, the lack of focus on it is understandable in a game like Shadow Blade and despite Reload not being in the portable camp, the audience it is shooting for is sure not to mind much regardless.
However with such a small amount of focus on story and in a genre so hotly contested in today’s indie and portable markets, Shadow Blade: Reload has a lot to do to stand out from the crowd. Gameplay must be king here and there is little room for cutting corners when you have Super Meat Boy and Fez as immediate competitors. Unfortunately it is when compared to titles such as these that Shadow Blade and its PC remake begin to fall apart at the seams. Despite its best efforts, Shadow Blade is in real danger of getting lost in a market that has one too many bigger fish already swimming in it.
However this is not to say that Shadow Blade or its PC upgrade are bad games. On the contrary the gameplay is tight and fun and the difficulty curve is nicely balanced allowing for some truly challenging levels later on. On the early access build that I played none of the hardest difficulty stages were available, however the first and second set of levels were more than enough to keep me challenged consistently. Particular credit should be given to the games controls and physics as well which seem to have been ported to PC so well that it actually enhances the experience rather than simply replicating it. This said however it is also worth noting that Shadow Blade: Reload is best played with a controller over keyboard and mouse as the inputs do get quite complex in later levels.
But this is more than just a good port. Developer Dead Mage has also put in a considerable amount of effort to add features that will speak to the PC community with Reload. There is now new multiplayer options and races that many will no doubt enjoy as well as more levels to tackle than the original. More than these though, the greatest new addition for the Steam community has to be the Dojo creator, which allows players to create their own levels and share them with the Steam community. Although not an original idea when it comes to Steam titles, the addition of this mode does show a real effort by the developer to broaden the games appeal. Furthermore the editor is one of the easier that I have used, allowing for a system that is easy to learn but difficult to master.
When all is said and done, Shadow Blade: Reload is shaping up to be more than just a competent port of the original. It’s fast, furious and fun and packs some new features that are sure to make it appeal. However despite this it is unfortunately unable to offer an experience that cannot be found elsewhere and in better company. It does what it sets out to do well enough but with Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid (to name a few) out there in direct competition, Shadow Blade: Reload may have already been outclassed by its competition before it even steps from the shadows.