Metroidvania-style titles aren’t hard to come by, but there was something about 9 Years of Shadows that struck me immediately. Maybe it was the gorgeous visuals, maybe it was the slick-looking gameplay, or maybe it was just the fact that you have a magical teddy join you on your adventure? Either way, it caught my eye, and I’m happy to report that I had a good time playing it too – even IF some technical issues do hold it back right now.

Check out some screenshots down below:

9 Years of Shadows puts players in the role of Europa, a young woman who lives in a world that has been robbed of its life and colour. After losing her parents to the disastrous curse that has hit the world, she decides to put her life on the line and try to bring it to an end by exploring the plagued Talos Castle from which it originated. And believe me, her life REALLY is on the line – so much so that she is defeated in the game’s opening, which would seemingly lead to her death… or it would, if a magical teddy bear named Apino didn’t save her, all whilst restoring colour to Talos Castle in the process. With Apino by her side (and with the help of the other colourful characters she meets in the castle), Europa ventures forward through all obstacles in her path with the hope of ridding the world of the curse for good.

Whilst the narrative doesn’t do anything too unique, it still offers plenty of enjoyable moments to keep players invested in the tale from start to end. And come on, who doesn’t want a teddy bear companion by their side (who they can hug, I should add)?

Combat in the game is straightforward to begin with, with Europa able to unleash combos based on quick, powerful, and directional attacks, but her abilities do expand the further you progress through the game. Furthermore, Apino can also help out in some situations with a variety of ranged attacks, whilst the elemental armours that you unlock will grant buffs against specific enemy types. Everything about combat is fine and ensures battles with enemies are fun, though I’d be lying if I said it became overly intricate as I progressed… instead, I found myself utilising a lot of the same combos from start to end. There’s nothing wrong with that and the enemy variety and intense boss encounters ensure it stays interesting (the boss battles are a real highlight of the experience), but those hoping for deep and elaborate combat mechanics might find themselves a little bit underwhelmed.

“9 Years of Shadows is a really beautiful game, with the detailed pixel art all brought to life by some slick animations and vibrant colours that make each environment and enemy feel incredibly striking in design.”

Those aforementioned elemental armours do add a bit of strategy to the experience though, especially since they provide attacking buffs against specific enemy types. However, their most significant use comes when exploring the environment and solving puzzles, with each armour type granting Europa resistance to specific elemental threats or obstacles around her. Need to get through a poisonous area? The earth armour will help you through it. Need to soar through a waterfall? The water armour gives you the form of a mermaid to do so. Gone into a room full of boiling lava? The fire armour will keep you safe. Whilst it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (and it plays into the game’s Metroidvania-style setup by having them help you reach inaccessible areas when unlocked), I loved how cleverly it was implemented into both puzzle-solving and exploration to ensure players are always utilising their skills in varying ways. I was never bored when exploring the world, with these abilities always complementing the fun level and puzzle design.

Oh, and if you find yourself in an area where you NEED one of the elemental armours to survive, the game will automatically equip it on you. It’s a small detail, but one that ensures the pace of the game is maintained and players aren’t taken out of the action.

One interesting mechanic in 9 Years of Shadows is the health system, which sees Apino provide a protective light shield around Europa to protect her from harm. However, each time you take a hit or Apino blasts out a ranged attack, the shield is reduced. When it’s gone? Europa is vulnerable, with her relatively small health then taking a hit instead of the shield. Fortunately, striking enemies can help rejuvenate your shield, as does hugging Apino (which is sweet but does leave you momentarily vulnerable). It’s a really clever idea that players need to manage in a manner of different ways in order to stay alive. For example, it might be tempting to try picking off foes from afar with Apino’s ranged attacks, but that means you’ll be left more vulnerable due to a lessened shield. On the flip side, you might take a few more risks and not use ranged attacks to try and preserve your shield’s energy, but that can be riskier given that you’ll have to get up-close to fight. There’s also the fact that certain enemies can only be defeated with one of Apino’s ranged attacks, meaning if you don’t have the energy left to unleash one, you won’t be able to kill them.

There’s a heavy emphasis placed on energy management and ensuring your handy teddy companion always has enough energy to protect you or vanquish an enemy, so you do have to be strategic in its use. Fortunately, it never becomes stressful; whilst there were instances where I left myself vulnerable or didn’t have energy to defeat an enemy immediately, it never becomes overwhelming to recover. Sure, I died here and there because of it, but it was never because the system was unfair… it’s because I didn’t manage it well. It’s a really neat idea really and one that certainly helps distinguish 9 Years of Shadows from other Metroidvania-style titles.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Despite this, it’s the wonderful visual design that struck me the most when playing through the game. 9 Years of Shadows is a really beautiful game, with the detailed pixel art all brought to life by some slick animations and vibrant colours that make each environment and enemy feel incredibly striking in design. Whilst the world itself is one that’s seemingly devoid of colour to begin with, the way you bring it all back to life is spectacular and certainly helps make the game a sight to behold. Add to that the fantastic soundtrack and it’ll be hard not to be blown away by the presentation of the game as a whole.

It’s just a shame that I encountered quite a lot of issues when playing. Audio glitches, visual glitches, crashes that took me out of the game – 9 Years of Shadows really needed a little bit more work before release, if only to iron out the issues that are found in the game. In fairness, there was nothing that blocked progress nor was there anything completely game-breaking, but there were plenty of instances where I’d have to re-load my save just to bring the game back to normal. It’s not a complete mess by any stretch of the imagination (and a lot of these bugs might have been fixed for launch), but my experience with the game certainly hasn’t been smooth.

9 Years of Shadows Review

9 Years of Shadows is a really fun Metroidvania-style title with cool ideas and gorgeous visuals, but the technical issues do hold it back right now. It’s playable from start to end and there’s nothing severely game-breaking, but I did have to re-load my save a multitude of times to fix little issues, whilst there were plenty of occasions where the game just crashed on me.

Outside of those issues? There’s a heck of a lot to like in the game, with the clever world design, unique abilities, and beautiful presentation ensuring that 9 Years of Shadows stands out in the crowd. It just needed a little bit more work before release to ensure those bugs would be fixed. And when those bugs are sorted out? You can add an extra point to the score below.

Developer: Halberd Games
Publisher: Freedom Games
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed)