Halberd Studios and Freedom Games have given us one of the best challenging platformers I’ve experienced in a while. With its Greek armor references and excellent art style, 9 Years of Shadows reminded me a bit of Hades, which I love. What even surprised me is this title’s depth in terms of its map-level design and general combat, especially for a 2D game. Follow the shadow and take a deep dive into my review of this indie gem, and see if this is worth adding to your game collection.
The story takes place at a tower where our protagonist named, Europa is met by a mysterious teddy bear ghost named Apino, who helps her journey through vanquishing the “shadows”.
These shadows have essentially taken over the world for the past 9 years and have robbed the world of its color. This is where you come in and have to bring back color to this world with the aid of your teddy companion.
In terms of the overall plot, the contrasting presentation that serves the plot and intriguing story hooked me from the get-go. The Greek mythology-inspired equipment you find along the way is exciting and adds to the world and character building.
I love how character designs in this game, each having a persona that effectively builds up the plot. I was hooked on reading their dialogues, making me wonder what awaited me behind the shadows. While I enjoyed their dialogue, I do wish there was some amount of voice acting, which would’ve really added to the experience.
9 Years of Shadow blends the difficulty elements of other souls-like or roguelike games that I’ve played like Bloodborne and Thymesia. It tends to get annoying at times when you’ve explored a huge chunk of a map sector, and then you suddenly die because you couldn’t read an enemy’s attack pattern.
Interestingly, I also appreciate the devs for including music composers that will aid you in your missions. You will encounter Michiru Yamane and Norihiko Hibino, real-life composers playing as NPCs. Several game tracks are also tuned to 432Hz, a soothing frequency used in what’s known as healing music.
Combat and Gameplay
The combat system of 9 Years of Shadows blew me away. I thought it was one of those generic platformers where you’re given basic controls to jump and attack, and you only have minimal hit points, similar to Hollow Knight. But to my surprise, I found the combat pretty enjoyable despite its simple halberd attack animations.
I also like how they implemented a modified health system for Europa called “Light”, which also works as a mana pool for Apino. This “Light” can fire projectiles at some enemies and objects in your specified direction at short to mid-range distances. Personally, I found it quite rewarding to utilize my ranged attacks wisely since this game doesn’t tolerate spamming buttons.
Singing a lullaby by finding crystal piano areas as save points and hugging Apino can recharge your Light. However, it’s not an optimal strategy in the long run if you’ll try to beat the stronger enemies. You can visit the Theatre and purchase upgrades for Europa if you want higher chances of surviving the shadows for more extended periods of time.
The game also had light puzzle mechanics that required you to transform into different animals depending on your equipped armor.
I also like how the devs incorporated Greek Gods’ powers into the armor’s abilities and the enemies’ elemental weaknesses. For example, if you have the armor of Zeus equipped, your attacks are boosted against yellow-highlighted enemies. Or if you’re visiting a hazardous area, you automatically switch to Gaia’s armor that gives you poison immunity.
Epic Boss Fights
Fighting bosses in 9 Years of Shadows is a frustrating but mostly rewarding experience. You’ll also get quests from musicians that you will encounter on different levels.
You may mistake some enemies as main bosses at first, especially in the initial part where you try to get the first armor in the game. That enemy guardian encounter was the most annoying sequence that I have experienced so far, with the repetitive and minimal jump attack on the head combo. There’s another boss that got on my nerves that I gave up on one night and decided to fight another day.
These are just some of the annoying and challenging bosses you will meet along the way, but if you read their attack patterns correctly and fight with enough aggressiveness and cautiousness, you’ll be able to defeat them.
Exploration and Progression
Overall, I found the game’s interface for exploring the different realms of 9 Years of Shadows quite intuitive. It even includes some lore that we can read about the opponents we’ve beaten or a refresher on how to pull off your attack combos, armors, and transformations.
However, exploring the main map can be quite tedious, especially if you’re not so good with directions. A minimap would improve the exploration experience, so I don’t need to go back and forth, pausing to know where I am at the moment.
I appreciate the creative style they used in terms of transforming Europa while uncovering the depths of the different map sectors. The transformation mechanics reminded me of The Serpent Rogue, without the potion crafting. For example, if you encounter a waterfall, Europa equips her Poseidon armor, and she has the option to transform into a mermaid, or if you’re in a hot area, you automatically switch to the armor of Helios, adapting her to the environment.
After playing for over 12 hours, I would say that this is one of those rare platformers that got me hooked not only because of the story but also the exciting experience it gives in obtaining each armor as the story progresses. Some of the more difficult bosses might get to you, but it’s a pretty rewarding experience once you’ve cracked the code on how to beat them.
There were occasional game crashes while I was playing the review build and sound effect glitches while exploring a specific sector of the shadow world, but I think these should be fixed after a few minor patches.
We hope this review has given you a peek at 9 Years of Shadows! If this interests you and you want to include this in your collection, add the game to your Steam library. Also, don’t forget to look at our other game reviews.
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This review is based on the PC version of 9 Years of Shadows. The key was provided by Halberd Studios and Freedom Games.