Nine Years of Shadows from Halberd Studios is one of those perfect facsimiles that is an absolute treat to find and play. A metroidvania platformer that follows other hall of famers such as Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, every Castlevania game, and every Metroid game (obviously). To be frank Nine Years of Shadows brings nothing new to the table as far as the genre is concerned. However, it brings a tightly and cleanly designed game that really captures your attention when playing. For me, this game felt like what every other Metroidvania game strives to encapsulate. Stunning (yet simple) visuals, tight platforming, and easy-to-understand combat (with a tiny bit of depth).
Nine Years of Shadows takes place in a world infected by an unnamed corruption. You follow in the steps of Europa, a woman whose parents have died due to the spreading curse. Europa herself is seemingly immune to the curse and has taken it upon herself to go to the castle, the alleged source of the curse, to destroy the root of the corruption. Sporting her trusty golden halberd (there’s a pun in here somewhere …), she enters the castle to face a dark and difficult journey.
Throughout your time in the wretched castle you’ll find many companions and NPCs along the way to assist you in your adventures. The most interesting and fun has to be Apino, a floating talking ghost teddy bear, that shoots light that can destroy dark crystals. The best part about this companion, you have to hug him to recharge his light abilities. As you travel deeper and deeper into the castle you uncover more about the curse and Europa herself. The story is okay and makes a decent attempt at appealing to you all throughout the game. The incorporation of music into the story made it more digestible. Ultimately the story isn’t the reason I’d recommend Nine Years of Shadows
Four Score and Nine Years Ago
The first thing that strikes me about Nine Years of Shadows is the vibrant and well-selected colours put up on the screen. As soon as the opening cinematic starts, you know you’re in for a visual treat. The cutscenes in Nine Years of Shadows are reminiscent of late 80s and early 90s anime. Slight-ish spoiler ahead to highlight Nine Years of Shadow’s excellent use of colour and graphics. When you first start in the castle you are presented with a dark and dreary palette, hitting all the right tones of a depressing start.
As soon as you are introduced to your first companion, Apino, the palette changes and life rushes into the castle. A nice change of pace and a fitting intro for our furry friend! The more you traverse the castle the more unique scenery you are presented with, such as golden concert halls and the hazy gardens. Enemy designs also look great, with a wide range of crystalline enemies at the start and more fantasy-esque enemies later on. For me, Nine Years of Shadows and its art style harkens back to the days of the classic metroidvanias I mentioned earlier, and that’s fantastic.
Nine Years of Shadows also brings back the classic gameplay and tropes from the early metroidvania era. Much of what you’ll see and encounter has been done before, but Nine Years of Shadows does it slightly better and with more gravitas! I love that you start the game wielding your trusty halberd, instead of the rudimentary sword. I’m a sucker for cool new weapons we don’t see often in action-adventure games and I just had to mention it. Along with that, you’ll be collecting power-ups and purchasing upgrades to defeat more and more enemies. The enemies in this game are a fun challenge and remained relatively fresh and new from my experience. One room will have these dark crystal-like enemies, and the next will have a crazed hammer-wielding blacksmith (who has been affected by the corruption). This game is a love letter to Metroidvania fans everywhere.
I know I sound like a broken record every time I say metroidvania, so I’ll refrain from that reference. Instead, I see a lot of parallels with Hollow Knight and Nine Years of Shadows. Like Hollow Knight, you’ll be navigating a large map with unique tilesets, taking in stunning graphics, enjoying the ambiguous storyline, and using tried & true combat. I’d encourage any player interested in this game to pick it up. Nine Years of Shadows doesn’t do anything new, yet it remains interesting enough to keep you coming back for more every time!
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