We enjoyed the game’s LIMBO-esque visuals.
After previous releases on iOS (2016) and Steam (2017), Muro Studios’ Shadow Bug has finally made the long crawl to consoles, debuting on the Nintendo Switch., Befitting its roots on the phone and tablet circuit, the 2D platformer has no narrative and is simply a collection of increasingly tougher levels with the occasional boss fight sprinkled in.
Unlike most platformers, your little ninja guy lacks the ability to jump and instead must rely on a dash attack to cross gaps or gain altitude. To do this you’ll need to target an enemy and then use that momentum to advance. It’s an interesting enough mechanic to carry the action for the duration of its 36 levels, though it also has some drawbacks.
Shadow Bug on the Switch can be played docked via the joy-cons or pro controller, or also detached with or without the joy-cons. It’s clear that it was designed to play with a touch screen, and even though the port has done a decent job implementing the Steam version’s on-screen indicator (a cute little fly) to target creatures, it isn’t nearly precise enough to avoid numerous frustrations in which deaths feel undeserved.
It’s better with the Switch in your hand, though that offers its own choice: do you keep the joy-cons on or remove them? If you keep them on you can move back and forth with the analog stick, but the increased size can make covering the whole screen with your thumb nearly impossible. The other version allows you to reach everything easier, but you’ll have to touch the screen to walk, which feels sloppy.
Whichever way you choose to play, odds are you’ll be able to make your way through the fairly short game without too many hiccups. Failures rarely send you very far back, and the levels often have par times of less than two minutes to go along with a goal for collecting glowing energy balls (or something like that).
Initially the game has you focus on pretty straightforward advancement, but like any good platformer Shadow Bug is introducing new problems to solve with your dash as you move through levels. It takes on the form of typical fare (keys, levers, pressure-sensitive switches and the like), but it’s implemented in clever and interesting ways.
For example, one stage might ask you to collect multiple keys, but each time you pick one up you trigger toxic sludge to come pouring out, forcing you to adjust your timing to return to the gate safely each time. Or another could see fish jumping at different heights, requiring you to essentially juggle yourself in mid-air by striking fish until one spawns that achieves the verticality you need.
Although simple, Shadow Bug has a solid presentation. The backlit, darkly coloured world evokes memories of games like Limbo and Inside, right down to your character’s beady little eyes. The soundtrack is surprisingly good as well, going well beyond background noise to actually deliver something worth paying attention to.
While Shadow Bug is well designed in many ways, we keep circling back to the controls. The game is best played via the touch screen, and the second-best method is likely with a mouse, so is a version that costs as much as iOS and Steam combined really the best way to go when you’ll probably end up playing it like an iPad anyway?