The hallowed Metroidvania has undergone a transformation from a unique and captivating concept to a highly consumable product that can be devoured quickly. “9 Years of Shadows” is a prime example of this evolution. Developed by Mexican indie outfit Halberd Studios, the game introduces innovative ideas that set it apart from its predecessors. With its intriguing storyline and original gameplay mechanics, “9 Years of Shadows” offers a fresh take on the Metroidvania genre.

The game’s story unfolds in a realm plagued by a nine-year curse, draining the land of color. Europa, the female protagonist, bears witness to the sinister sickness that claims the lives of her friends and family while she remains immune. Determined to put an end to the curse, she embarks on a journey into an evil castle to destroy its core.

What sets “9 Years of Shadows” apart is its unique tonal quality. With its Mexican development origins, the game boasts an artistic style that differentiates it from other Metroidvanias. The layout of the world feels vast and cavernous, featuring towering sculptures, twisted foliage, and cascading waterfalls. There is a dark, magical energy that permeates throughout, creating an immersive atmosphere.

Europa is accompanied by a floating teddy bear named Apino, who adds a touch of humor and charm to the game. While Apino may seem out of place amidst the Greek god references, he serves as a valuable gameplay asset. He can fire projectiles that have specific uses, such as breaking enemy armor and activating switches. Apino’s presence adds a satisfying rhythm to the combat, creating a cadence of slashing and firing.

The health and healing mechanics in “9 Years of Shadows” are also unique. Taking a few significant hits will severely damage Europa’s health bar, but striking enemies with her weapon quickly restores it. When facing death, Europa can call on Apino to give her a healing hug, instantly replenishing her health. Additionally, the game offers attributes that allow players to regain health through perfectly timed button presses, adding a reflex-based element to the gameplay.

Unlike many other Metroidvanias, “9 Years of Shadows” does not rely on leveling up to progress. Instead, players acquire armor, skills, weaponry, and currency to become more powerful. The game provides a constant sense of progression by offering new upgrades and bonuses just around the corner. This system keeps players engaged and motivated to explore further.

The game also features two key locations for upgrades: a theater where players can purchase enhancements and a forge for enhancing armor. These additional layers of progression ensure that players feel rewarded for their efforts and always have something to strive for.

Europa’s armor plays a crucial role in navigating the world of “9 Years of Shadows.” Different armor sets bestow her with unique colors, weapons, and combo attacks. Cycling through the armor becomes essential when facing enemies, as matching their color maximizes the effectiveness of Europa’s attacks.

Certain armor sets are necessary to access new areas, adding an element of puzzle solving to the gameplay. For example, the Gaia armor allows Europa to traverse poison-filled tributaries, while the Helios armor provides heat protection. The game cleverly automates the armor switches, ensuring that Europa equips the correct armor for different situations instantly.

Additionally, new armor sets introduce interesting sub-forms that alter Europa’s abilities. The mermaid form, for instance, allows her to swim quickly, leap across bodies of water, and navigate underwater areas in unconventional ways. These varied forms of traversal enhance the exploration aspect of the game.

While “9 Years of Shadows” excels in many areas, it does have its imperfections. The animation, for example, lacks fluidity and feels static at times. Some of the enemy designs also rely on animation shortcuts, resulting in a lack of diversity. The game’s environments, while visually appealing, can feel repetitive upon closer inspection due to palette swapping and element rearrangement.

The combat, while solid, lacks strategic variety outside of armor matching. Most enemies are relatively easy to defeat, with the real challenge lying in the well-designed boss battles. The boss encounters require precise reflexes and efficient weapon usage, offering satisfying moments of triumph.

The soundtrack of “9 Years of Shadows” adds to the overall atmosphere with its soothing jazz lounge arrangements. However, it tends to be repetitive, lacking memorable melodies. Despite featuring a renowned composer like Michiru Yamane, the soundtrack fails to leave a lasting impression.

One notable flaw in the game is the occasional frame drops, even in docked mode. While they do not significantly impact gameplay, their presence is puzzling and decreases the overall polish of the experience.

Despite its flaws, “9 Years of Shadows” offers an enjoyable and satisfying Metroidvania experience. The game’s unique mechanics and original storyline make it a standout title in the genre. With its immersive world, engaging progression system, and creative armor mechanics, “9 Years of Shadows” is a game that both fans and newcomers to the genre can appreciate.

While it may not reach the same heights as the classics that inspired it, this indie gem from Halberd Studios is a strong effort that deserves recognition. So, grab your weapon, equip your armor, and embark on a journey into the shadows.


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