I’m kind of a hypocrite when it comes to old school games. I love retro arcade games. That’s the reason I’ve reviewed so many Arcade Archives titles. I grew up in the arcade era and I’m always happy to see classics ported to newer gen consoles, provided the price is fair. But at the same time, I absolutely cannot get behind modern-day 8-bit development. It’s fine to present me a game made in the 80’s that looks super grainy and pixelated. That’s the best we could do back then. And many of those games were and are still quite enjoyable. But it’s 2017. So when it comes to developing new games, I don’t really support the idea of making them look retro. A lot of developers like to use catch phrases like “homage to the 8-bit era” or “retro style”. What that really means to me is low-budget. Too many people are trying to make games today and not enough of them are willing to take the time, effort, and risk to create a modern looking game because going 8-bit is so much easier and more affordable. And I get it. When you’re a lone developer in your basement, it’s really hard to justify trying to produce modern quality stuff. But think about it from the perspective of those original homebrew developers who did create a lot of the first games in their basements. They didn’t make games in 8-bit because they were trying to cut costs and save time. That was literally the best possible option. Now I’m not saying indie developers should be shooting for Horizon Zero Dawn level graphics. But there should be a minimum standard of visual quality for games made today. I have reviewed plenty of games made by lone developers that look amazing. The Epic Battle Fantasy series by Kupo Games is an excellent example of this. So while I have no problem playing modern 8-bit games, I do not respect the idea of producing games that look like they were made 30 or more years ago today. That’s exactly what Shadow Archer by Ultra Dolphin Revolution is. It’s a straight up recreation of something you would have played for quarters at an arcade or on the NES. Maybe even something before that.
This is a fairly simple looking, but highly active, 8-bit shooting game. The graphics are very limited in scope. You have a black background covered in green dots surrounded by 2D pine trees. The gameplay area is a square that’s cut into four sections on the screen. There are no actual lines showing these sections but as you walk around the gameplay area the screen can hold about a 4th of the whole arena. On each side of the square there is a gap in the center of the trees. This is where enemies enter the gameplay area. You can walk into this gap but not past the edge of the screen. There are multiple enemies, but I’m not sure how many different kinds. The longer you survive, the more enemies you will see, but I’ve only managed to make it to three total types of enemies. The first two types are spiders. These look exactly the same, but the first type are green and the second brown. The third type are purple ghost balls with faces. The enemies move around the screen in a somewhat random order. As they move their legs move in a repeating pattern to give off the appearance of walking. Your character is an elf with grey skin, red eyes, and black clothing. The bow he carries, which you only see when you fire, is also red. Arrows, which are the only type of item other than hearts I’ve seen, look the way you would draw 2D arrows in an 8-bit game. The HUD is at the top of the screen with hearts to the left, score in the middle, and arrows to the right. Everything moves pretty smoothly and you can have several enemies on-screen continuously moving at the same time.
The main menu is pretty disappointing even by classic era arcade standards. It’s just a black screen with the title in large grey Times New Roman font and the other text in the classic arcade style white font and size. There’s literally nothing else in the game except for I assume more enemies that I was never able to reach. As I said at the beginning, this is an 8-bit game and by the 8-bit standard it’s pretty average. By the modern standard it’s not even worth comparing. You could have hand drawn all the elements in this game about as quickly as you could design them in a computer. There’s not much going on outside of the enemies and you and that’s probably why it runs pretty well.
The gameplay is fairly simple. You run around with the left stick or d-pad and shoot with any of the four main buttons. Nothing else on the controller does anything except for you can pause the game whenever you like. You can use any control type and play directly on your gamepad if you like. You always short in the direction you’re standing. The button you press has nothing to do with it. When playing with the joystick you will often accidentally turn to either side when trying to shoot a target. You must be dead on for every shot. You can’t graze enemies. The point of the game is just to survive for as long as possible before you inevitably die.
You start out the game with six hearts, which are blue for some reason, and 99 arrows. Each time you press a button you fire one arrow almost instantly. You can multi-shoot as much as you want until you run out of arrows. You can’t move while you shoot though. Your character will always stop and fire which is why there is a short delay. This is more of a problem for avoiding damage than anything else. Enemies are constantly spawning and moving all around the gameplay area. You lose one heart each time you make physical contact with an enemy. The first two types are not attracted to you. They pretty much move at random. But there are quite a lot so you still often get hit by them. The third type is attracted to you and homes in on your position. Enemies drop things as you kill them but there isn’t a 100% drop rate. They can drop basic arrows in clumps of 10, hearts, and power-ups. You can only carry a maximum of six hearts at a time. You can carry an unlimited number of arrows or at least more than you’ll ever be able to obtain because you keep using them as you collect them. There are a few different types of power-ups I obtained. The basic one is white arrows. These shoot straight through as many enemies in their path until they hit an edge. Red arrows seemed to do the same thing. Both of these fire the next time you press a button after collecting them. Finally there is the triple shot which lets you do a three arrow spread shot but it only counts as one arrow. This lasts for a certain period but I couldn’t tell if it was based on time or number of shots. Power-ups of all types appear frequently but they are progress based. At the start you only see white arrows. Over time you start to see other things. They always fire immediately after being collected. If you collect more than one at once it will fire the first one and the second with your next button press. If not picked up after a few seconds power-ups will disappear on their own.
Each enemy requires a different amount of damage to kill. Green spiders need three hits. Brown spiders need five hits. Ghost balls don’t take damage from normal arrows. They require the special arrow, but just one hit from it. There’s no story or leaderboard. You just play for the high score. The game only keeps track of your highest score to date, which is shown on the main menu screen. One thing I really didn’t like about Shadow Archer is that you’re stuck when you run out of arrows. If you shoot everything you have and don’t manage to kill something and get more to drop you do not get game over. You just run around unable to kill anything or get more arrows. Then you just waste time making no progress until you finally die. Arrows should come back over time or you should just get a game over when this happens because staying alive longer doesn’t affect your score. You get points for killing enemies and picking up hearts but not for picking up arrows. There’s nothing more I can say about this gameplay. It, like the graphics, is very basic.
The sound isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. When you first get to the main menu you here the opening to Fur Elise twice and then it’s just silent until you start the game. There is gameplay music which is very similar to what you would hear in a classic Zelda title or traditional arcade dungeon crawler. The effects are actually pretty good. You get different sounds for shooting, hitting enemies, killing enemies, picking up hearts, picking up arrows, and taking damage. Sound effects play an important role because you can kill enemies off-screen and you will only know that because of the sound of them dying. The sound levels are mixed very well on both the TV and the gamepad which is good because there are no sound options.
The only writing in the game outside of the menu and HUD is that the screen says defeated in small red letters when you die.
This game is all about replay value but that only matters if you set your own high score goals. There is no leaderboard or two player mode so it’s either set a number you want to hit or take turns with a friend. Because I have no idea how many enemies there are it’s hard to even gauge how much progress is worth shooting for before you quit. This game is $3 which personally I don’t think is a ridiculous price, but be clear that you won’t get three hours out of this game. If you measure it like an arcade game where each play is 50 cents then yes you will probably six rounds out of it. But if put in more than an hour total playing this game I would be very surprised.
Shadow Archer is a pretty bland experience. It seems more like a project a student made because they wanted to make a game than something that was actually intended to make profit. It runs fine and has no major flaws, but it’s nothing special. I would never recommend it to anyone for purchase, but I wouldn’t say it’s a badly made game either.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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