Music, magic, and teddy bears work together to bring back color in a dying world. Here is our review of 9 Years of Shadows, a look at its gameplay and story.

9 Years of Shadows is a Metroidvania game currently available on PC. A Switch release is slated to come out in Q2-Q3 of 2023. We covered this game during last year’s Steam Next Fes. After coming out last March 27, 2023, I can say that I don’t regret recommending it. Although I have not fully finished the game, I am confident enough to give it a review.

Without further ado, let’s dive into our review of 9 Years of Shadows, its gameplay, and its story. Beware of spoilers below.

9 Years of Shadows Review

9 Years of Shadows Background

As mentioned above, this game is a Metroidvania game. It is a sidescrolling platformer with combat mechanics. Although this formula may seem outdated to some, it is still pretty fun to play. The game adds just enough mechanics and changes to the formula that it doesn’t feel copied or run-of-the-mill. So first, let’s take a look at the gameplay.

9 Years of Shadows Gameplay

As a Metroidvania game, this game ticks all the check marks. Sidescrolling action, room-to-room levels, backtracking, jumping through platforms, and more. I felt right at home. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the game’s controls and combat mechanics. However, there were some things that I needed to get used to, as they were what made this game different from others.

For starters, the player only has one melee weapon in this game: the halberd. Unlike other games where the player could switch weapons from their inventory, or pick up weapons from the ground, you only had access to one melee weapon. However, that doesn’t mean that the gameplay gets dull, or that combat is the same throughout the game. One of the game’s key mechanics is Elemental Armor. As the name implies, this armor imbues your character, Europa, with various elements that you can freely switch between. These elements affect your attacks, movement, and more. Let’s go through them in turn.

Switching elements switch up how your character attacks. For example, using the Zeus Armor imbues your weapon with lightning, and makes Europa swing her halberd when attacking. Using the Poseidon Armor, on the other hand, makes you stab more with your halberd instead. However, it’s not just the attack patterns that change. Your attacks themselves take on the element. This is important as during your travels in the game, you will notice enemies that have a colored outline. Attacking these enemies with the matching element will deal more damage to them, as well as pass through their shields. Quickly switching elements to match your enemy’s weakness is an important part of the game’s combat.

Switching elements also have an added feature, in that they open up more of the map when exploring. For example, the player will encounter closed gates while exploring. These gates have a yellow outline, and as such attacking them while wearing the Zeus armor will open them up. The player will also encounter waterfalls that push them downwards. Once the player unlocks the Poseidon Armor’s mermaid form, they will be able to swim up waterfalls and backtrack more easily.

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What I love about this is the fact that the game doesn’t just shove these armors at you, then explain what they do with long text-filled tutorials. They expose you to the various exploration options on the map and allow you to immediately try the Element’s powers to get used to them. For example, before unlocking the Poseidon armor, I had to go down various waterfalls and fight a swimming fish boss. I was basically stuck in the area with no9 means of going up. Once I beat the boss, however, and unlocked the ability to swim, I was able to quickly backtrack, all while learning the ins and outs of my armor. It’s these kinds of hidden tutorials that I appreciate a lot in games.

Another important thing I have to mention is that the game’s health system is also different from others I’ve played. Europa has a shield meter that depletes when she gets hit. If she gets hit again while her shield is empty, she will take HP damage. Instead of an HP Bar, Europa instead has several hits that she can take before dying. What’s interesting is that her shield meter also ties with her ranged magic attack, which she uses to deal damage from afar and destroy crystals, be it on enemies or while exploring. As such, it is important to manage your shield bar properly, as using your magic attacks all the time leaves you vulnerable to attack.

Recharging your shield bar is easy, and there are three ways to do it. The first is by hugging your teddy bear companion, Apino. This generates around half of your shield bar back. The other way is through a quick-time event that you unlock early on in the game. the QTE pops up as soon as your shield depletes, and if you succeed in hitting it, your shield heals to full. The last way to regenerate your shield is by attacking your enemies with normal attacks. This slowly heals your shield per hit.

Overall, the game handles the difficulty curve very easily. It doesn’t throw you into situations that it knows you are not prepared for. All of the boss fights and levels are well crafted in that you will always have a way to win. All you have to do is look that way.

9 Years of Shadows Story

The story follows Europa, who lives in a world devoid of color. With nothing to lose, she ventures into the depths of Talos, trying to find a way to return color to the world. However, she fails and ends up collapsing on the floor, seemingly defeated. That is, until a friendly floating bear named Apino helps her recover, and in doing so brings color back for Europa. Her strength now rekindled, she must continue her fight and dive into Talos.

The game’s premise is simple, and it doesn’t have to be anything else. You are a warrior looking to eradicate the curse that has plagued your world for a long time. Hard as the battle may be, it is up to you to fight and keep going, 9 Years of Shadows is a perfect example of a story that doesn’t need fluff to make it interesting. It’s already enough to hook you in from the get-go.

What’s even better is how it is presented. The game’s usage of colors in its world is amazing, as it makes you realize just how beautiful the world is, and how much you miss out on without color. Not only that but the game’s music adds to the game’s atmosphere. And it should, as the music has a powerhouse of composers behind it. Miguel Hasson, Michiru Yamane (Castlevania series), and Norihiko Hibino (Metal Gear Solid series) all made music for the game, and it is beautiful. You even run into them in the game as NPCs who help Europa out.

9 Years of Shadows review summary

Overall, I believe that 9 Years of Shadows is worth the price. 9 Years of Shadows’ simple, yet engaging gameplay, partnered with its endearing story, all complemented by a good soundtrack and beautiful set pieces work together to create a game that’s worth playing. Although it might be a short game, it is still one to experience, and one you should try out. You might experience crashes, but I don’t think they’re enough to take away from this game’s beauty.

Score: 8/10

Editor’s Note: ClutchPoints received a PC review copy of 9 Years of Shadows to allow us to cover the game. This copy did not, in any way, affect this 9 Years of Shadows review’s verdict.