9 Years of Shadows (2023) is a retro-looking running and jumping game about exploring dungeons and using elemental powers to take on monsters. Using different suits of armour, you swim, tunnel and float through the labyrinthine stages pausing only to fight enemies in fast-paced rhythm-based combat. It's the traversal that stands out here because switching armour on the fly lets you seamlessly move between abilities to move around the world instinctively and imaginatively.
You play Europa, a hero who sets out on a quest to destroy the evil lurking deep inside the ancient castle that's drained the world of hope and colour. As you progress through the beautiful pixelated world, you meet Apino, a magical bear spirit who can heal you and clear out the corruption. You also find four magical sets of armour that let you tame the elements (lightning, water, earth and fire) and use them to help you reach new areas. The two of you progress ever deeper into the ruins to find the source of evil and return the land to its former glory.
Gameplay consists of platforming across gaps and using the magical armour sets to get past environmental dead-ends. With the water set, you can swim with ease through the waterfalls and pools throughout the castle and its grounds. With the earth set, you can enter tunnels in the ground and castle walls. Becoming proficient with the armour's uses and quickly switching between them enables you to take on a range of obstacles and enemies. Combat is fast-paced, and many enemies' attacks are based on a rhythm you must use to your advantage, attacking and dodging at just the right time.
The result is a game that uses its four-armour abilities to encourage exploration and backtracking to find secrets. Employing and experimenting with these abilities, both in and out of the fast-paced combat, enables you to succeed in imaginative ways.
Our examiner, Ben Kendall
, first checked 9 Years of Shadows 14 months ago. It was re-examined by Jo Robertson
and updated 5 months ago.