By Ronald Gordon
I know what you’re thinking: “Another repetitive Metroidvania game?” Yes, 9 Years of Shadows is a platforming game with twisting maps and secrets, much like all the others in this saturated genre. But something makes this game different. Colors. So many gorgeous colors.
9 Years of Shadows is a fantasy-based Indie Metroidvania developed by Halberd Studios and published by Freedom Games. After a terrible plague spread through the land, draining the color and with it the life out of everything around, many died or were lost in the darkness. Through the strife and agony, a young woman named Europa takes it upon herself to avenge her dead parents by raiding the twisted dungeon of Talos in hopes of bringing the color back to the land. Diving head first into a place that’s all black and white, Europa doesn’t get very far before being attacked and nearly killed by a vicious beast named Belial. Luckily, that’s also when she discovers a small teddy bear named Apino, a spirit that heals her and gives her a second chance against the corruption within Talos. Apino also brings the light and color back to Talos, showing Europa its true form and what the world looks like steeped in color.
Europa as a character handles simply; she fights with a halberd and has the skills to use it to destroy anything in her way. You can stab, slice, and jump attack all you want while you make your way through Talos. But there’s more variety in using Apinos spirit energy. With it, Europa can open doors and blast enemies from afar with all sorts of beams and rays. When Apino runs out of power, Europa can hit enemies to replenish his energy or sing him a lullaby if he’s completely drained. His energy also serves as a shield for Europa, letting her take a lot more damage before dying in battle. Aside from Apino, the most important part of Europa’s arsenal are the Armors.
The real versatility in play comes from Europa’s four legendary armors can be found within Talos, each one boasting a different element for Europa to use in combat. The Zeus armor lets her deal bonus damage to electric enemies, the Poseidon armor allows her to turn into a mermaid, the Gaia armor transforms her body into plant energy enabling her to slip through vents, and the Helios armor can withstand extreme heat, allowing her to bounce along lit flames as if they were springs. Each one can be swapped for different effects, and they are equally strong, so you’re encouraged to swap one for another on different enemies to see what sticks.
When I first looked at 9 Years of Shadows I was nearly blinded by the fabulous colors and artistry. Despite it being a pixel game, it has magnificently smooth backgrounds and enemy designs; Europa and Apino look more like delicate paintings than pixel art assets. When the art style chooses to switch to detailed sprites of characters, which show a closer look at their realistic features in dialogue panels and animations, the uniqueness of each non-playable character shines through with every bit of screen time they’re given. 9 Years also has gorgeous music – from calming ambient sounds to heart-pounding orchestral battle themes. And this is no surprise, because the soundtrack was designed by such legends in the video game music industry as Norihiko Hibino from the Metal Gear Solid series and Michiru Yamane from the Castlevania series. Then even get cameos in the game itself.
With spring in full swing and plants and flowers blooming, I’m starting to look for the more beautiful things in life, both in and out of games. With this season’s unusually high pollen counts making my out-of-game experience more uncomfortable, 9 Years helps me enjoy the bountiful colors of a once-dreary world without sneezing my brains out. I’d highly suggest it to anyone who’s looking for a Metroidvania that doesn’t stray far from the original formula – in a good way.
Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle Senior Intern & Mentor. He was the first of our writers – or any intern anywhere – to complete an internship at Rockstar Games.