Sure, this is a social game, but Shadow Fight is truly all about the pugilism. Players can randomly choose opponents from their friend list to fight, each of which costing 40 Energy (that refills over time). These friends, luckily, do not need to have the game installed thanks to asynchronous combat, with players posting taunts to their opponents as they trade blows for three rounds. (Think Mafia Wars, but if the fights were actually acted out ... kung-fu style.)
Players--and their AI avatars--are matched up according to their Dan, or fighting level. To boost your Dan, you can always take an exam that costs 40 Energy. (And that's the cost of a standard fight--don't expect to fight very long per session.) The exam consists of a series of matches that you must complete without defeat. While earning Dan ranks you higher in competition, it also unlocks special abilities called Super Strikes and, in a later update, Fatalities. (Sound familiar?) But we've yet to even get into what fighting is like in Shadow Fight.
Gallery: Shadow Fight on Facebook
Frankly, it's graceful. Thanks to what appears to be a light physics engine underneath all that Flash, duelists soar through the air and move realistically as they strike one another with various punches and kicks. Players move their character with the arrow keys, and punch and kick using the "C" and "X" keys in a litany of combinations including wall jumps, leaping kicks and back flips.
Button mashing will only get you so far in Shadow Fight, so it pays to be attentive to what combinations do, and how to repeat them. This lends the game to skew a bit further to the hardcore gamer crowd, but with just two keys to keep up with I'm sure some of the FarmVille crowd could kick my butt in no time. (Oh, and the game supports real time, shared-screen multi-player too by splitting the keyboard.)
While visible social features take a slight backseat in Shadow Fight, the fighting in and of itself is social. Every fight counts toward friends' and global leader boards as well as posts messages to your friends' Facebook News Feeds to spur retaliation. Nekki's fighting simulator looks simple enough, but moves beautifully like any ninja battle game should. Shadow Fight somewhat shoehorns its way into Facebook, but does so with an ever-so graceful back flip ... and a roundhouse kick to the face.
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