I’m a huge fan of Super Metroid, it was one of a handful of SNES games I had as a kid and easily in my top 10 video games of all time. I played it for countless hours and many times over, the exploration aspect was really fun, and finding all the little secrets, the hidden rooms and passages was always a driving factor. Naturally, when I heard that Shadow Complex was admittedly inspired by games like Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night, I was excited. After playing through the game, I can say that Shadow Complex lived up to my expectations in every way.
If you’ve never played Super Metroid or any of the recent Castlevania (Symphony of the Night, all GBA and DS iterations of the game) games here are the basics:
Platformer Adventure (also known as Castletroid or Metroidvania) is a genre of 2D video games with an emphasis on a side-scrolling, exploratory action-adventure structure. Despite the name, a Metroidvania does not necessarily have to be a Metroid or Castlevania game (as the portmanteau might imply) but instead encompasses any game which shares similar traits with the above.
Players are unable to explore certain areas on the map until accessing key items and upgrades, and backtracking to previous areas later to find areas and upgrades you couldn’t access before is a staple of the gameplay. For instance, in Shadow Complex, certain doors can only be opened after obtaining the rocket launcher and you have to return later once you find the upgrade to explore the new area. The Castlevania games also incorporate RPG elements, such as character levels and stats. Exploring the map for secrets and upgrades is one of the main driving factors in the games.
Shadow Complex is certainly a Metroidvania, it’s a 2D platformer with a focus on exploration. However, the graphics are rendered in 3D, but the player moves along a 2D plane only (2.5D). Enemies are sometimes located in the background, and the game automatically determines that you’re trying to shoot into the background and aims at that enemy. There are also a few times where you jump on a turret, the camera swings behind the main character, and you shoot around you in true 3D. It’s an interesting blend of 2D and 3D, but primarily a 2D experience. You start the game with only a flashlight (which also double as a way to reveal if a wall is destructible, and what is needed to destroy it) and proceed through a huge underground base, finding new weapons and other upgrades along the way.
The basic premise of the game is pretty light, you’re character, Jason Flemming, is going to go explore a cave with his girlfriend, Claire. Unfortunately, the cave is concealing a super huge underground military complex, controlled by a bunch of evildoers. Claire gets kidnapped, and only you, and your trusty flashlight, can save her, even against the insurmountable odds.
- Classic gameplay – I will never understand why Nintendo or Konami never tried to make a 2D upgrade of their classic games on a home console (I guess the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the exception). Games don’t need to be 3D, 2D can work very well, as Shadow Complex proves. The game plays exactly like the classics, just with upgraded graphics, and that’s a great thing. Trying to find all the upgrades and secrets is as fun as it used to be. Furthermore, with Shadow Complex you can just tell how well everything is polished, and how much detail went into the level design.
- Graphics – The 3D graphics in the game look very nice, especially considering it’s a $15 arcade game. There are some moments in the game that look absolutely amazing, especially when fighting some of the bosses, or some of the effects accompanying the various upgrades Jason gets along the way. There are a number of times throughout the game where you have to explore underwater, which also looks stunning. Everything is done very well.
- Upgrades – Shadow Complex has some of the coolest upgrades I’ve seen in a game like this. One of the best, the foam gun, is actually really different and has some unconventional uses that are needed to solve some of the toughest puzzles. Also, you get the friction dampener, basically the Speed Booster from Super Metroid, that lets you run at supersonic speeds…the graphical effect accompanying that ability just looks amazing. Oh, and getting the final piece of Jason’s armor is just awesome, both graphically and functionally.
- Replayability – The first time I beat the game I obtained every single item and explored the whole map, but there are incentives to play through the game again, whether it be on a harder difficult, or trying to get as few upgrades as possible (there is an achievement for getting only 13% of the items). There’s also ways to skip huge portions of the game by doing certain things, enabling people to beat the game with under 3% of the items, and in a very short amount of time (which I think is a good thing, not having a huge time commitment is why I would attempt to reply something like this as opposed to Persona 3).
- Sound – The music throughout the game was OK, but what throws it into the “Disliked” column, for me, was the song that played during the credits, which made me cringe. If Liz was there, she would have made fun of me, a lot. Apparently there are different songs for different endings, this is the song I’m referring to. I guess some people actually like that song, so maybe I’m totally wrong. Overall though, if there is one single area that Shadow Complex doesn’t live up to the classics, it’s the music. Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night had amazing soundtracks. Shadow Complex’s is OK, but it’s nothing to write home about.
- Story – The game is set in Orson Scott Card’s “Empire” universe, which revolves around a second American Civil War. While this seems like a cool backdrop, the game itself is very light in story. The characters motivation for invading a giant underground military complex, guarded by hundreds of soldiers wielding advanced technology and giant robot bosses, by himself with nothing more then a flashlight is absurd. The bad guy’s plan (as presented in the game) is juvenile at best, and the twist in the story is pretty expected.
- The flashlight – The players flashlight instantly reveals wherever there is a secret wall that can be destroyed, and how to destroy it. While this seems like a good thing, the older games didn’t give users an item like this until later in the game, giving it to players immediately at the beginning of the game takes away some of the fun in backtracking and finding secrets, since you already know where everything is.
Overall for me, the good far outweights the bad. I never played Super Metroid or any of the Castlevania games for the story line, I played them because the game design was so fun, which is exactly where Shadow Complex delivers. The last game of this caliber released on a home console, Symphony of the Night, was released 12 years ago, so it’s great to finally be able to play another game in the same spirit, even if it did take so long.
Shadow Complex was released on August 19, 2009 on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft points.