If Samus Was To Ever Have A Baby, This Would Be It
When gamers over twenty reminisce about their favorite video games, you'll commonly hear Super Metroid mentioned. This sci-fi title is often recognized as the finest of the adventure saga known as Metroid. In Metroid games, you typically explore massive planets that are chalk-full of secrets and power-ups, and Super Metroid was no exception. The series hero, Samus, would find various suits and equipment that would enable her to reach new areas. Much of Super Metroid was played in linear fashion, but at any time, players could search for numerous optional areas packed with power-ups. In addition to its nearly unrivaled sense of adventure, Super Metroid was loved for its epic boss battles, mind-blowing plot twists, and haunting music. It would receive another 2D sequel (and remake of the original Metroid) on the Game Boy Advance, but Nintendo would later abandon Metroid's 2D gameplay in favor of rich, 3D worlds.
Even though Metroid Prime (Nintendo's first 3D Metroid) had the series signature feel, some fans were left dissatisfied. These fans yearned for the return of games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which was dubbed a Metroidvania game). Nearly a decade of their lives was lost waiting for their messiah, so many of these fans are now haggard, but that shouldn't stop them from foaming at the mouth for the latest Super Metroid-inspired title: Shadow Complex. This dark masterpiece, developed by Chair Entertainment is a one-of-a-kind Xbox Live experience. We've received new games inspired by classics before (Black Sigil immediately comes to mind), but the difference here is that this game actually delivers.
Despite being developed by a relatively unknown company, Shadow Complex puts the majority of downloadable games on all three consoles to shame. Chair Entertainment's lovechild was crafted with the utmost care, which makes it hard to believe that this wasn't a full retail game. Everything about this title oozes with personality--from the dark, realistic visuals to the wonderful power-up system, partly inspired by Super Metroid.
The graphics were developed with the Unreal Engine, and it shows. The dark, gritty environments are unsettlingly realistic, and the characters look amazing. Shadow Complex's beautiful environments consist of futuristic bases, crystal clear lakes, and dank caverns. They provide for a convincing setting, and there is no noticeable pop-up or slowdown. The characters of this sci-fi tale don't look as impressive as those in Gears of War, but they're still quite detailed, and they make it difficult to believe that this is a downloadable game.
Visuals are an important component of most games, but everyone knows that eye candy is worthless if it's hiding a broken or generic game. Thankfully, Shadow Complex is neither of those; its gameplay actually manages to eclipse that found in many retail titles of this generation. Shadow Complex may draw heavily from Super Metroid, but it somehow manages to turn a fifteen-year old formula into something that stacks up with this generation's hits.
In Metroid games, you typically start with all your equipment, but somehow, it ends up scattered to the winds. Shadow Complex's main character, Jason, shares Samus' bad luck streak, but in a different way.
At the beginning of the game, you're out on a nature excursion with your girlfriend. Her childhood memories obviously got the best of her, because she asks you to tag along on a spelunking trip. Your daring girlfriend decides to wander off without you, so you're stuck pursuing your love who you think is hiding. Unfortunately, this is no friendly game of hide-and-go-seek. As you explore a series of dark caves with your flashlight, you come across your girlfriend's climbing gear. Her gear allows you to climb, but unfortunately, there's still no girlfriend to be found. I know, some guys would be tempted to leave, but Jason is not like that. He decides to find out what happened to her. A few minutes later, you discover what looks to be a military based hidden beneath the caves. Soon, you hear footsteps, so like a good boyfriend, you hide. Unfortunately, it's not your girl--well it is, but she's being "escorted" by some soldiers that look like they're straight out of a sci-fi movie. Being the brave lad that you are, you decide to pursue her, and your Metroid-esque adventure begins.
So Jason starts out as a nobody, but exploring with a flashlight wouldn't be fun for long, right? My friends, you're in luck, because over the course of his adventure, Jason will gain access to a variety of futuristic military garb. His final form is the closest thing you can get to being a god-on-earth, but his early gear is equally impressive.
Jason will obtain an assortment of firearms: pistols, automatics, shotguns, etc. (sorry, no guns with a chainsaw attached Gears fans), but these are merely the appetizers. You'll spend a lot of time firing these realistic weapons, but your secondary equipment is the meat of this full-course meal. Samus would possibly win in a firefight with her energy weapons, but I'm not sure if she could stand up to Jason's fearsome ground pound. If his Mario-esque butt stomp can't faze her, his genome-soldier looking suit surely would. Even better, are his accessories like the Foam Gun and Thrust Suit. The Thrust Suit isn't all that different from a double jump in Super Metroid (it's like a limited-burst jetpack), but the bubbly Foam Gun will even make a chatty Cathy silent.
Unlike much of the other equipment in Shadow Complex, the Foam Gun is entirely original, and has a variety of uses. Is that large gap filled with electrically charged water getting you down? Shoot some foam at the nearest object, and it'll stick to it like glue. Foam will attach to nearly any building structure (and foam itself), so if you need to cross large chasms, the Foam Gun may be your best solution. This tool/weapon can also be used to open doors. Is a purple door with a retinal scan blocking your way? Simply cover up the scanner, and you're good-to-go. Wait, did you think I was done? There's one more use for this sticky substance, and that's to attach to enemies. If a particular baddie is bothering you, launch some foam his way, then chuck a grenade. As long as your explosive hits the foam, it'll stick and blow your foe to smithereens. Now that's a gun.
Like with Super Metroid, there are plenty of other power-ups, but part of the fun is discovering them for yourself. Some of them are simply useful for combat and reaching new heights, while others will allow you to open locked doors. As in Metroid games, there are numerous color-coded doors, and you'll need the appropriate tool or weapon to unlock each one. Shadow Complex's useful map provides a handy key, in case you forget what weapon unlatches a specific door. These colorful doors can easily be identified with your flashlight as well, so you'll often want to leave it on--even if you're able to navigate dark environments more skillfully than a bat.
Besides having a combination of unique and regurgitated power-ups, Shadow Complex features plenty of other gameplay elements. You'll find yourself wall-jumping, scaling cliffs, manning turrets (which shifts the view to a 3D perspective), and dodging an assortment of traps. Shadow Complex has massive environments which can be explored at your leisure, so it's fun to return to familiar areas once you've obtained power-ups. An area you were formerly stuck on may now be passable with your updated equipment.
You'll frequently want to return to old areas, because Shadow Complex contains numerous secrets. Like any good Metroid game, the caverns are packed with health power-ups, armor upgrades, and missile packs. There are plenty of other secret items to be found (including some that will allow you to unlock optional equipment), so there's enough to satisfy any gamer who craves exploration.
Even if you hate non-linear gameplay, Shadow Complex has something for you. The main game leads you on a linear path like Super Metroid, and this path is usually delineated with a blue line. Shadow Complex's handy map is displayed in miniature form on the top-right of your TV screen, so it's nearly impossible to get lost. Even if that doesn't help, you can go to the menu and bring up the large map, which details every room in the game. Are you looking for rooms that contain items? Simply view the rooms that have question marks. If you merely want your destination, follow the path set by the blue line. For those who don't want any guidance, you have the option of turning off this blue line. The caverns are quite massive with many areas that are initially locked however, so I found the glowing blue line, quite handy.
Most players will likely appreciate a bit of guidance, but some may be annoyed that Chair Entertainment also included tips for bosses. Unfortunately, these tips appear on-screen immediately when fighting a boss, but there may be an option to turn them off. I found most bosses relatively easy anyway, so it wasn't as if the tips spoiled things, but some players will likely be annoyed with this hand-holding.
Shadow Complex's bosses are generally easy, but that's partly due to the game's great controls. Moving Jason feels precise, and simple tasks like climbing cliffs and wall-jumping are a breeze. There are some difficult stunts to be performed, but most of those are for optional items, so rookies won't have to worry. Besides, there are four levels of difficulty, and there's an option to change the difficulty setting at anytime, so that proves that Chair has got your back.
Other moves are simple to perform as well. Your primary weapon is assigned to the right trigger, and the right bumper fires secondary weapons like grenades. As in Crash Commando, the right analog stick aims, so you're able to have precise control over your weapons even though you're playing from a 2D perspective. You'll only switch to 3D during turret segments, and those seldom occur. Grenades can be a little more difficult to control, but at least you have two ways to hurl them: You can simply lob a grenade by tapping the right bumper, or you can place them on an object by crouching, while pressing the bumper. Shadow Complex's other moves are executed similarly to those found in a standard 2D platformer.
Shadow Complex's firefights are quite intense, so it's important to understand its health and combat systems. In Shadow Complex, you have a certain amount of HP that can be upgraded by finding hidden health kits. Some of these are close to your mission destinations, while others will take a bit of searching. It's important to search for power-ups like this frequently; otherwise, areas filled with goons may be virtually impassable. Besides finding health and armor upgrades, you'll gain increased stamina, accuracy, and speed by disposing of enemies. You may want to run from foes in games like Metal Gear, but you'll want to riddle your enemies with shells in Shadow Complex, so your character can develop as a hero would in an RPG.
Shadow Complex's RPG elements are a nice addition, but also cool are the melee attacks. If you manage to sneak up on a foe (or even if you don't), you can tap the B-button, and Jason will lay the smack down on your foe. These melee animations are quite impressive (and lead to achievements), so you may want to consider getting the drop on your foes, whenever possible.
So Shadow Complex features excellent gameplay that gives Super Metroid a run for its money, it sports gorgeous visuals, and it has a simple, yet entertaining plot, but is there anything wrong with it? Fortunately, problems are few and far between. Shadow Complex's most noticeable flaw lies with the visuals. The beautiful environments impress, but the game is just too dark in some areas. To Chair Entertainment's credit, there's a brightness meter in addition to other visual settings, but I still had a hard time seeing in some areas (especially the underwater environments). Fortunately, your flashlight is always readily available, but it's too bad that some areas are so murky. It provides for a nice effect, but it's always important to be able to identify your character and surrounding obstacles. Thankfully, this wasn't a huge issue, but it was a nagging flaw at certain points in the game.
I also ran into two glitches, but fortunately, they barely dented my mostly favorable experience with Shadow Complex. Sometimes, if you leave an area before obtaining a power-up, certain doors can lock on you, and you'll be forced to load your save file. I'm 90% positive that the areas I got stuck in were glitches, so hopefully Chair will grace Shadow Complex with a patch. Like most people, I'm not too fond of glitches, but with over seven hours of great gameplay, five minutes of struggle was relatively minor.
If you buy any Xbox Live game this summer, make it Shadow Complex. Whether you'll enjoy it more than 'Splosion Man is a matter of taste, but Shadow Complex will appeal to almost any gamer. Players who are fond of non-linear exploration and miss the NES days where in-game secrets were plentiful, will fall in love with Shadow Complex. Likewise, players who prefer following a linear path will have an enjoyable time without having to worry about Shadow Complex's numerous secrets. Plenty of difficulty levels and options will allow any gamer to enjoy the great visual and gameplay experience that is Shadow Complex. If you were thinking about popping in Super Metroid recently, don't. Instead, give Samus' lovely child, Shadow Complex a try.
· This new take on the Metroidvania formula lives up to the classic, Super Metroid
· An excellent hybrid of linear and non-linear gameplay
· There are oodles of useful secrets to be found
· A simple, but interesting story set in Orson Scott Card's Empire universe
· The main character isn't a superhero or bounty hunter
· Excellent visuals
· Unique weapons like the Foam Gun are fun to use
· Solid voice acting
· It's a fifteen dollar game that feels like it could be a sixty dollar retail title
· You're constantly unlocking new abilities
· Boss battles don't require much strategy
· Some areas are too dark
· You might encounter an occasional glitch. Music doesn't play a major role in the experience