Updating a classic formula
Super Metroid still stands as one of my favorite games ever made, and the 2D exploration style gameplay that is so well associated with this classic has always been one of my favorite sub-genres. Needless to say, when Chair and Epic Games started tossing around words like "Metroidvania" with respect to Shadow Complex I was immediately interested, if not a bit wary of a cheap knock-off. Fortunately, while Shadow Complex has a lot in common with the games that inspired it, the end result is a quality product that stands on its own as a uniquely entertaining experience.
As mentioned, Shadow Complex boasts plenty of similarities with classics such as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It manages to accurately replicate the thrill of finding new items at every bend, and makes hunting for them an absolute joy. You'll feel like you are becoming appropriately stronger as the game progresses, making it exciting to see what new awesome upgrade you'll find next. The game world in Shadow Complex is large and sprawling, and is filled with all sorts of nooks, crannies, and diverging paths. It's a real treat to explore the labyrinth, as the whole thing is designed well enough to invoke a certain sense of discovery everywhere you go. It also makes for a highly replayable experience, as you'll likely want to dive back in to find out what you missed. These are all things that the classics did well, and Shadow Complex follows in step perfectly. It knows what made those games fun, and does a great job at replicating their successes.
For all of its similarities, however, don't think for an instant that Shadow Complex is merely a cheap nostalgia cash-in. First and foremost, it's clear that a lot of care was put into its well crafted world, making it easy to get into the formula all over again. The new setting helps it stand out over another Metroid or Castlevania rehash, as the characters and plot are fresh and interesting. There are also a lot of neat updates that bring the gameplay into the modern era, including pseudo 3D set pieces, full 360 degree aiming, clever environmental interactions, and smart pacing for our "checkpoint now" culture. The leveling system also feels appropriate, and provides interesting benefits that feel worth working for. Finally, the visuals and audio are fantastic, and are perhaps the biggest indicators of Shadow Complex's newness. The Unreal Engine provides tons of great lighting effects and explosions, and the varied musical score sets the perfect tone at the game's key junctions. In fact, given its production values, it can sometimes be hard to believe that Shadow Complex actually is a downloadable title.
A few small bugs and glitches occasionally interrupt the experience, but Shadow Complex otherwise nails a tight balancing act. It successfully captures what made the classics so fun, yet manages to bring it into the modern era in a tight, fresh package. It's presented as a $15 downloadable title to boot, making Shadow Complex one of the year's best values to date, and something I'd feel confident recommending to just about anyone.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.