An Attempt at a Modern 'Metroidvania'
The Xbox Live Arcade is renowned for having cheap, short indie games that are produced and played by people to tide them over until the next major gaming release. It is also known for containing innovative and creative concepts. When something like Shadow Complex comes around, boasting that it's taken the ' metroidvania' style of gameplay and reworked it to suit today's gaming industry, it might raise a few eyebrows. This isn't the most original game on the Xbox Live Arcade but it certainly goes about it by pretending it is.
In Shadow Complex you play as Jason, an average twenty-something guy who is dragged along to go explore some cave with Claire, a girl who he just met in a bar. Jason soon discovers that the cave is actually home to the 'Restoration', a fairly large and technologically advanced terrorist group who are planning an attack on San Francisco in a matter of hours. When Claire is kidnapped by them, Jason must ultimately save her and prevent these guys from attacking the country. To do this he will need to use every bit of technology he passes by, even though I'm a bit perplexed as to why he doesn't just pick up the assault rifles dropped by early enemies, against the Restoration including grenades, missiles and a battlesuit.
If there is one aspect of the game that it wants to boast the most about then it would be exploration. Everything you do in the game is about exploration. Hidden items, secret doors, power-ups, it's all to do with exploring every part of the game world. This may sound like a hassle at first but the possible frustration is quickly eased by the flashlight, an item you get right from the start that lights up secret doors where hidden items may be and which item has to be used to open it. Since this game boasts so much about exploration and secrets it comes across as a bit strange to have an item that you can use almost all the time that tells you exactly where all the secrets are.
Another thing the game wants to boast about is replayability. The short single-player adventure helps this by not making it tedious to play the entire game again the moment after finishing it once. A leveling system is also used here to help make the game feel less repetitive. Every level brings a slight upgrade to your character, usually through increased firing precision and every ten levels bring a major upgrade like infinite foam or the entire map being unlocked. If you do eventually get bored of the main game then there is a challenge mode, called Proving Grounds, where you are pulled into a series of challenges where you are only permitted certain items and weapons from the game.
Combat in the game isn't something to get excited about. Shooting is performed by aiming with the right stick and firing with the right trigger. A laser pointer is used as your aiming guide but it feels as though it makes the game far too simple. With this laser you can easily pop headshots with almost every enemy in the game making combat quick, easy and boring. These encounters are broken off with the occasional boss fight where it has a specific weakpoint but if you're not really in the mood to carefully observe the boss and it's surroundings then you can just unload all your items onto it and defeat it without much trouble.
This game is most reminiscent of Super Metroid which boasted exploration and replayability but Shadow Complex lacks the functionality of Super Metroid. The jumping feels awkward, some items are overpowered or difficult to use, such as the hyperspeed, and, overall, the game just doesn't have the same charm and atmosphere that Super Metroid had.
Shadow Complex is a nice attempt to bring the 'metroidvania' genre to the current generation but it lacks the depth that most of those games had. Maybe if Shadow Complex was larger, more complicated and challenging then it might have stood up as a spiritual successor to Super Metroid. Get it if you liked those games but don't get your hopes up too high.