Shadow Oedipus Complex
Have you ever eaten a dish so extraordinary, one that provided such an overwhelming sensation on your taste buds, that “ordinary” suddenly tastes like arse? Like go to , have an exquisite chicken capellini with the rarest spices, designed by a passionate singing chef with more than five syllables in his last name…then go home and eat a frozen dinner. That sums up my predicament at the moment. I’ve been so completely blown away by the recent Batman game that I can’t bring myself to derive pleasure from lesser games like Shadow Complex. So I’ve decided to cleanse my pallet with an older, familiar game from the Wii Virtual Console.
The Metroid series is famous for exploration, atmosphere, shooting action and people starting paragraphs for reviews on Metroid games discussing their fame in exploration and atmosphere. Super Metroid, if anything else, reflects a change in philosophy for the series. Metroid 1’s storyline was “kill all the evil wild animals” and Metroid 2’s storyline was “nuke them all to hell.” With this game, Nintendo sides with the World Wildlife Fund, and Samus is sent to rescue the last surviving Metroid from the evil, resurrected aliens.
The biggest problem with Super Metroid is that it features this long, annoying, unskippable introductory cutscene. You can’t skip it, but you can’t do your laundry during it either because the game requires you to be there to press A to advance the story. Call me impatient for complaining about only losing two minutes of my life, but I tend to lean towards games that thrust me right into the action. Please, do not force the player to watch cutscenes. Ocarina of Time has the exact same problem, multiplied many times over.
That said, the game starts to pick up once the game finally surrenders control of Samus to the player. Super Metroid is exceptional at storytelling in the regard that there are no spoken words, no dialogue and no cutscenes from that point onward. The game uses its visuals, in the form of hints in the environment, to reveal what little story needs advancing. Don’t expect any kind of intriguing character beats or social commentary; this game sticks to the storyline it tells best. That story being “you are Samus, you are very alone, and you’re on a planet with a lot of things that don’t want you to be there.” It also helps that, many years before Half-Life popularized the idea, that Super Metroid never yanks control away from the player in the name of presenting a cut-scene from a dramatic angle. So you could be in the corner, using your oversized laser beam to pick off ants on the floor while a giant, 40-foot monster makes its theatrical, ominous entrance and vicious roars of terror.
The “Metroidvania” formula (what a weird term) is built around playing a character whom starts with nothing but the punitive weapon they carry on them, roaming within a giant overworld. It continues to baffle me how Samus Aran will drop all of the power-ups, missiles and other armaments every time she engages a new mission. But alas, you must search the planet Zebes far and wide to collect assorted upgrades in order to open up more segments of the planet. For your first playthrough of Super Metroid, exploration is something of a watchword. While later games like Shadow Complex and even Metroid Prime will GPS-ly point you to the next area that needs exploring, Super Metroid isn’t even that thoughtful. If you’ve been paying attention to your surroundings like a good spelunker, then your memory will give you a good idea of where you should take your new super-jump upgrade, but even that will only serve you so well. Parts of the wall can be destroyed with certain weapons, but you have no high-tech Mastercraft flashlight to tell you which areas in particular. So finding the semi-suspicious parts of land that you can destroy, means curling up into your morphing ball and throwing mini-bombs around to reveal the destructible parts of land. On my original playthrough as a child, it took me many months of being stuck on at least two major turning points in the game before I saw through this adventure to the end. Today’s gamers may not have that problem with the internet and all, providing detailed maps and solutions to any given problem (and in turn making myself and the gamers of the world SOFT.) But if you’re insisting on finishing the game under your own volition, prepare wander the walls, firing at every bit of architecture to look for hidden paths.
On the upside, the progression of upgrades feel unique to Super Metroid. Abilities like the Screw Attack and the Super Running Death Attack feel distinctly Metroidish, and leave you feeling like you’re playing something more unique than a typical scrolling shooter- something Shadow Complex misses the boat on. The quantity of hidden missile upgrades, energy bar upgrades and so forth help encourage exploring the worlds. The bosses get progressively challenging, and having all the upgrades you can store in that slim futuristic suit can come in handy.
OR, you can go for a speed run. Your performance is ultimately timed, and its hard to not feel bold enough to try for the fastest playtime possible. Of course, a speed run means missing out on many of those upgrades, and suddenly that battle with the underwater sea-snake suddenly gets a lot more challenging. So Super Metroid is definitely a game that gets more enjoyable when you revisit it, and with no cutscenes, this was a game designed to be played many times over.
Super Metroid is a timeless game; one that has aged more pleasantly than most of its 16-bit bunkmates. Despite an average running time of two hours if you know what to do, Super Metroid begs to be beaten over and over again, and its hard to not feel compelled to do so. And while Shadow Complex may try its damnedest to imitate its inspiration, it winds up lacking its own sense of identity, and can’t compare to the Super Sensation. Well, this review failed at salvaging Shadow Complex. Crap.