Shadow Complex

By on September 2, 2009

Super Metroid for a new generation of gamers.


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First Impressions
My reaction is

Many gamers consider Super Metroid to be the greatest game ever made. And why shouldn’t they? Super Metroid combined amazing platforming, tight shooting, and fun exploration of its massive map to immerse players in an alien world, while rewarding them for intrepid discovery. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night then came along, expanded on this concept, and then delivered a game that many fans call the best Castlevania ever.

Now Shadow Complex, from developer Chair Entertainment, has come to take the mantle from Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, proving itself as the heir to Samus Aran’s 16-bit crown, and being one of the funnest games yet on XBLA, any maybe Xbox 360 itself.

Shadow Complex begins with everyman Jason Flemming backpacking in the Pacific Northwest with his girlfriend Claire. They soon happen upon some caves and Claire suggests they explore them. After losing sight of her, Jason climbs in after he, only to see her being dragged into a massive underground complex. As Jason, it’s up to you to explore the complex, rescue Claire, and find out what these people are planning.

Developer Chair Entertainment has stated that the inspiration for Shadow Complex was Super Metroid and it definitely shows. The game plays from a 2.5D perspective, keeping Jason on a 2D plane while mixing in gorgeous 3D effects and environments. The game also plays very much like Super Metroid. The complex map is huge, and you’ll have to explore every nook and cranny to find every upgrade and weapon. You can only access certain areas and secret passages with certain upgrades or weapons, so backtracking plays a huge part. While this may turn some people off, Shadow Complex alleviates this with it’s interesting environment and multitude of shortcuts. It’s one thing to have to backtrack all the way around an area, but another when you find a secret vent shortcut that cuts your right through the map, which are also always easy to find thanks to your flashlight which highlights points of interest when pointed at them.

This type of gameplay, often dubbed “Metroidvania”, is what keeps Shadow Complex so fun. As you uncover more of the map and kill bad guys, you gain experience which levels you up. Gain a level and you’ll boost your auto aim and jumping skills. It’s extremely addiciting to continue to explore the map and snatch upgrades so you can level up more. What’s even better is that you’re level carries over to your future playthroughs, pushing you even further to try and hit the level cap, which can’t be done in one playthrough.

Once you are done with your playthoughs, you can tackle the games “Proving Grounds” mode, which presents challenge levels that will test your skills with certain weapons and upgrades or on obstacle courses to test your platforming skills. You can earn Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals, and compete on Leaderboards for high scores and times. These levels are fun and short, ideal for competing for bragging rights or to test your mettle. If you don’t want the competition to end their, the game will also track how many enemies you’ve headshot, punched, or made scream for falling to their death and compare it to you’re friends list. Now you can finally settle the debate on who can punch more baddies in a game.

Yet, a game like this wouldn’t be as fun if your upgrades and weapons were boring and luckily Shadow Complex’s are not. While most are direct copies of Super Metroid, like super speed and the hookshot, Shadow Complex carves its own identity with fun toys like the foam gun and Inertial Element. Controlling these toys is simple as well, using the right stick to aim in any direction and right trigger for firing.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Running on the Unreal Engine 3, Chair Entertainment took an engine reserved mostly for FPS games and turned it into a beautiful retro inspired game. Even though you are stuck to a 2D plane, the backgrounds and enemies are nicely rendered. Bosses are huge and animated, compensating both the background and foreground. Water splashes on the ground and bullets whiz by your head while underwater. It’s truly amazing what Chair did with the engine and no surprise that they were acquired by Epic Games for there work.

The game does have a few tiny flaws though that I must point out. The story is pure nonsense after the beginning cutscene and the characters’ faces have a weird vacant look to them. The models couldn’t emulate the emotion they were feeling so some story sequences fell flat because of it. There were also a few glitches I experienced while playing. Jason would get caught on walls after a wall jump and sound effects wouldn’t cease after leaving an area, forcing a restart to get the game back on track. These glitches didn’t happen often, but they did happen enough to warrant a mention.

Aside from this, Shadow Complex is still the best XBLA game out yet. It’s combination of retro style game play with modern gameplay tech and ideas bring an addicting and satisfying experience to the Xbox 360. If you love Super Metroid, or just games in general, get Shadow Complex. It’s an amazing game that will not disappoint.

The Scorecard
A fun adventure platformer with a few technical blemishes.
Environmental and visual effects are stunning, but character faces look odd.
Music was nothing special, but the weapon sounds and voice acting are top notch.
You get three packs of Challenge Maps and a massive map to explore.
Punching bad guys and leveling up doesn't get more fun than this.
A massive map, cool upgrades, and addicting gameplay make for the best XBLA game made yet.


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