Most game reviews require a long explanation before you conclude how you feel about it. I’m going to skip the formalities to tell you to stop reading this and go buy Shadow Complex. Not only is it one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games to date, but easily one of the top to come out this year. For those who aren’t so easily convinced, I suppose I can give you a proper rundown and review of the game. Just know it’s against my will!
Shadow Complex has been heavily hyped and previewed as the evolution of the Metriod/Castlevania genre. Throw in a little bit of Contra inspiration and that really is exactly what you’ve got here. If you aren’t familiar with the genre, it’s based on exploring the world you are in and upgrading your weapons and abilities to reach new areas in that world. Most doors can only be opened by certain weapons, so the genre does require quite a bit of back tracking to find the items and upgrades you need. A large focus is also placed on the ability to go where you want, when you want. If you can find a way to do it, you can create your own path to the end, with as little or as many of the upgrades and abilities that you want. It’s really all up to you. At the beginning you’ll only be able to jump short distances and have a pistol at your disposal, and by the end you are triple jumping and one-shotting enemies with powerful weapons. The pacing in which you unlock new abilities and weapons is handled well, and adds to the overall depth of Shadow Complex.
You play the game as Jason Fleming, and start outside of some caves you are about to explore with your girlfriend, Claire. She goes on ahead of you and manages to get kidnapped by some strange soldiers. While you proceed to find her, you discover a secret military base, and it’s up to you to figure out where they took her, and what is going on. It’s based on a novel by Orson Scott Card, so the story is comprehensive, but you can tell they want the focus to be gameplay. The game is played in 2.5D, which means while most aspects are on a 2D plane, they have also incorporated the ability to shoot into the background in certain sections. Controls are handled fairly well, but some issues do arise. Most controls are what you’d expect, but aiming in 2D is handled by the right stick. It works for the most part, but when the action requires you to shoot into the background, the game feels awkward. It mostly aims itself, but if the game decides to aim at the person in front of you, it seems like you have no precise way to kill the enemies that are back there. On normal difficulty it wasn’t much of a problem, but as you venture to harder difficulties, you NEED the ability to precisely aim. Shadow Complex doesn’t completely offer that.
The main point to take from the above paragraph is that you likely will try out the harder difficulties. Shadow Complex has an incredible amount of replayability, and as soon as I finished the game, I moved right onto the next difficulty to go through it again… well, after I collected 100% of the items. The game is a blast, and finding every item was as fun as it is to play with the minimum amount of them. While it does only take 5-6 hours to complete the main story, you will add a ton of more time when you go back to collect everything, and on the following playthroughs. If you aren’t the type to replay a game, Shadow Complex even offers challenge rooms that start off really simple, but do get very challenging by the end. Nothing ground breaking, but a nice diversion, nonetheless.
In most areas, Shadow Complex puts other arcade games to shame. It holds its own with most retail games graphically, the voice acting is good, and the gameplay is almost unmatched by a lot of full-priced 3D games. This is another example of video games being fun, and the focus being on replayability. Games tend to focus on adding a bunch of unnecessary content, so that gamers don’t complain about length, but I find that argument to be void most of the time. If you make your game fun and good enough, you won’t hear the complaints. Shadow Complex is one of the games that doesn’t deserve any.
+ Big, open world to explore, where you really can reach and go wherever you think you should be able to.
+ Some excellent weapons and abilities that I don’t want to spoil here.
+ On par with retail games, and it only comes in at $15. Can’t beat that.
+ Replayability is through the roof.
+ The proper evolution of the Metroid/Castlevania genre.
- Controls for shooting could have taken more time to iron out.
- Some graphical glitches, and on rare occasions, game breaking ones. There were two separate times I got stuck and had to restart. Not a huge deal, but it’s there.
Grade – A-