The Metroid tribute: Shadow Complex

“This is not the greatest Metroid in the world. This is just a tribute.”

Shadow Complex for Xbox Live Arcade couldn’t be more of a love-letter to Nintendo’s venerable action-adventure even if it tried. From the moment you are handed the reins, it’s like you’re back in Super Metroid‘s Crateria area descending into a hidden base of unknown technology again. And for the most part, the game manages to keep that vibe strung throughout itself.

At the same time, it does become very apparent that developer Chair isn’t exactly the same team as Nintendo’s R&D1. As a matter of fact, my recent observations of Metroid Prime, seem to have found their logical conclusion in Shadow Complex. Start on normal and the amount of hand-holding becomes almost ridiculous, robbing the game of its maze-like intestine-structure. Instead, it becomes a game of trace-the-dots rather than connect-the-dots.

Elsewhere, this call for a modern design simplifies yet another part of the game: hidden items. In typical Metroid-fashion, most upgrades for expanded weaponry are hidden or at least placed at curious locations. Unfortunately, the various solutions to getting them are incredibly shallow. Blasting an obstacle away is usually all that is needed, and there are precious few secrets that require a ‘dense’ use of weaponry and abilities. There’s nothing here that evokes the same complexity as Zero Mission‘s Shinespark trials, nor the precision ofFusion‘s.

No, for secrets Chair’s more likely to have drawn inspiration from that other juggernaut, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In that game hidden items are also just a wall away, but even when compared toShadow Complex, the latter seems hopelessly shallow at times. It’s clear that the developers wanted to take away any possibility of frustration. To such an extent that the flashlight you get at the start immediately shines a light on all ‘puzzles’.

Now, I do make it sound a bit like a disaster, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.Shadow Complex is a superb game. Aiming and shooting with the right stick and right shoulder buttons takes some getting used to, but it works far better than expected. Handling is reminiscent of Fusion. Your weaponry and abilities are basically direct clones from Metroid. Oddly enough, the way the game deals those old cards to you makes them feel all fresh. Better yet, the Friction Dampener (Shadow Complex‘s equivalent of the Speed Booster) even took the discarded Fusion-prototype idea of running up walls and ceilings and made it its own.

If there are true faults with the game, it’s mostly with its ‘gimmick’ to let you aim into the background and give the idea of a 3D environment in a 2D game world. That’s because it only works partially. It happens far too often that enemies in the background are ignored by the aiming system for no apparent reason. Worse, as your character’s accuracy grows, the auto-aim becomes even less helpful and frequently targets the less important enemies first. It’s a blemish, but hardly a deal-breaker. Likewise, the game seems hampered by bugs; one currently even allows you to play the game for free. A liberal dose of save points counters most of them, though.

So in the end, Shadow Complex is a game that knows exactly where it’s coming from and exactly where it should need to go now that the ’90s are gone. That it isn’t as polished nor as deep as its source material is never a problem. This might be just a tribute, yet I’m craving for an encore.