It would take more than a double-jump, grappling hook and a screw attack to reach the lofty goal of being a new generation's 2D Metroid or Castlevania. But that's what Shadow Complex could hope to be.
I've spent two hours and twenty minutes this morning with the game, a game made with great love for its predecessors. And no, of course it's not as brilliant as Super Metroid — what has the cleverness, the pacing, the geographic diversity, the unusual mix of power-ups? But it's clearly a game built on the same values. It's a game made to be played like it's a map being traced with a finger, followed closely, fueled by the excitement of where to explore next and where to come back to later.
Here's how it is shaping up so far…
What Is It?
Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade game set for release when it's steamy outside, an August alternative to the heat. It is a side-scrolling adventure game in the style of 2D Metroids and Castlevanias, but rendered with a 3D engine. As with its inspirations, it is a game about exploring, finding power-ups and using newly enhanced abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas of the map. This one's all about a guy fighting his way through an enormous underground sci-fi military base and, so far, trying to keep his girlfriend alive. It comes from Chair Entertainment and parent company Epic Games, chiefly designed by Donald Mustard with oversight from Gears of War alpha-developer Cliff Bleszinski. It's a 1200-point game, costing $15 and the build I downloaded, which appears to be final, is close to 900 MB.
What We Saw
I was supplied with code of the game that appears complete. I played the first two hours and twenty minutes, discovering 32% of the game's expansive 2D-map and finding 20% of its mostly-hidden power-ups.
How Far Along Is It?
The game appears to be done, but because it's a downloadable, it's probably eligible for more last-minute tweaking than most.
What Needs Improvement?
Too Much Nostalgia: One of the themes of Kotaku's coverage this week has been developers' love of past influences and the extent to which that love can be applied too thickly. Shadow Complex's first hour is almost a sequence of homages to sequences from Super Metroid, Empire Strikes Back and other boys-will-be-boys action-packed inspirations. Evoking the past so much is risky, especially given that this game's chief interactive predecessor is considered one of the greatest games of all time. That the early action in the game is more conventional and its environmental puzzles less interesting than Super Metroid's initially sets Shadow Complex needlessly back. It's only when Shadow Complex starts getting past the early homages and starts showing off its own ideas that it demonstrates its worth. (That first hour isn't helped with its Uncharted homage. Yes, you have the voice-actor, but did you also need to dress your guy in the half-tucked shirt?)