It’s no secret that successful games will inspire a myriad of imitators. That simple axiom explains why console libraries have bulked up with kart racers, fitness games, and diversions starring space marines. Yet, one glaring exception to this maxim exists- the action/exploration game that has been confined to the Castlevania and 2D Metroid franchises. Fortunately, the developers at Chair Entertainment and Epic Games have tried to rectify this deficiency with Shadow Complex.
Gamers with a familiarity with the two aforementioned series should feel right at home. Players move a protagonist through an immense, labyrinthine environment, where specific areas cannot be initially traversed. Once players retrieve a certain power-up, such as the ability to double (and later triple) jump, previously inaccessible areas open for investigation. As the player is searching the landscape, a convenient map is automatically created, showing traveled zones as well as areas ripe for scrutiny. Predictably, frustration would ensue in the classic titles when the gamer neglected a piece of equipment required for advancement. Shadow Complex remedies this dilemma by providing a tell-tale line for the player to follow; those opposed to assistance will enjoy the ability to turn the indicator off.
Where the title deviates from the formula is in the execution of combat. Both Castlevania and the early Metroid games confined attacks to two buttons; Shadow Complex has players using the right stick to aim a laser beam at foes and destructible environmental objects. In theory, the game tries to advance the genre by adding a cover system, and the ability to nail head shots, which when executed properly, making the game’s action especially gratifying.
When combat works, Shadow Complex rivals the finesse of the best action-explorers, however two elements prohibit conflict from becoming completely instinctive. The minor concern occurs when the game’s hero- Jason Flemming, is hanging from an environmental edge. Jumping will send the protagonist away from the precipice, which is both unintuitive and contrary to the mechanics of most platforming titles. The game’s larger issue emanates from the enemies use of 3D backgrounds, when the player is confined to a strict 2D environment. Foes will pour out of the backdrop, but Flemming regularly lacks the ability to lock onto them, causing the player to discharge rounds everywhere but into the bodies of adversaries. Typically the player has to reposition himself on-screen, often putting the hero in precarious situations.
There is one distinct advantage of being a 2D character trapped in a 3D environment- the view is magnificent. With the added complexity of an additional dimension, Shadow Complex’s varied landscapes transcend the minimalism of the genre. From the illumination of craggy caverns with a flashlight to robust, splintering explosions, the game is consistently impressive. The game’s cutscenes are strong enough to make players forget this is a downloadable title; seeing the environment reflected in a character’s eye is wonderfully cinematic.
Despite Shadow Complex’s niggling control blemishes, the game is incredibly enjoyable, offering a five to six hour span of griping exploration. Considering the game’s production values compare favorably to a full priced disk-based title, the $15 admission is incredibly reasonable. For completionists, fans of the genre, and adventurers keen on returning to Shadow’s world, the price is a bargain.