There is something about buying arcade games lately that leaves me expecting nothing more than a simple, quick title. It’s usually an impulse buy, something to play while I wait for friends to come online or a quick distraction from a busy day. Which is why I was honestly shocked around half way in Shadow Complex with how much this game has to offer, and how much realistically I was going to end up replaying it.
Everyone is going to tell you that Shadow Complex is a Super Metroid and Castlevania rip off, and you know what? They would be 100% correct. The developers, Chair, claimed they were inspired by those timeless classics, but I’d use the word ‘inspired’ loosely. Down to the missiles for red doors, Shadow Complex uses maybe too many of the aforementioned titles ideas, and while it can be a nostalgia fest for some, others might feel the game is nothing more than a re-skin.
I spent 6 hours on my first playthrough of Shadow Complex, not bad for an arcade game priced at 1200 Microsoft points. I have not even obtained half of the items in the game, nor have I discovered 100% of the map, which just goes to show you are getting quite a lot of game for your money. Shadow Complex is all about progression and exploration, rewarding those who spend the time finding all those nooks to crawl into. If this is your kind of fun then you have hours and hours of entertainment on hand.
After a brief action sequence, you are introduced to Jason Fleming who has similar design and personality traits to Nathan Drake from Uncharted. He, and his new girlfriend Claire, head off to some caves for a day of exploration. Of course, it just so happens that the cave they find is a secret hideout for a terrorist organisation preparing a new American civil war. Claire is kidnapped and you have to infiltrate the base with nothing but climbing gear and a torch.
Shadow Complex controls just like any other side scrolling title, giving you 2D movement and plenty of new power ups to unlock areas on the map. You start off with a torch, when turned on it highlights objects with bright colours that you associate different abilities to. Anything that glows orange means it can be shot with a gun, green items need to be exploded by grenades, purple means it needs to be filled with foam, red exploded with missiles and blue means you need to use a sonic run ability to bash your way through. These abilities are slowly unlocked by exploring areas in the game. Later on you slowly gain an Omega suit which you upgrade by finding missing parts dotted around the map, this increases your double jump to a triple jump, sonic speed and some funky new combat moves as well.
There is a levelling system in place where finding items and killing enemies will net you experience points. Every level you gain offers bonus stats for Jason, things like accuracy and health are increased. However each 10 level gives you a bigger bonus which includes infinite ammo for certain weapons, so it’s worth killing everything you see.
The HUD is simple but effective, displaying only your health, a mini map, your weapon and useable power ups. Opening the menu will show you some statistics of how much of the map you have uncovered and how many items you have found. There is even a blue line telling you where to go next if you ever get stuck and this can be deactivated at anytime. One of my favourite things about Shadow Complex is the real time stat tracking and leaderboards. There are a few noted actions that get stacked up, such as headshots and melee attacks. Each time you pull one off it is added to your score, and if you beat someone a little pop up will let you know who on your friends list you just beat.
General combat in the game is simplistic, use the right analogue stick to aim and shoot with the right trigger. You can pull off headshots, melee attacks as well as an entertaining kick on smaller enemies which fling off and explode in the air. On the easier modes, combat is neither frustrating, nor challenging, and it’s not until you use insane mode that you feel any need to use cover or be careful during boss fights.
One of my biggest disappointments with Shadow Complex was really how every boss fight would turn into a torrent of grenade chucking. During the first boss you try to tactically throw grenades under its body to cause the mode damage, but later on, after gaining a few upgrades to how many grenades you can carry, you end up just mindlessly spamming out grenade after grenade. There are one or two boss sequences that require you to play with the environment, which end up being the more enjoyable fights out of all the battles you encounter.
The game is beautiful though, even with Claire’s off putting mouth animations. Character models are pretty detailed for an arcade game and the environments are wonderful. The developers have done a fantastic job mixing 3D elements with the 2D game from having bosses emerge from the background rather than scrolling in from the side. There are some really beautiful moments in the game such as when part of the base is flooded and a sad piano song which is played as you swim around drowned soldiers. Shadow Complex certainly tries to be cinematic, and deserves respect for achieving that in most cases.
Apart from the mass of collecting and map unlocking in the campaign mode, there is also the proving ground. The proving ground is a series of tutorials and challenge rooms that you can complete. Completing all 3 challenge packs will net you an achievement and leaderboard glory. This is a nice extra mode for those who want to take their play to a more advanced level, working out the best to way to get to the exit quickly. They start off simple enough but there certainly are some brain wrecking rooms to test your ability.
Shadow Complex is a charming, enjoyable arcade game that is certainly be one of the best I have seen in the arcade marketplace. The amount of polish and replayability Shadow Complex offers had me forgetting I was playing an arcade game. If you are looking for something to continually go back to for bragging rights and exploration fun then Shadow Complex is certainly not a title you should miss out on.