“Imitation,” goes the reliably quotable aphorism, “is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s also the surest form of instant cash if you’re cloning the good stuff, so when the concept guys over at Chair Entertainment HQ first sat down to design a game that would basically print money, someone suggested, “Metroidvania” and everyone else squealed, “Brilliant!” A Metroidvania, for those of you who don’t know these top secret industry code words, is any game that takes everything Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did, and does it all over again, more or less exactly the same but with different weapon names. So it’s a linear-but-not-linear side-scrolling platform action adventure with a bunch of gadgets and a zillion bits of collectible junk.
For all that it’s about as original as a photocopy, however, Shadow Complex manages to be pretty much every bit as superb as its predecessors. And maybe then some. For starters, it’s the Blue Steel of its genre – powered by the Unreal Engine 3 in high definition 2.5D, it’s really really ridiculously good looking. Sure, Samus Aran had boobs, but Jason Flemming has bidirectional subsurface reflectance distribution mapping or something. Put in enough some time, and he’ll also have an outrageously overpowered shotgun with a 700m range and a jetpack. That’s the game just getting started.
See, while there’s a really vapid, drearily predictable story motivating all of this, it’s kind of entirely irrelevant. The real game is in getting at all the items hidden around the complex, and to do that, you’ve got to get all the right tools for the job. Who cares if some evil insurrectionist paramilitary organisation is plotting to take over the world or eat biscuits or whatever, when there’s a missile upgrade in the middle of a room filled with death lasers and you’ve not yet managed to locate the hook shot? The Completionist achievement for Shadow Complex is truly a thing of consummate awe.
Which brings me around to my only real gripe about the game. Unless you’re going for a minimalist speed run (there are achievements for both, obviously), you’re going to be spending a lot – a lot – of time moving around an immense facility. Although there are shortcuts if you poke around, they’re really inadequate given the overall size of the place. Since each sub-section typically has only one or two entrances, it can take anything up to fifteen or twenty minutes to get from one side of the map to the other. When you’re down to the last couple of collectibles, this quickly starts to feel tedious. Come on, if these guys can invent supersonic hi tops, they can invent a teleporter. Or an express elevator.