More than a modern take on “Metroid” (as were the “Prime” entries), “Shadow Complex” is a faithful homage to what is one of the most beloved videogames ever made. Like so many players out there, Donald Mustard is mad in love with “Metroid” and so, everything that made “Metroid” “Metroid”, is recovered almost religiously into his game – the pure 2-D platforming, the non-linear maps, and their never-ending backtracking… pardon me, “exploration”, the armor and weapon upgrades, the environmental puzzles, the wall-crawling enemies, etc, etc, etc. In “Shadow Complex” every motion, space and action, evokes a memory of “Metroid”. And Mustard plays well with that memory, rewriting it subtly to fit with the new century design standards players have developed. More tense and action packed, “Shadow Complex” is an entertaining video-game that doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia to be fun.
Sadly enough, Mustard’s fond remembrance of “Metroid” is imperfect, dare I say, naive and superficial. One of the greater aspects in “Metroid” was its ambiance: the sense of vacant space mirrored perfectly the part of being alone in an alien landscape. Despite the minimalist details, the dark caves and somber music were essential in establishing that science fiction reality (“Alien”, of course, comes to mind). Mustard did not use a similar background, therefore losing his capability to truly evoke the memory of “Metroid”, but perhaps rightfully so, for who is he to remake “Metroid”? The issue here is that the artistic frame he chose to substitute “Metroid’s” stinks of the most basic consumer-pleasing piece of trash. In other words, he wrapped the “Metroid” gameplay in a first-person shooter aesthetic (something which even the “Prime” series tried to avoid).
Explosions and explosions and more explosions and lots of shooting and shooting and firefights and kung-fu fist-fights and epic battles with giant-mecha and even more explosions – that’s what Mustard substituted the sci-fi environment with. Even though the script is based on the work of Orson Scott Card (namely his novel “Empire”), it comes off as the sort of preposterous teenager military fantasy about an evil scientist/general who wants to take over the world (or just the U.S.A., doesn’t seem to matter). The B-movie tone can be funny (Nolan North as the leading voice certainly helps), but the narrative often seems to want seriousness and sentimentality, which ultimately ruins any chance of redemption for the whole affair. Character designs only add to the whole comic-book vibe, being so bad that can even paint the supposedly menacing army as an outlandish brand of villains.
The new framing is, in one word, horrible. It’s like an even worse copy of Epic’s own games, featuring extensive technical value but less than competent artistic one. It’s not that it was obligatory to evoke an ambiance as powerful as that of “Metroid”, but anything other than “G.I. Joe” in Unreal Engine’s dull and insipid color palettes would have been preferable. Appealing to the “Gears” crowd just seems irreflected for someone who is trying to recapture the feel of a work that is consensually viewed as a masterpiece. Thus, “Shadow Complex” ends up being somewhat of a half-breed between a modern action packed shooter and the pondered exploration of “Metroid”. You can’t commend its innovation, because there is none, but it’s extremely well designed and balanced, and if it’s mindless fun you’re looking for, you’ll get your kicks. However, as the self-proclaimed love-letter to “Metroid”, it’s as much of an insult as it is a compliment to Gunpei Yokoi’s and Yoshio Sakamoto’s masterpiece.
[My Xbox 360 just died this mornin’ (thanks Microsoft!), so I won’t be able to complete the game, hence why there is only an Impressions article. Still, I played the game enough to give it a fair review.]