About this series:

I write game reviews for the University of Missouri-Columbia's student-run newspaper The Maneater.  However, the process usually goes something like this:

1) Write review.
2) Squash it down to under 600 words for the paper.
3) Feel unsatisfied with the final product.

So I'm taking this opportunity to share my full, un-edited reviews with you guys, complete with every facet of the games that I feel are worth discussing.  Hope you enjoy!

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Remember when Microsoft didn’t even allow Xbox Live Arcade games to exceed 50 megabytes in size? Look no further than Shadow Complex to see how far the downloadable service has come.

It’s one of the most ambitious downloadable games to date, and more importantly, it revitalizes the side-scrolling exploration/action genre that once remained exclusive to the realm of the retro classics.

At first glance, the explosive introduction, well-choreographed cutscenes and Unreal Engine 3 graphics indicate a polished and well-developed story, but the fiction of Shadow Complex could not be less bland.

The “ex-soldier begrudgingly has to fight once again” and “infiltrate a rogue military facility to unravel a conspiracy to overthrow the government” scenarios don’t hold the emotional weight it once did in any medium.

The characters and dialogue never catch your interest, and the story concludes with one of the most sudden and unsatisfying endings of any game of this generation. Just go into Shadow Complex expecting to have fun and not to get wrapped up in an enthralling narrative, and you’ll be just fine.

Evidently, Chair Entertainment really, really, really loves Super Metroid. The power-ups, puzzles, constant backtracking and 2-D map represented by a grid of squares all feel lifted straight out of Nintendo’s SNES classic.

The similarities cannot be mistaken for anything other than imitation, but whether Chair has paid homage or simply ripped off winning ideas is up to interpretation. Either way, the most succinct way to describe Shadow Complex is “Super Metroid, but shorter and easier.”

On the other hand, Shadow Complex does answer a long-standing question: what would the next evolution of the Metroid series have become had it not gone down the 3-D route of the Metroid Prime games?

In many ways, we now have the game that some of the most unapologetic Super Metroid fans expected out of the series as its next logical evolution. Having fully polygonal graphics in a game with strictly 2-D movement is hardly new, especially for downloadable games, but that’s just the start.

Enemies and objects still appear in the Z plane every now and then, and pushing the right stick up makes firing weapons into the background a cinch.

The main character also gains experience points and levels up (which are persistent stats across all playthroughs), and defeating enemies in ways more creative than just “shoot until dead” nets you bonus experience.

Save points are frequent and forgiving. Your handy flashlight reveals the location of destructible objects that usually house hidden items on the other side. A blue line on the map defines the quickest path to the next critical moment or item, making finding your bearings infinitely easier.

Finally (and this may raise some ire among the more hardcore Metroid fans), achieving 100% completion has become significantly easier thanks to the map marking every square hiding an item with a question mark. The game even straight up reveals the entire map to you when your character hits level 20 (out of 50).

When I said “easier,” I wasn’t kidding.

Mastering Shadow Complex should take little effort, and players can choose how easy or challenging to make the game for themselves from there on out.

The four levels of difficulty is the simplest way to accomplish this, but the game also lends itself well to speed runs, and if people could figure out how to beat Super Metroid at 100% in under one hour, surely the achievements for doing the same in under two or three cannot be far behind.

You can burn a couple more hours in the included set of Training Grounds challenges, the game’s equivalent of a puzzle mode. Using a limited set of abilities, you’ll have to reach the exit of each room to punch in record times.

You may have to freeze moving platforms in place with the foam gun, or use your ability to run at sonic speed to traverse walls and ceilings.

None of them are too deviously difficult to figure out, so the drive to keep re-trying them is to climb the online leaderboards.

Some glitches provide moments of unintended hilarity, but most of the ones in Shadow Complex are of the intrusive and interruptive sort. Imagine fighting a final boss whose health bar never depletes, getting stuck inside geometry or spontaneously warping into rooms without exits, and you’ll have a pretty good idea.

Chair continues to roll out patches, but for now, play at your own risk.

While probably not destined to go down as a classic like the games that inspired it, Shadow Complex replicates their formulas admirably in a scaled down, $15 package. In spite of its technical flaws and cookie-cutter fiction, you may find yourself unable to tear yourself away from the controller for the entire ride.