Posts Tagged ‘Metroid’

Often I may be commenting on games, films, music or books that are somewhat outdated but somehow I have managed to miss. Hence ‘From the Vaults’… Onward!

Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games

Producer: Microsoft Game Studios

Platforms: Xbox Arcade (reviewed), PC

Price: 1200 points (purchased for 600 during sale)

As Muse so eloquently put it, “Our time is running out”, and boy they weren’t wrong! As the years roll by it seems harder and harder to devote any real time to gaming. Jobs, relationships, doing your own washing, it all ensures that daily there is less and less time to sit down and session one of your favourite games. I remember fondly the days of my youth, sessioning Ocarina of Time after I returned home from school, not a care in the world. Now you’re lucky to squeeze in a few hours after a long day at work, and that’s if you find the energy from somewhere to avoid monging out in front of Dave. What was it Peter Parker used to say? ‘With great age comes great responsibility’, or something like that….

Beyond the diminishing time frame that increases as each year rolls by, the gaming industry itself continually makes it harder to divide your time. Games are released in increasing number, with bounding rapidity on multiple formats. Think about it, how many top quality titles have there been released within the last month and continuing into the next few? Fifa 12, Battlefield 3, Arkham Asylum, Modern Warfare 3. And that’s on top of all the games you have undoubtedly mounted up on your shelves, unfinished or even unopened! As games get more and more replayable, attempting to collect all those bloody achievements or trophies, with the ever-increasing amount of DLC and the days spent levelling up with online multiplayer, is it any wonder that many people immediately avoid the prospect of purchasing arcade or indie titles. There’s just not enough hours in the day!

However, conversely, an unavoidably strict daily schedule is the very reason why arcade titles catch my eye. Despite my fervent desire to complete the single player campaigns of all the games I own, often I find myself struggling to immerse myself in a full title. Instead, it’s much easier to get involved with a game you know is going to have much smaller scope and therefore less play time. This, accompanied by a half-price sale offer, made it impossible not to add an additional game to my collection. In this instance, Epic Games Shadow Complex.

We all know that Epic are predominantly known for their renowned third-person sci-fi shooter series (say that three times in quick succession!), Gears of War. Epic by name, epic by nature. Clearly, they have set themselves an impressive precedent, but can they live up to this with their ongoing releases? Let’s explore….

Jason...... Bourne perhaps?

Importantly, Shadow Complex is entirely different to their Gears of War trilogy. It’s a 2D shooter (well seemingly) in which you play a single character, Jason, who’s primary objective is to rescue his female companion Claire. One day whilst travelling along some kind of nature walk, Claire stumbles upon a hidden subterranean base…. as you do. She is subsequently captured as a spy and imprisoned deep within the base’s walls. That’ll teach her for not using a Natural Trust walkway; textbook error! As the eponymous male hero, your job is of course to locate and rescue the clumsy damsel in distress, not easy with a smorgasbord of minions seeking out new intruder (that’s you!) Yet, soon your mission takes on a much more global significance as Claire’s captors are discovered to be hatching a plan to invade San Francisco. Roll up Jason, the classic hero archetype with a classic hero name (Argonauts/Power Rangers) as he somewhat frivolously decides to take on the whole operation. What a guy, what a guy.

Foam bridge it up!

Despite the game’s name, the plot really is that simple. It is never really explored much beyond this fairly superficial level which, arguably, is a constraint of the game being an arcade title. Alternatively though, when you look at Gears it can be observed that narrative complexity is not really Epic’s forte. The plot is certainly secondary to the gameplay in Gears of War, which is clearly mirrored in Shadow Complex. In this case though it does not appear to leave any lasting damage. The game is so detailed and there is so much to remember in the way of back-tracking that it is beneficial to coast through a very straightforward plot, but more on this later.

The introduction to Shadow Complex is very successful. Where many games supply you solely with an opening FMV explaining what kinda shit is going down (bear in mind this does happen after the introduction here though), SC provides the gamer with a minute-long playable section. Suddenly, the game casts you into the deep-end with no real explanation of the control system or your abilities, leaving you to fend for yourself by spamming away optimistically. Although brief, the player is given a moreish insight into the potential of the games combat system and its interesting 3D perspective.

A note on this; although the game is predominantly a 2D scrolling shooter (there are a few sections where the use of a turret gun enables a first-person perspective), it is accompanied by an impressive 3D background. This interesting perspective initially seems a little odd, perhaps as a result of it feeling a little out of the ordinary. This soon subsides though as the user witnesses how successfully it functions. The background is interactive, with enemies located on multiple planes of vision creating a variety of combative action. The game automatically changes your line of fire so that you are able to effectively shoot enemies in both the back and foreground. These changes are executed timely and accurately, key for maintaining the fluidity of the game.

Fuck, shit, arse, crap. Sorry, I've got turrets.

In essence, the gameplay is extremely similar to the original 2D Metroid series. The protagonist must navigate a vast 2D world, destroying waves of enemies they encounter in each area whilst seeking their updated objectives. Like Metroid, the game is separated into very distinct sections, separated by sporadic save points strategically placed around the map. Initially you begin with a limited armoury and moves list, essentially just jumping, climbing, shooting and melee (allowing for a stealth strategy to be deployed as with many shooters on the market these days… or you can just shoot the shit out of everything in sight!) This simple core gameplay deepens as you progress, obtaining new weapons and abilities that increase the creative potential of combat and exploration; a particular favourite is the Foam Gun, try attaching a grenade to it! Further Metroid influence can be seen in the very deliberate back-tracking element to the game, forcing the player to re-examine areas previously explored with their new weapons or abilities to progress with the main story or to locate the many hidden items dotted around the map. Particular areas are inaccessible until you locate alternative weapons – shining your torch on blockades reveals a specific colour that can be destroyed with varying projectiles (much like Metroid), for example, red sections require missiles – ensuring that game progression is somewhat linear whilst allowing for significant personal exploration.

For this back-tracking element to function effectively it is vital that the game has a detailed but clear map, which it does and is undoubtedly inspired by Metroid. See for yourself:

Shadow Complex - Metroid: Notice much difference? No.

Now, although the map looks vast, perhaps scaring you a little about the explorative element, it also offers some vital help with back-tracking. Doors that require particular unlocks to open them are marked in their specific colours on the map. However, there are numerous vents and windows that can be accessed which are not marked, so better get that memory working! Where’s Dr Kawashima when you need him? Additionally, all hidden items are marked on the map as a question mark whenever the user enters the room in which they are located. This ensures that items are rarely missed, providing a useful guide for all you completionists out there. Although this sounds like it’s too much support, almost cheating, your memory and spatial awareness are still very much engaged as many items are only accessible later in the game, requiring you to remember which ones need which ability, and in what very specific ways.

For a thorough review, it is important to mention replayability, which this game certainly has. With achievements demanding at least a second playthrough, back-tracking to collect every item and three sets of challenge packs, you will certainly play Shadow Complex beyond that initial run. The latter are interesting hologram-style challenges which will aid in you in learning particular techniques that will prove to be vital in your quest; with rankings that can be compared on Live with friends and globally there are competitive layers to this gaming onion.

Melee attacks are usual for keeping covert.

The only criticism I have found of Shadow Complex, and perhaps it’s one that many people would find particularly damaging, is that it is too similar to Metroid to be a simple homage, or influenced by it. With a map that absolutely resembles that of the classic Nintendo title and very similar gameplay and game progression, especially in the method of gaining access to doors, you cannot help but feel that it is somewhat a rip-off. But fuck it, I LOVE METROID! Ok, so it is disappointingly unoriginal. Worse still, there is no way that the developers could have ever got away without the comparison being made and I’m sure they were fully aware of that fact but happily ignored it.  There is such a fine line between being influenced by something and completely stealing the idea, and unfortunately Shadow Complex appears to fall in the second camp. However, it must be said that the inventive change of perspective effectively enhances the gameplay of this title, creating a vital distance between the two franchises. Despite the seemingly shameless gaming theft, Shadow Complex is a bug-free pleasure to play from start to finish and one not to be missed.

So what have we learnt? Despite the torrent of full-release titles due for release towards the end of this year, arcade games cannot and must not be avoided. Sure there is almost certainly a whole heap of awful arcade and indie titles out there, but make sure that you do your research first!

Oh and don’t hike anywhere that isn’t registered by the Natural Trust, you never know who you might meet.

As a regular gamer, how often do you find yourself disillusioned with the industry, jaded by the torrent of remakes that all shatter the beautifully-crafted originals?

Unfortunately, this happens far too often, to the detriment of many a gaming franchise. For reference, examine Starfox, damaged irrevocably by the less-than-impressive third-person manifestation on the Gamecube, Conflict Denied Ops which absolutely crippled the Conflict franchise by transforming it into a FPS, or the hotly debated Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, and at very least I respect the decision to move forward, experimenting with a title in an attempt to enhance it rather than let it stagnate – it’s just a shame when it horribly fails. Thankfully, there are some titles that are able to update and create incredible sequels. Fine examples of this can be seen in both the Legend of Zelda and Metroid franchises, taking simple 2D classics and rendering them in 3D with new worlds, enemies and narratives. The latter is what I shall focus on within this post…

Glorious nostalgia

With various adaptations in the series, some less well-received than others (Metroid – the Other M, mentioning no names), it is no surprise that fans have turned to their own ingenuity to create fresh sequels. And my God, have they been working hard! Check them all out here: http://www.metroid-database.com/fanapps.php

The most recent creation is a glorious tribute to retro 2D gaming, harking back to Metroid’s finest format. Minitroid, so far just a tech demo, has been put together by a three person team: Construct Programmer Tokinsom, an artist Betatronic, and music composer Jamie Billings. They’ve been working on it for about a year, uploading updates via Tokinsom’s youtube account, but it’s no surprise that the game is still only in demo form when you see how comprehensive it is! The game takes everything that was right about Metroid – the simple side-scrolling shooting system, the expansive 2D environments, the in-depth exploration and strategy application – and throws in a new protagonist, a mini, chibi-style Metroid. Despite wearing the classic orange spacesuit, she is almost cute!

Mind the gap!

At its core, Minitroid is classic Metroid gameplay, with all the familiar commands and power-ups. Moves are limited to ducking, jumping (with a double jump) and shooting (including a charge shot with your default weapon, and added missiles), with additional moves unlocked as you discover new ups (the Speedcore, allowing Minitroid to dash also enables her to long jump). And don’t forget the Morph Ball and Bombs! Enemies are varied, requiring alternating tactics in order to kill them efficiently, as is the gameworld, a mass of adjoining levels formed from many different colours and textures. For a game so simple in design, it is remarkably detailed. Adding to the classic feel is Billings’ beautiful chiptune soundtrack, transporting you right back to your gaming childhood. It’s highly reminiscent of the original game music, creating an audible sense of fantasy and sci-fi to complete the sublime environments that surround you.

Open Sesame!

The game has a good learning curve, essential for enjoyable but rewarding gameplay. Enemies are fairly easy to combat, especially when you’ve discovered their path of movement and attack, and they often drop missile and health refills. Save points are located throughout the game, at challenging intervals – you’re very grateful when you find them, but won’t have to work too hard in order to do so. The greatest difficulty isn’t survival, it’s working out how in God’s name you progress from one area to another, but with a little time you’ll manage it! (And if you can’t, unlucky because there are no walkthroughs!)

Minitroid is the perfect combination of shoot-em-up action and puzzle/strategy; you must use initiative to uncover new areas, whilst experimenting with the power-ups you’ve earned in inventive ways to progress. Despite being only a demo, the game is solid and detailed, and well deserves a few hours of your time. Show your support for a growing indie game industry and check it out!