The countdown of my personal picks for the best games of 2009 is now underway. For the next two weeks I'll be running down my top ten. At #8 we discover how one man wall-jumps through the military-industrial complex...
8. Shadow Complex (360)
When Xbox Live Arcade launched in 2005, the 50MB limit meant original games consisted mainly of simple puzzlers and arcade shoot 'em ups. Some of them were great - Geometry Wars, for example, is a bonafide 360 classic - but the prospect of something as content-rich as like Shadow Complex ever appearing on the service was pure fantasy.
Yet while the thought of a Unreal Engine powered Metroidvania appearing on XBLA may have seem far-fetched, the fact is it would never have made it as a boxed retail product. 2D games don't exist on the Xbox 360, let alone tributes to fifteen year old platformers. At least that's the conventional publishing wisdom. Which, as anyone who's played Shadow Complex will know, is a ridiculous notion.
Shadow Complex is an exploratory platformer that deserves to sit alongside the genre's best. After easing you in for the first hour or so, it opens up dramatically as the full expanse of the world map is hinted at. Soon you'll have been teased by so many platforms, pick-ups and entire screens lying just tantalisingly out of reach that you'll have lost count of them all. But you know you'll be back later. How can you resist?
It may borrow liberally from both Metroid and Castlevania - the former's ability unlocks and the latter's skill upgrades, in particular - yet brings enough original ideas to carry its own identity: the flashlight used to detect secrets; the XP incentives to pull off headshots and clear rooms in creative ways; the implementation of the z-axis to give genuine depth to the playfield; the way the camera zooms in and out depending on the dimensions of the area you're exploring.
These ideas, and many others, mean that Shadow Complex is more than just a rehash - it's a reimagining. It's almost enough to make you forget how long it's been since we last saw the genre's founders grace a home console.
Kotaku AU's Games of 2009 are my personal picks for the best games of the year. I make no claim to have played everything released this year, nor do I pretend to be any way objective in my rankings. I look forward to debating my choices with you in the comments.