Kotaku AU Games Of 2009: #8

Kotaku AU Games Of 2009: #8

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.


  • I agree with this. When I tried the SC demo, I found it engaging and pretty awesome to play. The 2.5D sequences were done masterfully, and the levels were simple yet lovely in design. Epic did well with Gears 2 for me, as Horde’s rocking, but they certainly outdid themselves with this. My only regret is not picking it up in the recent sale, but when my internet clears up again, it’s either this or Trials HD for me.

  • Wow, you’ve really been picking some titles out of left field here Davey. Can’t say I’d expect all of these on your list (even though I’ve seen some reviews and these games are pretty damn good) but, again, no comment.

    • Ah, the delightful irony of using a comments thread to say no comment. 🙂

      For what it’s worth, Shadow Complex is probably my number 3 for the year. Great choice David. A magnificent example of the potential of the XBLA (and similar) service.

  • I’m glad this made it into the top 10. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game the second it was released on the XBLA.

    Yes, at it’s core its a Metroid style 2d shootfest ( And what’s wrong with that? ) but it added so much more visually, and in the way it told the story that made it all the more different and unique.

    My only problem with the game, was I found it slightly too easy. But once again, there’s not really much of a problem with that either as long as you have fun playing it.

  • I’ve never played this, I probably should because growing up one of my favourite SNES games was Super Metroid, it took me like a whole year to finish because I was stuck at this one point of the game (how the hell was I supposed to know you need to use a powerbomb in the glass tunnel to get to Maridia?). if this game is a homage to that then it should be good.

  • This is quickly turning into a list of “Games I should have played in 2009 but overlooked”.

    From what I’ve seen of Shadow Complex, it looks like an amazing game. I missed out on picking it up on special too (something I regret too, Joshua), but I’ll have to get it now.

    Interesting notion you bring up about games on 360 too David. With games costing so much to make now, publishers are making decisions to not release games that 5 years ago would have been released immediately.
    I see digital distribution as the only way forward for the more eclectic games out there – Braid for instance could not exist without digital distribution. I’m all for it, considering without it we wouldn’t have these games.
    The funny thing for me is that it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. When publishers decide that something is unlikely to sell but they risk it anyway, it usually doesn’t sell (case in point: adventure games). However, when they’re convinced they’re sitting on a goldmine, games sell because they market them properly. If they put some weight behind original games like Shadow Complex, there’s no reason we couldn’t have retail versions.

    As it is, I’m just glad to see games like this released at all.

    Keen to see #7!

    • Yeah, but I reckon some Arcade games should stay arcade. Sure, I’d love for there to be an SC sequel, but for me a boxed 2.5D game like Shadow Complex would be weird. I’m all for making it into a full-length game, though I wonder how they would end up extending it and including enough content to make it to retail. I think Arcade games are just that – to be played casually, maybe 1-2 hours each day. Still, games like SC, Trials and other Arcade hits are the exception, as I could definitely play these for hours on end, and it just goes to show the standard that I personally have come to expect from my Arcade games and developers. I mean, since the MS Points cost so much here, I’d want my money’s worth, which is what SC can provide.

  • Shadow Complex is really overlooked and I assume its because its a Live Arcade game. I bought it about 2 months ago and played it ALL night to finish it, I got hooked. Its a very good game. You would be doing yourself a favor to download it.

  • Again, great choice of a game. I missed a lot of the classics like Super Metroid because we didn’t have any games machines til the Playstation One. As such it is fantastic to have something like Shadow Complex be released to show not only some of the great gameplay of yesteryear, but also how to move forward and improve on elements of the genre as well.

    Can’t wait to see the rest of your picks.

  • “Shadow Complex is an exploratory platformer that deserves to sit alongside the genre’s best.”

    I have to voice my disagreement with this. Shadow Complex was okay. Nothing more, nothing less.
    SC is short, has a terribly presented and overall weak story, unlikable characters, little in the way of customisation, boring enemies and bosses, bland and forgettable environments, very little in the way of atmosphere and almost nothing in the way of innovation or originality.

    Sure, as a metroidvania type game, it’s okay. It’s a good way to kill a few hours, and I guess the price of $20 is fitting. But saying it deserves to sit alongside games like Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night is just insulting to them.

    On the other hand, I do very much look forward to a spiritual sequel that could fix the issues I have with it. They know now they have the market for it.

  • This game is fantastic and the size is just right. Of note is this title opened the door to big XBLA games of which there have been several high-grade examples since.

  • I actually bought this while drunk on a friend’s advice one night… I really don’t like it. The dual stick controls really bug me… like, there’s no crosshair, auto aim, etc… to make it easier. And unlike an FPS it’s pretty awkward. Graphics are good, but I dunno, maybe I should try it out again…

  • This game is great for the top 10. It wasn’t my thing, but it was clear it was amazing for those who liked the style. It’s also a good example of downloadable gaming.

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