Tag Archives: shadow complex

Okay, Cruel World, the retro/throwback 2D games trend is officially old now

As an old person that played early side-scrolling classics like Pitfall and Jungle Hunt on his neighbors’ Atari VCS (aka 2600) consoles, I have an affinity for the genre and have played many of the recent remakes/updates/etc. Initially, I was excited by the trend but as I recently played through about half of Donkey Kong Country Returns, I realized I’m more or less over it.

My post is focused on recent releases that look to some old game(s) for all of their inspiration. I’m not including games like Sonic Colors or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  Althose these games are among the latest 2D entries in long-running series, they’re not “retro” in their focus and, really, 2D games in these series never went away.

Also, I will be focusing on games for DS, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.  Now, let’s do this.


This category seems the most pointless of all.  These games are made to look, sound, and play like games originally released for NES, SNES, or Genesis hardware.

Mega Man 9 (2008, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

Capcom released SIX Mega Man games for the NES and FIVE for the Game Boy, all of which basically look the same (although the graphics did improve incrementally).  In perhaps the most cynical retro move Capcom decided, “Hey, let’s do it again,” even though Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8, and Mega Man & Bass had been released for later systems with improved graphics.  Mega Man 9 is a very solid game and probably more innovative than a couple of the original NES releases but in some ways it takes steps backwards, removing abilities like the slide.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man 10 (2010, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

In true Capcom fashion, they decided to do it all over AGAIN.

My credentials: in true me fashion, I downloaded and still haven’t played it.

Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Supposedly, this is a remake of the 1989 Game Boy release, Castlevania: The Adventure.  However, I have played that game and there are very few similarities between them outside of “story”.  Anyway, this is a very serviceable release but seems especially pointless, since there were already many classic 16-bit releases in the series, including Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines, Castlevania (X68000), Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania: Dracula X.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Again, a serviceable release, but doesn’t really improve or expand on the classic Contra releases.  The only noticeable change for me is that the graphics are almost a bit more cartoony, which takes things ever so slightly closer to Metal Slug territory.

My credentials: beat it (the only Contra game I know of with unlimited continues).

Yoshi’s Island DS (2006, Artoon/Nintendo: DS)

Way back before I was jaded regarding the whole retro 2D trend, I was really excited for this release.  Overall, it’s easily the best game in this portion of the article but it is sickeningly loyal to the original Yoshi’s Island.  This is a problem, as its shortcomings become more apparent.  The added feature of various baby characters available to ride on Yoshi’s back feels like inconvenient fan service.  The original Yoshi’s Island sticks out in part due to its visual innovation, so it’s ironic and shameful that this game just aped its predecessor.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra 4 (2007, WayForward/Konami: DS)

Supposedly, WayForward were inspired by New Super Mario Bros. but they seem to have forgotten that that game actually had modern visual and introduced many new elements.  Contra 4 tries really hard to include every Contra convention introduced in Contra, Super Contra, and Contra III.  It doesn’t add much outside of the strictly vertical grappling hook.  It’s fun, it’s tight, but what’s old is old.

My credentials: completed only on easy setting.


Bionic Commando (2008, Grin/Capcom: Xbox 360, PS3)

For the most part, this is pretty much a remake of the 1988 NES original.  However, the boss encounters are new, the visuals are great, there is a humorously dark attitude, and there are challenge rooms all over.  I think it’s definitely preferable to make a game like this that is basically a remake with some new elements rather than to make a “new” game that really has nothing new to offer.

My credentials: beat it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010, Dimps/Sonic Team/SEGA: Wii, X360, PS3)

I was pretty disappointed with this one, not because I love the Genesis Sonic games (I don’t) but because I generally love the Dimps-developed Sonic games.  SEGA decided to make a game true to the spirit of the early 90s Sonic games but they went too far, and basically just remade Sonic and Sonic 2.  From what I’ve played of the game, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles featured more innovation than Sonic 4.

My credentials: played about half, got bored.

Mega Man Powered Up (2006, Capcom: PSP)

A remake of the very original Mega Man, this release adds 2 brand new levels and, consequently, 2 brand new robot masters.  The updated visuals are cute but probably a bit too blocky.  The game allows you to play through the whole game as robot masters that you’ve defeated.  That may not seem all that great on the surface, but it allows you to use a specific robot master weapon as much as you want without worrying about it being depleted.  Capcom probably should have included the levels from multiple Mega Man games, which probably would have raised the quality through the roof.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (2006, Capcom: PSP)

An updated remake of the original Mega Man X.

My credentials: I have not played it!


New Super Mario Bros. (2006, Nintendo: DS)

As a true homer, I really, really looked forward to this game.  A new side-scrolling Mario game!  The first since Super Mario Land 2!  I’m very conflicted on this release and it’s probably impossible for me to be objective but I can see for a certainty that it was way too easy.  It took me a scant 4 hours to beat the game the first time and I never, ever saw a “Game Over” screen as the game is painfully generous with power-ups and one-ups in some strange effort to make Mario’s quest as easy as can be.  I needed just 4 more hours to find all the big coins and secret paths and all that and then I was done.  And PS – I’m not even that great of a gamer.

Beyond that, New Super Mario Bros. is well-constructed but pretty uninspired.  There are new power-ups and other gimmicks but everything is so backward-focused.  There is no real innovation.  The structure feels like the developers looked at SMB3 and SMWorld and decided to ape them but with a few twists.  That isn’t much of a stretch considering the game was created by the same team that developed the Super Mario Advance re-release series on Game Boy Advance.  The old Super Mario Bros. games were largely special because of their crazy, surprising innovations.  They looked in front, not behind!

My credentials: beat it.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo: Wii)

Well, it’s a lot longer than its predecessor.  Four players can play simultaneously, which is fun.  Too bad 2 of the players have to play as generic Toad characters.  Nintendo claimed they couldn’t use Peach because it would look strange when someone held her above their head with her dress on.  Ugh.  She regularly wears more practical clothing in the sports games, why not here?  Or why not use Wario and Waluigi?  Or, Jesus forbid, a new character.  Some of the power-ups are cool but the focus on the past continues with the reintroduction of the Koopalings.

My credentials: beat it.

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins (2006, Capcom: PSP)

Not much more forward-thinking than the New SMB games but it can be forgiven to some extent, as this game treats you like a man, not a kindergartener.  Additionally, some fundamental changes have been made, like a killed character continuing from the spot from which they perished, a warping system, an inventory (!), and non-linear gameplay.  A very worthy, well-thought-out update.

My credentials: got to the final boss door, didn’t have enough rings/keys/whatever to get in, quit, have fantasized for four years about coming back to it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Retro Studios/Nintendo: Wii)

Retro previously developed the great Metroid Prime trilogy so I expected a lot.  And boy! I was disappointed!  This is probably not a bad game but I did not have fun playing it.  It misses the point more so than the New SMB games, as it fails to capture what really stood out about the original DKC games.  You might ask why I hold the game to the old standards; it’s because the game seems to be committed to them.  For one thing, at least in the first half of the game, I did not encounter any water levels.  I only came across Rambi once.  Also, the graphics, while of a very high quality, are not groundbreaking.  The original trilogy was known for its groundbreaking visuals and audio.  Before even considering a new DKC game, the developers should have thought of a way to make the game really stand out.

Additionally, the villains are totally lame and forgettable.  Strange, I used to think the same about the Kremlings but now I see their relative worth.  I just don’t get it.  I would have thought that Retro Studios would want to do something more original, ambitious, and rewarding after the Metroid games.  Guess not!

My credentials: played through 4 worlds.


Yes, I have played a lot of these games and I enjoyed or at least pretended to enjoy them as I did so.  But now I am older, wiser, and skeptical-er.  Almost all of the games in this article have been topped by recent 2D releases that were inspired by the classics but have decided to move into the future.  These games include LostWinds, Shadow Complex, and Braid.

a game: SHADOW COMPLEX or “Is that you, Metroid?”

Shadow Complex
Xbox Live Arcade, 2009
developed by Chair, published by Epic

If you love Metroid-style gameplay, then there is a very good chance you would enjoy Shadow Complex.  This is far from an original observation on my part, and the developers have openly referenced Super Metroid as the primary influence.  The setting is completely re-cast, taking place in the titular “shadow complex”, an underground military facility on regular old Earth, populated by regular old humans, plus some robots.  There’s a lot of futuristic equipment, but it’s mostly stuff that could probably really be developed in the next 10-20 years.

Just as in Metroid games, you start out without very much and constantly seek out upgrades and new equipment.  Instead of collecting missile upgrades, you collect grenade upgrades.  You even get an upgrade that makes you run fast as hell, just like in Super Metroid.  In spite of these borrowed elements, there are many 2009 elements.  For example, the graphics are very up-to-date; the gameplay is 2D but the graphics are running in a fully 3D environment.  There are many situations and cinemas during which the camera swings close and shows the character models up close.  Any time the player character attacks an enemy up close, the player is treated to a very short cut scene – running within the game engine – of the enemy being brutalized by one of many available, vicious combos.  Additionally, the game makes use of the dual analog sticks.  Unlike ye old Metroid and Contra games, the player character can run in any direction and shoot in any desired direction at the same time.  He can run back and forth and fire in a 360 degree arc if so desired, all at once.

I think my one and only complaint is the game’s length.  I read a review before playing the game that said the story takes 10 hours to complete.  I guess that reviewer is super slow because I required 7 hours, and I’m a pretty average-skilled gamer.  I do think there’s a pretty good chance I will revisit the game to explore every room in the complex and to find every little item.  If you want an idea of what a 2D Metroid game benefiting from current tech would play like, Shadow Complex is your game.


So, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is going on right now in LA.  In 2007 and 2008 it seemed to have lost some of its luster due to an altered format and competition from big game shows in Japan and Germany.  It seems to have regained some of its clout as several of the big gaming companies have used the last couple of days to debut a bunch of upcoming games.  Here are the games I’m most interested in (note: this list contains ONLY games that were debuted at this year’s E3.  There are many other upcoming games that interest me that are not listed below.)

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo, Wii)
Just like 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. for DS, this game is a 2D old-school platformer. The gimmick is that it allows for up to 4-player cooperative/competitive action, and players 2-4 can enter and exit the game at any time. It had better be a lot fucking longer than the DS game. It will hit stores late this year.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Nintendo, Wii)
Mixed feelings on this one. I love a new Mario game but the space theme again? I already felt that the first Galaxy was basically Super Mario 64 in space. More of the same is cool but it almost seems like it should have been downloadable expansions instead of a full sequel.

Metroid: Other M (Nintendo, Wii)
My, how things have changed when I’m more interested in this game than the previously mentioned Mario games. It’s being developed by Team Ninja, the team from Tecmo that make the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games. I’m confused because these guys all quit the company – so is Team Ninja independent now or did Tecmo just replace all those guys? Anyway, this title looks to be very story-heavy for a Metroid game and also pretty action-oriented.

Golden Sun DS (Nintendo, DS)
Oops, I never played the 2 GBA Golden Sun games but by reputation they’re supposed to be very, very good so perhaps I’ll play this one in 30 years.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (Konami, PSP)
I don’t know much about it but I really liked the previous MGS for PSP so there!

Metal Gear Solid Rising (Konami, Xbox 360)
This is the first big MGS game debuting on a non-Sony system since 1990. Too bad MGS4 will apparently still be PS3-only.

Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve, Xbox 360)
I haven’t even played the first Left 4 Dead (it’s too new and I’m too cheap) but it’s chock full of zombies and is made by a beloved development team.

Shadow Complex (Microsoft, Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
A downloadable game with 3D graphics and 2D gameplay, with exploration and nonlinear action in the vein of Metroid and Castlevania. However, the settings look like deserted cities.


PSP Go: A new handheld from Sony that is meant to coexist with the regular PSP. It’s quite small and games are download-only. There will be some crossover with the PSP library but eventually most PSP Go games will be exclusive. So far, I’m not sure if it’s actually more powerful than the regular PSP or what.

“Project Natal”: An interesting development from Microsoft and basically their answer to motion controls. It’s basically a camera that monitors your whole body’s movement so essentially your body is the controller – you don’t hold anything at all. They demoed it with some racing games. It seems cool but looks can be deceiving – the Wii motion control looked a lot better than it really was three years ago.

konkluzions: My biggest disappointment is a lack of anything NEW from Nintendo. They haven’t launched any great NEW properties since 2001. Everything they’ve introduced since then has been aimed “non-gamers” – I’m referring to releases like Nintendogs, Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Brain Age, etc. At the same time they seem content to milk their hardcore franchises in ways they never have before. Evidence:

’91-’00 ’01-’10
Mario games released 3 5
Zelda games released 4 8
Metroid games released 2 7