Different people want different things from their Metroid-like games. (I refuse to use that daft Metroidvania word: the Castlevania games, even the more Metroid-y ones, share very little DNA with the games that are apparently aping it.) For some, the gradual filling-in of a map is enough to scratch the itch. For others, it’s the ingenuity of the abilities and upgrades that enable your cartography. The best examples blend both worlds, rewiring how you perceive a space with each new gizmo. Enter Shadow Complex Remastered’s friction dampeners (through the wall, at 200 miles per hour, naturally).
Attached to your pins, these let you reach supersonic speed. This in itself doesn’t set the world on fire (the lack of flaming footprints in your wake feels like a missed opportunity), though not many games with superspeed let you use it to run across bodies of water, like that giddy kid Incredible in The Incredibles. Unlike The Incredibles, you can also run through soldiers to turn them into soup on the spot and vapourise crates and doors that stand in your way. It makes a very good case for how the 110m hurdles should actually be run.
The dampeners’ single limitation (aside from uneven paving stones) is that you need a bit of a run-up to trigger it. And finding the run-up is where you’re asked to reevaluate your surroundings. If the obstacle doesn’t have enough flat ground to work up a head of steam you have to find an approach that does. This could mean seeking higher ground in a previous room, a place you can run and drop down from. More often, it means finding angled corners where the floor meets the wall – hitting these at speed lets you run up vertical surfaces and, with, further angled transitions, upside down on the ceiling.
All of a sudden the facility you’ve been exploring for several hours (the friction dampeners come late in the game) is revealed to be a series of elaborate race tracks for your robo-shins. Long corridors that hosted careful firefights are paths to be ripped through in seconds. Towering warehouses are acrobatic playgrounds that flip you from floor to ceiling as try to keep your momentum going on route to a secrets up in their attic space. It’s the kind of a-ha moment I live for in Metroid-like games, where you see past the stage dressing and realise the designer’s true intention all along.
Shadow Complex may be stripped of its secrets in six or so hours, yet don’t take that as a criticism of its length, but as an endorsement of its speed.