If Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a sci-fi shooter made today, it would come pretty close to Shadow Complex.
To start, I am a big fan of Super Metroid and the more recent Castlevania games that borrow on some of Super Metroid's ideas. The large map, secret rooms, and unlockable items are all present here, and all done superbly. One key component is notably absent, but more on that later. While my nostalgia for this genre, if you can call it that, does play a role in my review, once immersed in the game, I was not drawing comparisons to games of my younger years, I was all about Shadow Complex.
The story isn't the highest caliber, though it runs parallel to an Orson Scott Card story that I have yet to read. Basically, the player is led to believe the main character is just some average Joe, but he's not exactly, and an evil organization is plotting to take over the world...Only YOU can stop them. Yeah, it's a bit cliched, but it works, and you aren't really playing for the story anyway. The actual pieces of story are broken up enough that the plot progresses smoothly and at fairly regular intervals.
Gameplay is the important thing here, and while the formula is simple, it works splendidly. The left sticks moves, the right stick aims and you switch weapons with the D-Pad, which are then used with the right bumper. You also have a flashlight which points out various items in the scenery that you can interact with. For example, if an air duct glows orange, you can shoot it with your regular gun and it will blow apart, letting you crawl through the ducts to get to the next area or find a secret room.
Both your character and extra abilities can be improved upon. Shooting and jumping around will gain XP for your character, causing him to level up and improve upon his skills (e.g. accuracy). Secret areas or nooks contain canisters for upgrades, allowing you to hold more of an item. There are other secret items as well, but I won't spoil any of that. Most of these items are only accessible later on, once you have acquired more items and abilities, and these areas are designated with a "?" symbol on the map.
Speaking of the map, it's huge. There are corridors aplenty, but also an outdoors area, some underwater parts, and other industrial but interesting portions. Not all is positive, though, and this is my biggest problem with Shadow Complex. The map is a bit hard to navigate later on, and there is no quick-transport option like other similar games. This means if you are on one side of the map you have to navigate all the way back to where you want to be. While it doesn't come up often, it's frustrating. Even having two or three of these quick-transports would save a lot of headaches if you're like me and have to have 100% map/item completion.
Much like Bionic Commando Rearmed, there are 21 different challenge courses in three sets to run through. The difficulty ramps up appropriately, and the third set is fairly difficult. While it's not a lot, it does a bit of replayability to the package. There are also various leaderboards, but in my experience they weren't updating for me, so I stopped looking at them.
For those of you concerned with the fairly steep 1200 point / $15 price tag, don't be. Play the demo for yourself, you'll instantly get a feel for the game and if it's right for you. If you're still on the fence, this game is bigger than Super Metroid and it looks a hell of a lot better. It's also the biggest XBLA game by far, at nearly 900MB. It's a whopper.
Overall, I had 100% completion for the map and the items in just under 9 hours on normal difficulty. There are several others, and an achievement for beating the game only using the required items, so there is some chance for replay. Considering there are some $60 games out there that don't give you 10 hours of game to play, I consider this one a steal at the price. Do yourself a favor and check it out, SNES memories are optional.