The Rev recently had a rant about collectibles in games and it re-sparked some things I've been thinking about. I must admit, I love collecting things. In game and in real life. I enjoy collecting nick-knacks from conventions and hoarding them "just in case" and I know 95% of it I will never use. I enjoy collecting bottle caps wherever I go (but that's in preparation for the nuclear fallout in the future). I like collecting some things, not everything. "It might be useful" is my reasoning, so most things that I don't see as being potentially helpful in the future, I leave behind. However, in many video games, this counts as everything, and it has made me a better, and terrible person at the same time.
In Super Metroid, the game was almost non-linear. It had a few points where you had to do what it said in order to proceed, you have to have a certain few items and beat all the bosses to get access to the last area, but beyond that, you're free to roam. This may not seem like a big deal, but is. This game is a combination of skill and in game power. If you have better equipment, you can go and do things most people can't at the beginning, but on the other side, if you have great skill at controlling Samus, you can gain access to areas sooner, than the first guy. And since it's the most open ended of all the games in the series, you can completely miss some power ups and still beat the game. However, if you do get it, you will be playing very differently.
You can get super missles, power bombs, spazer, wave, energy tanks (which actually matter), and lots of upgrades early. Not because you got lucky and a rare drop from an enemy helps you out, not because you grind away to make the game easier later, but because you know how to play. You can skip bosses, skip whole zones and explore areas you are not 'suppose to' be at yet, but you can get there, the game doesn't stop you. It has colored doors, but that's something you can get around. It's not a linear item progression. Missiles can help you find power bombs, power bombs can help you find super missiles, a boot upgrade can help you find a weapon upgrade.
Even after you get 100% items, you are nowhere near 100% as powerful as Samus can be. Wall jumps, bomb travel, cystal flash, special attacks with a weapon upgrade and a power bomb (what? Yeah, I don't know what it's called). These are things you may never use (wall jump excluded, you will be using that), but you can, and it could be useful.
With Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, exploration is just as big as ever. There's a story (...*cough*) that you can follow, but the game is also 90% non-linear, so most of what I've said about Super Metroid is the same as SOTN, except that Symphony has drop rates for enemies so you will end up grinding endlessly for items you will never use, and some things are obscure (like not defeating one of the bosses really fast without letting him summon mudmen for you to kill and have on your monster list. What?)
That was a big fucking rant, but what's the point? These games have tons of things to collect, and I love them for it. Other games have tons of things to collect, and I hate them for it. These games reward you for your collection OCD, and with skill to back it, you can break sequences, find power ups early, and through many different play styles, play the game how you want. Shadow Complex, praised as the next great Metroidvania style game, falls flat on it's face, and I'll tell you why.
: SotN and Super Metroid don't try and pretend the story is a strong point. It wasn't about the story, in fact, even when story was suppose to matter (Every Metroid game after Super Metroid), it wasn't ever that good. That's not why I'm here. Other than Castlevania having an interesting time-line and can cheat a little on throwing in anything of lore and superstition to make it more interesting (ghosts, ghouls, demons, monsters, from any and all mythologies and legends), you still only care for the story enough to find out what you're suppose to do next. You already know the ending anyways (Spoilers: Dracula loses). Having heard of the setting being by Orson Scott Card, I was more intrigued than I initially was. I was only let down even more as the story wasn't ever gone into detail and it wasn't interesting at all. It was a boring cliche and was extremely cheesy. That said, it kind of fits with Castlevania's cheesy yet lovable dialogue. There were a few points where I laughed for the right reasons, but there were six more "What the fuck" around the corner. "Hide me behind the boxes". He proceeds to leave her on the floor in front of the door. Good job, they'll never find her. *sigh*
: Depending on what you have access to, you will fight enemies, bosses, and even travel differently in Metroidvanias. In Metroid, you run and shoot with your gun, freeze enemies and shoot missiles, go hyper speed and run through them, and space jump to your destination. In Symphony, you attack and defend with your shield, swing with your big two-hander, transform into an animal and fly/run through your enemies, fly up waterfalls in bat form, hyper-jump up high cliffs, you equip your crissigram/vorpal blade/Alucard Shield+Shield Rod and walk through your enemies. You actually play differently as you gain access to new abilities. In Shadow Complex, you have missiles, foam, and grenades, but most of the time, melee and your gun will kill things just as fast, if not faster, than any of your 'upgrades'. Why does it even matter? Also, you have less reason to find collectibles because none of it is necessary for the boss, as you LITERALLY BECOME IMMUNE TO ENEMY ATTACKS later in the game, and you get unlimited ammo for your secondary weapons when you grind to enough levels on the higher difficulties (also, it's not difficult, ever, it only becomes cheap with enemies doing tons more damage, instead of smarter or better enemy layout or something). You never get a new weapon, you just get a better one. There's no choice about it, your gun is just better in every way. No drawback, no descisions. "Ice beam freezes, but takes an extra shot to kill, spazer has better coverage but plasma does better damage (Note, you always took Plasma)." In Castlevania, it's even more expansive in options because you have a million fucking things you can equip to cater to your playstyle. In Shadow Complex, there's no choice of guns, the pistol is shit, the SMG is better in every way possible. The SMG is shit, the Inertial Element is just better. No questions asked, so good that we throw away our old gun immediately. Every time. There's no thinking to this game.
Also, that fake 3D with shooting into the background auto aim crap gets really old, really fast. I can't count the number of times I'm trying to shoot the guy right next to me, and it shoots at a box or target way i the background instead, getting me killed because there's five guys coming out of that hallway, and I'd rather shoot them than stop the machine gun fire directly in front of me. Shadow Complex did something amazing. Took the exploration out of a Metroidvania, took the skill out of Metroidvania, and added in Grinding, Frustrating Controls, and monotonous cramped level design.
Oh yeah, that level design. It felt too cramped and it was a pain to find where places connected. Nothing on the map is all that distinctive except for the top levels, and navigating becomes a frustrating chore. Expansiveness and ambiance are what made Metroidvania games great. You knew which areas were which areas, and it never felt forced. In Metroid, the zones were connected, but were separate and unique. In Castlevania, the world was even larger and each area was given space to breathe, having hallways or passages that exist merely to add flavor or scenery. I wanted to explore both of these worlds, with their cold chilling water world, or their crypts and graves. The hot air warping in the background, the lost souls trapped in the prison, they were each exciting to discover and you remembered them. Even if you couldn't remember them perfectly, a look at the map will help you find the general area. In shadow complex, there were three or four distinct rooms, but there were so few areas that were bigger than 2x2, you're always looking at a bunch of small indistinguishable rooms, or a dozen 2x2 rooms. There's no markers, as there's a ton of save rooms and they're not very distinct, and all the rooms look the same. There's different areas, the factory, the research area, the cave, but most of it is just one or two rooms in a large zone, and all of it looks like a factory. There are no landmarks to help you in this game, and if you tried looking at the mini-map, you'll see a map that has most of the grids filled in and compacted together. It felt like they were limited by how much map they wanted (or could use) and instead of spacing things out to make the zones have space to breath and feel unique, it's all mushed together.
Exploration is a joke, because there is no new zones to discover, no new power up to stumble upon. They tell you how many things you need to get, and they aren't that interesting. Jump twice, Jump Three Times? Can't get a jetpack this late in the game? Speed boost was interesting, but there was only 3 or 4 places you could use it, and all of them was designed to be used. There were no hallways to travel that became easier once you got that upgrade, they wanted to make sure you could not break the game in any way (Excpet by glitching it, freezing it, having enemies clip through the walls, and you clipping through the floors to crash the game). In fact, they put in one specific scene for speed runners and sequence breakers to get access to certain items early. They built it in. That's a fucking cheat. There's no discovery in this game, no exploration, you are always being led by a leash and it's just as well, because searching for something interesting on your own will leave you disappointed. You can only find missiles behind doors that can only be opened with missiles, you can only get grenades behind grates that open with grenades, and foam with foam. They took no risks with this game and to call this a Metroidvania is a spit in the face. There's nothing beyond linear gameplay (unless you like acquiring useless fluff that you don't need and will never use), unless you want them to spoon feed you a cheap excuse for replay, that being their new game+, keep your level upgrades (unlimited ammo, etc) and "you can sequence break if you get to this place after a boss and follow through this convoluted path to get certain items early". Oh, thanks.
Also, adding in 'instant kill' lasers and fire to places? That's kind of pointless. Having doors that are one way and areas sealed off for no apparent reason other than "We want to make you take the long way" is mind numbing. I can understand you wanting the player to get the power up in the next room after the boss, but making certain areas permanently one way, and some doors never open again makes this game have a lot of dead ends (that do NOT appear on the map).It turns the game (even more) into a arcade shooter than Metroidvania game. Suprisingly, the best part of the game was the VR room it had. The last level only, everything before that was mostly boring. If the game had been just 30 or 40 of these kinds of games, with power ups to get and a time to beat, rather than a shitty map and crappy story, I would have enjoyed it 100 times more. Also, the game is short, in a bad way. To get 100% and do everything takes little effort. Even in Super Metroid, exploring took a long time and finding everything could be a challenge. It's nearly impossible in Castlevania. Even after you beat these two games, you could replay it and do things differently and get access to different things and play differently. Not so with Shadow Complex. Your modes are "Frustrating" and "More Frustrating".
: The controls in Super Metroid were great, but could be better. They were made better in later installments, but it played beautifully still. Minor inconveniences at worst. In Castlevania, they were fluid and responsive. There was no delay between you telling him, and him doing. In Shadow Complex, the controls get me killed more than anything else. Shooting at the right target becomes an exercise in patience. Climbing around is annoying too, as you want to drop to the floor, you end up grabbing a ledge, or trying to get off a ledge, you jump up and go where you don't want to. Shooting straight up is also teeth-grindingly annoying, as you can only ever shoot up from in front of you, never directly above you. Try to aim directly above you and you end up turning the other way, and still aiming too far away. It's always up slightly in front or behind you. In water, this is greatly enhanced as you have to turn around to face your enemy, you end up aiming poorly as you flip and turn trying to aim at your target. Jumping out of the water to aim at someone or trying to aim at someone while you float on the water can be frustrating as well, thankfully these things don't come up very often (water related), but the vertical aiming does.
: Some people might not care, but I do. As I said with gameplay, Metroidvania games are dripping, drowning in ambiance. You remember that room with all the pink spores or the one with bubbles, you remember finding a pitch black area or scenes with rapidly rising lava. You remember the confession booth where the damned revealed their sins, or the room with a fountain with water that turns into blood, the butcher with meat hanging, the prison bars shaking as the eternally damned try to escape. These things stay with you and make areas memorable. When you want to come back, you remember it. The bosses in both games were memorable as well, although Castlevania not as much as Metroid, only becasue there were so many of them and the second half of the game, many of them felt necessary. Changing areas can change the way you play, because you know (or don't know) what to expect. The music changes and reflects the setting (most of the time, again, Castlevania, second half of the game, you know what I mean if you've played. You'll get tired of that ONE SONG). There is none of this in Shadow Complex. There is no music, each area is as forgettable as the last, the bosses were never memorable (Weaknesses to exploit? Unique look? level designed for him?).
There were only two (three?) bosses (besides the last boss) that was interesting. the first one where you had to use grenades to blow it up with the gas in the pipes, and the rolling ... thing. The rolling thing actually slowly loses life as it rolls around, and my friend went to take a call and forgot to pause, came back 10 minutes later and saw the boss at half life, never even touching him. The third (?) boss is the one with tall legs, you're suppose to freeze the joints and pull open it's back side and sticky a grenade there but standing there and holding down the attack button works just as well, I never did it once. There are these super soldiers you meet that are suppose to pose a challenge but I started firing straight in front of me and they never touched me. Their projectiles are destroyed by your bullets, so it was literally no challenge. Also, I stumbled onto the last boss. I LITERALLY accidentally arrived at the last boss and was so disappointed that the game ended on such a low point. I thought I was maybe, two or three bosses away from the end. Everything before was to prepare me for the uber-mech or the death chamber, but I guess not.
There's never a sense that anything you do is taken serious or makes a difference either. By the end of the game, all that you accomplished was annoy them as they were already ready with their final plan. You fight enemies and except for a few scenes (when they're scripted to respond the same every time so it feels boring anyways), they just start shooting and die, and that's it. No reinforcements like in a metal gear game, no reason to play stealth (although they force you to at times, so I guess it's not technically stealth). It was kind of cool using vents and hidden passages to explore in the beginning, but they become frustrating as your only means of travel through many zones, and it's not like you ever need to stealth, even when given the opportunity. Doors don't lock up, they don't send out more patrols, enemies don't ever get harder (Guy with gun, big guy with gun, guy with grapple beam and gun, repeat. Also, the grapple guy is a fucking asshole, immune to melee and deals a fuckton of damage). The gameplay and exploration were boring filler until the good stuff starts up. At least, you were hoping for the good stuff, only to be let down. And the design of the areas were meant to look interesting, 9/10 were just annoying. You can't see the floor you're suppose to break because of the camera angle and the foreground so you end up shooting anything and everything you have to try and find that passage way. Jumping and flailing around like an idiot.
Metroidvania games to me are about the destination, not just stopping to smell the roses, but also checking under them for a new upgrade. You play at your own speed and are rewarded by exploring the expansive, flavorful worlds that were created. The controls feel like an extension of your own body as you equip yourself with what you want and blaze through the game. You were rewarded when you solve a puzzle, discover a pattern or find a secret. With Shadow Complex, the journey wasn't that interesting and the story tries too hard to make you care. Shadow Complex was a journey that had you on a short leash and took you through a boring factory to arrive at someplace you didn't want to go anyways.
And even as I ranted about how much I hate this game being branded as a Metroidvania game, I still think it was a decent game on it's own merits. It took chances, some were (briefly) a success (at times), and the polish and look of the game was fantastic. It was a good attempt, but to call it a Metroidvania makes me want to punch babies.
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