During the first week after Microsoft released Shadow Complex for the Xbox 360, something extraordinary happened: Over 200,000 people plunked down $20 $15 to download the game.
That makes Shadow Complex — an exploration-themed shooter in the same vein as the classic Metroid — the most downloaded single-player Xbox Live Arcade game to date. Compared to boxed retail games, 200,000 sales for a downloadable game isn’t too shabby, either.
There are a few reasons why this is important news. Foremost, at $20 $15, Shadow Complex is expensive for an Xbox Live Arcade game. Prices for these downloadable games have been trending upwards lately, not because Microsoft is gouging its customers, but because the games themselves are becoming more substantial. To put it another way, they’re worth the money you pay for them, and the big numbers for Shadow Complex prove that this trend is worthwhile.
Shadow Complex is also a bigger game, in megabytes, than its peers. For a long time, Microsoft restricted the size of Xbox Live Arcade games to 50 MB. This allowed all games to fit on a memory card so Xbox 360 owners who didn’t buy a hard drive could play along, but it put constraints on game development. Since then, Microsoft has slowly let the size of Xbox Live Arcade games creep upwards. Shadow Complex measures 835 MB, and its strong sales show that Xbox Live Arcade games don’t necessarily need to hold back in file size to be successful.
Finally, Shadow Complex is a good, long-lasting game that returns to the 2-D platforming style of the NES and SNES era. It’s not retro, per se, nor is it a cash-in on an old franchise or a casual game with Wii Sports-like appeal, but it nonetheless caught the interest of Xbox 360 owners. Marketing and hype certainly helped, but so did uniformly positive reviews.
With the cost of big-budget game development spiraling upwards, the games industry is practically killing itself. Smaller, downloadable games could be the way out, provided they’re substantial enough to satisfy hungrier gamers. With all this in mind, we should be expecting and hoping for more games like Shadow Complex.