It’s dark outside and the power just went out. Now what do you do? If you answered with breaking out your backlit Nintendo DS or Sony PSP and playing that until the lights come back on, then you are a cheater and totally just defeated the point I was trying to make. When I was a kid, we would flick on some flashlights and make shadow puppets on the wall. It’s actually quite amazing how many crazy shapes the human hands can make. Now, the developers at Deep Fried Entertainment hope to recreate this childhood delight within a simple WiiWare title. Does ShadowPlay succeed at virtual shadow crafting, or is your money better spent on a set of D size Duracells for your flashlight?
When you begin ShadowPlay, you are greeted by a somewhat extensive tutorial mode that breaks down every facet of the game, one step at a time. Upon completion, the first of the game’s total 100 puzzles awaits you, and you progress through them one by one. Each puzzle is categorized by a theme, so you’ll find yourself putting together everything from ducks to banjos.
Outside of the main game, ShadowPlay contains what’s called FreePlay mode where you can take the objects that you earned solving puzzles and use them to form shapes of your own. It was a good inclusion to be sure, as goofing around is what manipulating shadows was all about to begin with, am I right? Still, there’s no way to save the things that you have made in any form, so I was a little disappointed with that.
Included is a two player co-op mode, in case you have an extra Wii Motion Plus accessory laying around. Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to test it out myself as asking my friends to play shadow puppets with me on my TV screen isn’t exactly an easy sell. However, I could probably imagine the experience to be similar to that of helping a friend with a jigsaw puzzle.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
Visuals are typically not all that important when it comes to puzzle games, but it doesn’t hurt to have your objects look good either. All of your shadow puppeteering will take place on a canvas in what appears to be a miniature studio. The locale does not change at all, so the studios are identical on every puzzle. The background image on the canvas is unique with each puzzle though, but since you’ll be so focused on the task at hand, you’ll hardly notice.
There is a vast range of objects that you will have to use to put your images together, and despite being a mishmash of generic items, they have a nice amount of detail to them. It may be just a slice of pizza, but it’s cool that they took the time to decorate it with pepperoni when it really wasn’t all that necessary. You’ll also find nice looking bananas, basketballs, and candy canes.
Graphics Rating: Good
I pray that you will enjoy the tune that loops over and over again in the background, because that’s the only song you’ll hearing during the course of the game. It’s kind of an offbeat song, and very difficult to describe. It sounds like something that you would hear while watching a silent film. It’s not too distracting though, and you will likely forget that it’s there while you are trying to assemble shadow teddy bears.
The rest of the soundtrack is rounded out by your typical selection and deselection noises that you hear in these types of games. You’ll also be alerted by little bells when you are getting close to solving the puzzle. Everything you hear in ShadowPlay is serviceable, but not extraordinary by any means. It does its job within the context of the game, but don’t expect to want to download the mp3 files and put them on your iPod.
Sound Rating: Mediocre
The object of ShadowPlay is to use an arsenal of preselected items in which to cast a shadow over a familiar shape on the background canvas. There is a clock that keeps track of your time in the upper left corner, but it’s mainly just for show. You have as much time as you need to complete the puzzle, so there’s really no rush to figure out what you are doing. There is also a reel icon on the bottom left that will change to bronze, silver, and then to gold when you get closer to reaching the goal. You can technically complete the puzzle if you reach bronze, but since that particular rating is so lenient, you don’t feel as accomplished settling for less.
The most notable tool for object manipulation in this game is the Wii Motion Plus accessory. I was rather excited that a WiiWare title of all things put this device to such good use, as I really needed a new game to use it on outside of Wii Sports Resort. You’re going to have to make a lot of subtle movements while flipping and rotating the various objects you are given, and this game makes fantastic use of the Wii Motion Plus technology in order to do that.
Besides rotating items, you can also make them move closer or farther from the light in order to make the object bigger or smaller. On occasion, your screen may get cluttered from all the stuff that you are using to make shadows, so you also have the option of zooming the camera out or shifting it to the left or right side of the screen. You’ll find yourself doing this a lot, and unfortunately the same button that is used to shift the camera is also the one to begin rotating an item. I had a bad habit of forgetting to de-select things before I tried to shift the camera around and I ended up making things worse for myself. Luckily, you have the option of locking down items you’ve already placed, so you don’t accidentally move them.
The pace of the game is very linear and as such, it’s very easy to overlook that you don’t necessarily have to play the puzzles in order (I know I did). If you find that you’re stuck on a particular puzzle, you can exit out of it and choose from a few more to tackle instead. The ones that are unlocked will be flagged with a “new” symbol on the theme menu and the farther you progress in the game, the more that become available to you at any given time. This ensures that you won’t be banging your head on the wall for long if you ever get stuck, which is a nice feature to have in a title like this.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
If you think about it, 100 puzzles is quite a few, especially for a person like me. This isn’t to say that I don’t like to use my brain. It’s just that truthfully, I can only play games like this for a short amount of time before I have to rest my mind. That said, after you’ve completed them all and gotten the gold, the only thing really left to do is try to top your best time on each puzzle. That, or mess around in the FreePlay mode and see what kind of crazy creations you can come up with. This mode would’ve really benefited from allowing users to submit their creations to a central database where they can be shared and viewed with other players of the game. Even better, a mode where you could create your own shadows for other people could extend the replay value of this game to LittleBigPlanet proportions! For an $8 game though, you really can’t complain too much.
Replayability Rating: Poor
It’s hard to say that this game is difficult, since there’s really no way you can lose. You can’t run out of time, you can’t mess up, and you’re not penalized for anything you do. Despite this, some puzzles are tricky and you may have to think on it awhile before you figure out the solution.
One major complaint I had was how finicky the game was about judging how close you were to solving a puzzle. A few pixels will sometimes mean the difference between a silver and a gold. There were several occasions where I honestly couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong because everything was so close and unfortunately, they will not give you hints on which object is the offender. Also, since the screen will be so cluttered with objects, get used to many of them being in the way as you’re trying to form the picture.
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
The wonderful thing about WiiWare is its wealth of fresh ideas and innovative gameplay, and ShadowPlay is a shining example of that. Being a low budget downloadable title means you have more freedom to explore new concepts that have yet to be seen most retail titles that are out there. That’s exactly what this industry needs. How many other shadow puppet games can you think of off the top of your head? That’s what I thought. It’s such a great concept, that it’s a surprise that someone hadn’t thought of it earlier. Something like this might be too niche to have gone to retail during the previous console generation, but it’s perfect as a downloadable title.
Originality Rating: Classic
Earlier in this review I made a statement about how I could only play this game in small intervals. It’s hard to take away from that comment that I did enjoy this game, so I will take a moment to elaborate here. Despite having to put the game down every several puzzles, I’m still compelled to come back and play it some more. The shapes that you have to fill on the canvas combined with the random and sometimes utterly absurd objects that you are given combine to make some really clever puzzles. You truly have to use your head for this game, unlike say Tetris where all your movements and decisions become automated after awhile. Because you are not timed, it creates a no pressure atmosphere in which to complete the puzzles. It’s a very mellow game to play in your free time.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
The problem I can see ShadowPlay having is that because it is such a unique idea, most users on the Wii Shop Channel may overlook it. That’s unfortunate, because it’s truly a diamond in the rough when it comes to puzzle games. I don’t even like puzzle games all that much, and I enjoy this title every time I have a chance to sit down with it. It’s something anybody could get into as long as they are willing to sit down and at least give it a try. The gameplay is going to be consistent throughout the entire game, so you will know within minutes if it’s something you will like or not.
Appeal Rating: Great
This game is only $8 on the Wii Shop Channel, and even though it’s not an incredibly long game, you get a really good value for what you are paying for it. There are a ton of WiiWare puzzle games out there, and it’s nice to find one that’s actually original and not derivative of other titles on the market. It’s also a game that’s truly made for the Wii hardware, as the control scheme used is not something that could be duplicated on the Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Network. In fact, using conventional controls would likely make a mess out of a game like this, so I wouldn’t want to see this on the other consoles as it would tarnish what’s unique about this title.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
ShadowPlay takes the simple concept of creating shadows on the wall and turns it into a full fledged WiiWare game. It’s an extremely offbeat idea that is incredibly well executed and will likely please casual gamers and puzzle fans alike. It’s also the first WiiWare title to take advantage of the Wii Motion Plus accessory and it’s a game made better for having done it. If you want a good WiiWare puzzler that will give you a good bang for your buck, then look no further than ShadowPlay