Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Publisher: Fuelcell Games
Developer: Shadow Planet Productions
Release Date: 08/03/2011
As we enter yet another Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade event, digital gamers look forward to the best of the year’s offerings. With hits such as LIMBO landing on the service through the program, such anticipation is certainly warranted.
This year’s event now brings us to Fuelcell Games’ Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, a relatively unknown project prior to its inclusion in the Summer of Arcade. ITSP jumps on the service as this year’s “LIMBO,”Â and not only is it going to difficult for the other titles in the promotion to top it, but, so far, the game is easily one of the best digital offerings released in 2011.
This will now be the third time I have brought up LIMBO in this review, but the comparisons are very apt – the story is ambiguous and brief and the presentation is full of darkness and ambience. ITSP sees players assume the role of an alien which is controlled via a spaceship. In the opening of the game, the alien’s home world is infested with dark and brooding plant-style life and it is up to players to break free from the home world in order to find the source of the invasion.
Further story is told through very short snippets players can unlock by exploring the game world and, obviously, the conclusion also tags on additional video to wind it down. That being said, there isn’t a whole lot of narrative substance here, but, thankfully, the presentation and gameplay pad this out nicely.
To top out the game’s modes, ITSP does go a little further to provide a Lantern Run mode, which can be enjoyed by multiple players working together to avoid a pursuing monster. Its ultimate lack of lasting power might make it seem a little tacked on, but being able to tag up with friends locally or online provides a stark contrast from the single-player campaign, which is designed to make players feel desperate and lonely.
To put the game in simplistic terms, ITSP provides players with exploration gameplay reminiscent of the Metroid series while injecting LIMBO-style presentation. ITSP obviously differs in its general gameplay mechanics since players control a flying spaceship at all times and navigating the craft is easy enough. The left analog stick handles the simple, arcade style flight controls very well and, in tandem with the right trigger and right analog stick, players are given a fluid twin-stick shooter mechanic to base the controls on.
Due to the exploration, though, the game is much more involved than flying through stages and blasting baddies. Starting off with a weak blaster and ship armor, it’s up to players to locate the nine total tools to be used through the course of the game. Much like other games in the genre, locating these tools is what enables players to backtrack or continue further to reach new areas and scoop up hidden goodies that range from gallery materials to upgrades to your shields and blaster.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is the ship’s scanner. By firing off a scanning beam, players can lock onto points of interest and receive visual cues of how the player can interact with the item. This mechanic and the use of the genre works well when combined with the title’s expansive map and the game encourages the full, 100 percent completion players receive by scanning every nook and cranny on the shadow planet.
Because ITSP does its best to make you feel alone and ensnared in the alien menace, the game often leaves you to your own devices to figure things out. It isn’t always totally obvious what players need to do and the title certainly doesn’t hold players’ hands throughout the journey. Those thinking the title will be a straight action title will be in for a rude awakening, as the game itself could hardly be described as difficult, but, instead, the journey for progression is thought provoking and further facilitated due to the injection of puzzles and boss encounters where players need to rely on brains instead of brawn.
In the end, the journey isn’t the longest players will experience, which hurts its long-term value, but ITSP is one of those games filled with “ah ha!”Â moments when players figure out what it is they need to do. While ITSP will likely provide most players with five to six hours of straight gameplay, with up to eight to 10 to players willing to see 100 percent of the story and enjoy the Lantern Run, the presentation and core gameplay will likely stick in the mind of the player, giving it a lasting impact.
Of course, ITSP doesn’t come without its minor gameplay snafus. In the control department, the assignment of tools does at times become a bit cumbersome and in the midst of danger, it is nearly futile. Tools are mapped four at a time to the face buttons and are changed in real time during gameplay by holding a bumper, using the right analog stick and pressing the desired face button. Players soon become adjusted to it, but it certainly lead to minor irritations at various stages of the game.
Furthermore, interacting with a few of the puzzle elements, most specifically, the gems used in refracting light beams to solve puzzles in the ice environment, wasn’t always spot on. Eventually these items work the way they are supposed to, but I encountered a few interaction snags that were mildly frustrating.
Still, nothing took me completely out of having fun with the title, which is complemented with striking presentation – following after Bastion, this might be a theme for this year’s promotion.
With the screenshots and videos provided prior to launch, it is difficult to not notice the visuals provided by artist Michel Gange. The best way I can describe the visuals is by combining LIMBO‘s dark and brooding presence with the color and characterization shown by French artist Rolito in Sony’s Patapon series.
The lighting and vibrant colors play off each other in a number of varying environments, yet, when it wants to, the title deprives the visuals of much color in order to build up a darker mood. The alien planet is also brought to life be fluid animations, both on the playfield and in the background. Everything comes together for a unique presentation that is sure to please anyone.
The sound in ITSP also makes a mark by developing a mood. While the orchestral music ties in with the brief story segments well, a majority of the title is spent soaking in the ambience of the alien planet. Audible cues such as wind currents and monsters voicing their discontent tie into the gameplay, while eerie noises and the beeping of the player’s ship pull players into the game world. ITSP‘s audio is an example of a title where the minimalist approach works well and is part of its overall appeal. It’s easy for one to ask for more in the audio department, but what is here establishes its identity and it is all very well done.
ITSP is mostly targeted toward adventure fans who are not content with moving on from a game until they have combed over every possible corner of the game world. Unlike full retail offerings, ITSP does this in a bite-sized offering for a lower price. With a potential of around 10 hours, $15 is a fair asking price for the title, especially when you consider you can burn through most of this year’s $60 retail titles in a similar time or less.
If you’re the type of person who avoids the Metroid or post-SotN Castlevania titles, though, I don’t think ITSP is going to change your mind on the genre. Also, again, ITSP doesn’t hold the player’s hand through the game. If you are the type of player that doesn’t like crunching the occasional logic and just exploring a game world, you’ll want to stay away from this title.
However, ITSP is one of those titles that is just as much an experience as it is a game. Shadow Planet Productions has crafted an intriguing world and, true to the genre, the game is hard to put down once a player starts to snowball in power. It isn’t without a few minor snags, but the end product delivers a satisfying, yet eerie, experience.
Control and Gameplay: INCREDIBLE
Originality: VERY GOOD
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet lumps the exploration and expansive game world of Metroid with the eerie presentation of LIMBO and splashes on some Patapon-style coloring and characterization to creating an engrossing and unique experience. The excellent presentation is backed by a solid combination of logic puzzles and action that is hard to pull away from once the player starts getting into the game. There are a few minor control snags, the story is thin and some players might consider the single-player mode a bit short and players who don’t like to figure things out on their own will be turned off by the mechanics, but, overall, ITSP is impressive from top to bottom.