Aug 2, 2011

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Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review

If anything can be said about this years Summer of Arcade, it’s that each game has been visually stunning.  Out of all of the games this year, the one that sticks out most to me is Fuelcell Games Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Much like Limbo released during last years SoA, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s use of dark silhouettes is downright gorgeous.  While there’s no doubt how beautiful the graphics are, does Shadow Planet’s gameplay excel as well?

Not much is known about the back-story of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and nearly nothing is really explained.  You’re piloting a space ship and immediately begin exploring an unknown area with barely any tools at your disposal.  Armed with a scanning tool and what amounts to a pellet shooter, you’re off exploring the unknown areas in the distance.  Throughout your journey you encounter tons of hostile creatures, huge bosses, and find dozens of items including powerups and other important pickups.  These random items often level up your weapons, add new tools to your arsenal, or even reveal very short clips of whats wrong with this dark planet.  Overall though the story is nonexistent and really amounts to you flying and exploring the areas.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was influenced by Metroid.  Both are sprawling 2D adventures that require careful exploration to advance, as well as test both reflexes and common sense.  Often times in Shadow Planet you’ll hit a roadblock that can’t be passed without adding specific tools to your arsenal.  Unfortunately, many of these tools are either guarded by enemies in unknown areas or require some puzzle to be solved in order to retrieve them.  After you successfully attain these items a boss battle usually commences forcing players to quickly learn how to use the new item to down their foes.  While some can be defeated by simply shooting repeatedly, others need different methods and often involve the environment or enemies around the boss.  Aside from battling foes, a good majority of the game involves just exploring your surroundings and figuring out ways to use your tools to reveal more secrets the planet has to offer.

The presentation of the planet and all that inhabits it is incredibly detailed and downright gorgeous.  Each enemy, obstacle, and tool is fluidly animated and definitely helps the world feel alive.  There are a variety of Backgrounds and environments with one area filled with water, another lacking light, and one covered in crystals.  Players will have plenty of time to soak in the environment due to the fact that there’s no on-screen HUD.  Each upgrade is visibly seen on your ship and injuries are displayed through deterioration both on players as well as on enemies.  The map as well as your scan tool does enough to provide some direction but some players may be turned off by it’s simplistic presentation.  Personally I believe it not only adds to the atmosphere but helps the whole sense of being lost in an unknown world.

Control is near perfect and easy for anyone to pick up.  Movement is managed by the left stick while the right controls tools combined with pulling the right trigger.  Switching between tools is managed with the push of the right bumper and up to four can be mapped to the face buttons.  The easiest way to describe gameplay would be to fuse Geometry Wars twin stick controls with Metroid’s scope and direction.  It often gets tough remembering what symbol represents which tool but it was never aggravating and discovering each ones different functions is rewarding.  With the fluid animations, tight controls, and variety of tools at your disposal you’re treated to one of the two best Metroid-esque titles on the marketplace (the other being Shadow Complex).

The single-player campaign is lengthy enough but can be beaten in a weekend or a long gaming session.  Luckily through online co-op or local co-op, up to four players can engage in “Lantern-Runs.”  In Lantern Runs each player must pull a lantern as far along as they can without getting smothered by a screen filling enemies from the left side.  While they continue pushing forward to the right they not only have to defeat enemies but dodge obstacles and collect powerups.  The game is over when all players die or when every lantern is extinguished.  As simple as the game can be it’s incredibly fun and requires a decent amount of teamwork.  My friends and I spent nearly four hours straight attempting to make it to the end and felt very accomplished after finally having one lantern survive to the finish.  There’s only one mode for multiplayer but as a bonus to the excellent single-player experience it’s definitely a nice touch.

As much as I enjoyed Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the only thing I can really complain about is it’s replayability.  The campaign clocks in at a respectable length and the multiplayer adds a few more hours but there’s really no incentive to return after your adventure.  The adventure itself is entertaining though, providing more then enough to warrant a purchase.  Epic boss fights, beautiful visuals, addictive gameplay, and clever exploration amount to one truly enjoyable arcade experience.  While not perfect and sometimes confusing, I’d highly recommend downloading it.  Even if you weren’t the biggest Metroid or Shadow Complex fan, give Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet a chance.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Action-Adventure
Release Date: 08/03/11
Developer: FuelCell/Gagne Intl'l
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
MSRP: 1200MSP ($15)