Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review
Game: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Developer: Shadow Planet Productions (Fuelcell Games/Gagne International)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 Only
Xbox LIVE Arcade certainly seems to deliver the goods each year with their Summer Of Arcade promotion. This time last year we were treated to the sublimely creepy platformer Limbo, which we had a look at last week as it finally trickled out for PlayStation Network after a year-long period of exclusivity.
Now Sony fanboys can prepare to be biliously green with envy once again, because one of the showcase titles in this year’s seasonal love-in is another indie gem and one of the best new games released anywhere so far in 2011.
Excellence is not the only thing that the clumsily named Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet shares with Limbo. They both have bold and striking graphical styles, oodles of originality and expertly implemented gameplay mechanics subtly pinched from other classic gaming fare. Both games manage to succeed without a dirge of boring cutscenes and wordy guide-you-by-the-hand tutorials, and they also both made quite a splash in gaming circles in the build up to release time, with this debut title from Fuelcell games scooping a plethora of “Best Of Show” accolades at the recent E3 game shindig.
These good early impressions were not unfounded – this is an absolute corker.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a maze-negotiating, puzzle solving sci-fi shooter that places you in control of a tiny, unconventionally cute flying saucer that could have waltzed in straight out of the underrated Spielberg-produced 1987 movie *batteries not included.
Your wee extraterrestrial spacecraft starts out with just one gadget in its arsenal, a beam that is used to scan your surroundings. Scanning certain objects not only updates areas of the easily-accessed map, but also presents visual clues on what you need to do next. You explore the terrain and are gradually introduced to more gadgetry that is in turn used to solve puzzles and overcome enemies.
Your inventory is accessed with one button press, bringing up a wagon wheel which allows you to select an item by scrolling the stick around in a circular motion. You are not forced to enter the menu too often either, because you can map up to four of your toys to the face buttons of the controller. Using a weapon or tool is also dead simple, with just the one trigger operating everything, and what fun you will have with what is at your disposal.
A laser beam is used to destroy foes or perishable scenery, a mechanical arm is utilised to grab onto things and drag them around, and later on guidable missiles, shields and other useful tools are snaffled up and put to use in a variety of ways. The learning curve and steady drip feed of new kit is expertly done, likewise the way your scanner picks up visual on-screen aids is perfectly logical and as close as Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet comes to leading you by the ever-so-adorable flying saucer arm. Each of your abilities can also be levelled up by collecting artifacts along the way, which is a boon because the further you explore, the trickier the puzzles, and the tougher the enemies become.
A good example early on of how well this system works comes when you are encountered with huge snaking worm-structures that intermittently suck your craft toward them in a vacuum. How do you get past them? A quick scan indicates that your grappling arm may be the answer. Then you notice that there are some moveable rocks in the vicinity! Grab the rock, hold it in front of the sucker, and it gets drawn in, plugging up the worm’s sucker, making it retreat and allowing you passage. Simply brilliant.
Exploring every nook and cranny of the level map is compulsive stuff, and each new area brings different challenges and ways of dealing with them. The levels are vast and varied, and sometimes you will die several times simply as a result of having to work out, on the fly, how to deal with the next section or a particular new variety of enemy. Case in point, yours truly was repeatedly mullered by a bunch of homing-missile-like Pitch Black style flying bats until I learned their patterns and was able to deliver them to their maker with some laser punishment. So thank goodness that save points (which come in the form of orbs that also serve as safe havens, shielding you from attacks) are plentiful and well placed. There are also lots of hidden items to seek out, which when collected unlock such treats as concept artwork.
The visuals truly are a rare treat. Graphic novelist Michel Gagné has been involved with this title from day one, and his flair for design has resulted in a remarkable looking affair. Each of the levels is a graphical tour-de-force, all beautifully animated twisting shadows, vivid colours and imaginitive enemies that surprise and delight with every turn. You have to pinch yourself sometimes these days, when you consider how amazingly designed and sexy-looking these downloadable games are. What an age we live in.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is not a huge game, and at a push you will be lucky to get five hours out of it, but that may not neccessarily account for revealing all of the world maps, and discovering all of the secret objects. What is on offer in single player mode is enthralling nonetheless, and a joy to play. There is more, however.
Lantern Run is a brilliant additional mode, which sets you the task of dragging a light beacon as far as you can through an obstacle, puzzle and baddies-laden course whilst being chased by a giant, tentacled beastie. Your score is increased the further you make it along the way, but also by the number of critters you destroy. In an awesome twist this can be played online with up to three mates, so it becomes not only co-operative but also competitive as you all try to rack up the highest score.
VERDICT: For your Microsoft Points you get an absolute beauty of a single player game that you will not want to put down until you have completely cracked it. The exploratory gameplay, huge maps and individual graphical flair evoke such luminary titles as Metroid, Thrust and even Ecco The Dolphin, while creating something fresh and new. With the British weather as frustratingly inconsistent as ever this summer, you could do a hell of a lot worse than to spend some time in the LIVE Arcade with this instant classic.