Calling your game “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” creates an expectation right off the bat. Is the planet shadowy? Is the planet twisted? And most importantly, is the twisted, shadowy planet INSANELY twisted and shadowy? The name alone creates a list of criteria that must be met. Does Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (say that five times fast), the third entry in this year’s Summer of Arcade following Bastion and From Dust, live up to its name? If it does live up to its name, is that necessarily a good thing?
SPOILER: it does, and it is.
There was one thing in particular that really stood out when I started Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (by the way, I don’t think I’ll be abbreviating the game’s title in this review; just a hunch) for the first time, and contrary to expectations, it wasn’t the graphics. The first truly impressive moment in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (so far, so good) was the sublimely powerful soundtrack used during the opening sequence. Without dialogue or subtitles, the instrumental music did an excellent job of accentuating the story being told through the visual sequence. It’s auditory bliss.
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Visually, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is brilliantly stunning, and highly reminiscent of games like Limbo and Outland, leaning more towards the colorful elegance of Outland. As you progress through the game, from one area to another, you’ll notice wildly different environments with different colors and design elements. From a fluidly designed underwater area with a muted greenish-blue shade and multi-colored corals to the bright white and blue jagged design of the ice area, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet makes sure to keep the environments fresh and interesting, while the animations are incredibly smooth and fluid.
The gameplay will be familiar to any of you who have been playing games long enough. Taking a page from Metroid, Castlevania, and others, there is a great deal of map exploration available for unlockables and upgrades. Taking another, more important page from games of the Metroidvania type (which apparently, as I just discovered, can also be called Castleroid, though that does sound like a rather embarrassing medical condition…), Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet provides you with new weapons and abilities as you progress, granting you access to previously inaccessible areas and granting you the ability to interact with objects that could not previously be interacted with. From the low-tech thrill of a giant buzzsaw to the high-tech suaveness of a precision laser beam, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet provides you with a plethora of goodies to use when battling your way through the insanely twisted shadow planet for which the game is named. The only gameplay issue I had was that aiming your weapon/device was, for certain weapons/devices, not as intuitive as I would have liked. There did not seem to be as many points of articulation, for lack of a better term, which resulted in less pinpoint accuracy with aiming. The inertia of your craft and device don’t help either, as it’s difficult to make very minute adjustments.
The game comes in on the shorter side, yes, but it does make up for that a bit with a co-operative multiplayer mode called Lantern Run. Lantern Run reminded me immediately of the final level of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, with a giant Bowser chasing you through a side-scrolling platform level. In Lantern Run, two to four players co-operatively transport their own colored lamps while avoiding/removing obstacles, destroying enemies, and staying ahead of the giant squid-tentacle-eyeball monster-thing as he inexorably advances.
Overall, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is not the best 2011 Summer of Arcade game I’ve played, but it’s a damn good game, and does its part in keeping this year’s Summer of Arcade event running on a good note. Even with the shorter length, the game is worth playing just for the sensory experience provided by the aural and visual design. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is available now for 1200 MSP on the XBL Marketplace. 3 for 3 so far, Summer of Arcade.
Aiming can be frustrating at times