Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
“If I had only one word to describe Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, it would be imaginative”
With the Summer of Arcade 2011 now in full swing, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) is this week’s must-have title. You are the pilot of a small spaceship, which can be equipped with a plethora of tools from a laser to a crane. It is your job to explore, collect artifacts, and, of course, dispose of any pesky bosses that happen to be in your path. ITSP is in essence an exploration puzzler with twin stick shooting. This may seem a bizarre combination, but somehow, Shadow Planet Productions have brought this genre-combo together and made it work.
But Where Am I?
ITSP consists of five different zones, ranging from organic to magnetic. Each zone has a different feel to it, and whilst keeping the same themes, creates different puzzle scenarios and enemies. The zones are linked by a central hub allowing back tracking at any time. Autosaves are scattered throughout the planet, meaning that any unplanned fiery death will only put you back a couple of minutes at the most.
The twin stick shooting element does take a little adjustment, as equipping from the tool menu isn’t great. This is countered, however, by the ability to hot-key four tools of your choice on to your buttons. The ability to do this at any point means a minor degree of strategic planning should eliminate any frustration during combat.
This sounds familiar…
With limited story telling, a minimalist art style and only ambient sound in the background, you could be forgiven for instantly shouting “Limbo”, but the fresh bright colours used against the black shadows are but one example of how ITSP is something unique. Similar games that do come to mind are actually games from a forgotten generation. It has been likened to the original Metroid and Castlevania titles repeatedly, whilst I’d like to suggest that some of the puzzle gameplay brought back memories of Myst, as you receive no help as you’re on your journey. There’s no doubt that some of the puzzles will have you scratching your head, but the change of pace from frantic shooter to sedate puzzle is balanced in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed.
The lack of instruction could be the Marmite issue in this game. Whilst the puzzle-hardened will love the tools not being explained, it can lead to some confusion. However, in an era where games routinely hold your hand for the first half of the game, the change of tactic only goes to prove that this is a game for gamers, not dabblers.
Good Things Come In Small Packages
Quality over quantity may be my personal mantra when picking titles, but it is worth mentioning that the campaign is short. With an estimation of 7 hours to complete everything in single player, you may find yourself wanting more. The quality is high but anyone who measures by the hour will feel short-changed. There is a multiplayer (local or live) mode, known as Lantern Run. Up to four players carry a lantern each as you race against the encroaching darkness in what is best described as a speedrun. Lantern Run will have you navigating obstacles then dropping your lanterns to dispatch some enemies before you rinse and repeat… until insane. With multiplayer so much of a prerequisite for any game to be successful, it’s understandable that it’s there. However, it just seems a let down in comparison to the campaign.
The Bottom Line
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will satisfy a wealth of gamers with it’s mix of tricky shooting and pleasing puzzles. It feels like a callback to so many old classic games, and therefore has a similar skill level. Whilst not likely to grab the casual gamer, this is a gem for the hardcore wanting some summer arcade fun.