Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
On the face of it, Xbox Live is the best place for a title such as Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet to exist. With the likes of Shadow Complex on 360’s Arcade and PixelJunk Shooter on PSN, it’s clear that side-scrolling adventures have the chance to make a real impact on the gaming masses, as long as they couple imaginative ideas to enjoyable gameplay. The influence of the tried-and-tested formula of Metroid and Castlevania (colloquially known as Metroidvania) is abundantly clear in Shadow Planet, but is this adventure as much fun as its spiritual predecessors or is little more than a twisted wannabe?
Following the initial opening cinematic, you’re thrust into a world ravaged by darkness. It’s anything but ugly, yet the game fails to evoke the atmosphere seen in titles that present a similar artistic style. Outland made deft use of sparkling colours to compliment the black foreground, creating the image of a silhouette, while Limbo used darkness to develop its downright chilling atmosphere. In Shadow Planet, the darkness comes across as slightly lazy despite not being ever-present. The ice stage is a breath of fresh air once reached, though to the art team’s credit, the sections are varied enough to stay interesting for a time. Presentation as a whole is simply ‘okay’, rarely going above and beyond – never aspiring to dazzle on a visual level, yet never tumbling to the level of any real ugliness. It’s a description befitting the sound design too, which aims for a quiet ambience and yet ends up being highly forgettable.
You take the helm of a small spacecraft (a UFO in the classic, spinning-disc sense) armed with nothing more than an object scanner and grappling arm. It won’t be long before you’re sporting a more solid array of armaments, such as a gun which can be powered up via collectibles and a missile-launcher with guidable rockets. The game has a habit of teasing you with visible items, so it’s up to you to use the tools at your disposal to discover the route to them; a task which sometimes demands a fair amount of backtracking. It’s worth the trouble however, even though the game spoils you with frequent checkpoints to alleviate any frustrations. The blaster is often the best method of dispatching foes, particularly at the start, but the rotor blade proves its worth by destroying the enemy at close range.
Most of these inventory items have an environmental use as well; the blade takes care of crumbling surfaces, the missile can be guided through narrow (and rather winding) spaces, while the arm lifts items and can move them to a different spot. The latter can get especially fiddly in the ice level, where crystals of different colours must be placed correctly to bounce around beams of light; this isn’t too much of a problem until you also have align them according to their edges – the arm just wasn’t built for that kind of dexterity. Thankfully, this is the kind of game where you can quite happily take your time over things without fear of a timer or any form of punishment.
Challenge is served through a number of enemies of various speeds (some of which are armoured) and a handful of boss battles. These bosses can put up a decent fight at first, but as with many games, it’s all about recognizing the weak point and exploiting their pattern. There may be moments where you’re unclear on how to progress, but a little patience and grey matter go a long way and should see you through to the end. It’s worth noting that the game offers little in the way of replay value and no amount of concept art or video snippets will be enough to persuade the majority of players to return. Lantern Run’s multiplayer can make for a fun diversion, but it’s unlikely to hold your attention for long. With luck, the additional multiplayer modes due for release over Xbox Live will help breathe extra life into the game.
As a downloadable title, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet does very little wrong. It’s thoroughly playable and offers a few puzzles and boss battles to keep you on your toes, all whilst keeping the formula of Metroidvania intact. Sadly, it also rarely impresses, finding itself condemned to walk the ho-hum middle ground where it can be charitably described as ‘nice’ and critically labelled ‘derivative and forgettable’. The gameplay is enjoyable and serves as a decent distraction for a while; just don’t go expecting it to leave any kind of lasting impression. Should you find yourself with an abundance of MS points this summer and not much to play, you could still do worse than give this a whirl.
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