Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet: review


Format: XBLA

Unleashed: Out Now

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Developer: Gagne Internation / Fuelcell Games

Players: 4


Considering its title, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is remarkably placid. Despite boasting a neat art style and some novel weapons, it shuffles from start to finish without picking up much steam, nagging issues buzzing around like persistent gnats. Sort of like an unwashed, apathetic jogger.

As a little alien in a spaceship, it’s your job to infiltrate an insane planet of twisted shadows, largely constructed of silhouettes and cantankerous tentacles. The full spectrum of the Y and X axes are at your disposal in this side-scrolling action-adventure, allowing you to float around at will. Although the loose controls fit your UFO’s wobbly movements, the more demanding sequences will have you wishing the engineers hadn’t been lazier than that unwashed jogger.

Airtight and waterproof, you can take this spaceship anywhere. Except into things that blow up. Don't do that.

You’ll solve light puzzles and fend off pesky foes as you navigate cavernous hallways, made more interesting by a dual-stick-operated arsenal of gadgets. An all-purpose miniature turret, guided rockets built to navigate tricky mazes, and mechanical arm that animates like an adorable cross between R2-D2 and Wall-E are just a few of the inventive thingamajigs for you to hoard. Actually using them, however, is a rocky affair.

Manoeuvring the churning pipes of the mechanical level is fun, but the finicky, aggravating un-fun of the ice world’s mirror puzzle outweighs the former’s mild entertainment. Battling robots with a buzz saw is also a good time, but struggling to connect power supplies in a pitch-black room with nearly invisible monsters drags out far longer. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s natural state is acceptable– almost above average– entertainment, yet these control and level design issues disturb the adequate waters.

Some of the best puzzles in the game make good use of this tractor beam, but beware its troublesome controls.

Exploration is utterly mediocre. Special items can be discovered in “hidden” recesses now and then, but most of these show up on your map automatically. Of course, besides the weapon upgrades, you’ll find nothing more than concept art and five-second videos of pointless animation. The bad guys don’t make traversal any more fun; picking the right weapon for the job adds a smidgen of tactics to the mix, but as they don’t drop anything useful when destroyed, merely zipping past them is usually the easiest way out. Between the low difficulty and copious checkpoints, death becomes inconsequential. It’s very easy to just… stop caring.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s artistic merits help to soften the blow, what with the wild shapes and striking colour pallet, but it doesn’t excuse shoddy gameplay. Lovely backgrounds and crazy angles can only go so far. The music contributes to the spaced out ambiance, but in turn highlights the quiet, humdrum nature of the whole experience.

What'd we tell you about the tentacles? Lots of tentacles.

You’ll be done with the story mode in a small handful of hours without much to bring you back. Four players (online or locally) can hop into a multiplayer mode in which they lug around lanterns, survive waves of enemies, and flee from a giant alien (simultaneously, that is). In theory this is a great idea, but the spaceships simply aren’t designed for intensity, and it quickly becomes dull.

Don’t mistake Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet for a bad game, because it isn’t. Rather, challenge becomes frustration and exploration becomes tedium all too often, revealing flaws that could have otherwise remained hidden. There are other downloadable games with comparable, if not better, art (Braid, Limbo, Flower) and you can find similar concepts with vastly superior gameplay (Aquaria, Shadow Complex, Super Metroid), which leaves this title overpriced and underdeveloped. Like the grape-flavoured popsicle at the bottom of the box, it’s worth eating, but really now. You can do better.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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