It’s important to remember your roots. For gamers this entails a strong, almost reverent level of respect for the titles that first broke ground and introduced us to some of our favourite franchises. Released as one of the titles chosen to be showcased by this year’s Xbox Summer of Arcade, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet reminds us of the games that first made us sit up and pay attention to the worlds unfolding on the small screen.
Following the lead of previous Summer of Arcade success Shadow Complex, ITSP proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, blending the open-map exploration and puzzle solving of the Metroid franchise with more modern design and gameplay elements in order to present the most appealing sum-of-parts possible. Playing the part of a small, fragile spaceship, you must explore the new, foreboding world that has thrust itself upon your once peaceful home and defeat the malicious presence that threatens to wipe out everything in its path. Rather than blasting every trace of it to smithereens, however, your challenge is somewhat more cerebral. Sure, there’s destruction on an epic scale but attacks are more orchestrated affairs, achieved through puzzle-solving and lateral thinking.
Silhouetted against a beautifully animated backdrop, filled with menacing spikes and writhing organic terrain, you float with an initially meagre arsenal consisting of something more akin to a peashooter than a death ray and a scanner, capable of telling you just how horribly you’re about to die. By uncovering new areas and reclaiming the tools of your undoubtedly important but obscurely futuristic trade you can delve deeper into the Shadow Planet and excise its sinister presence from your home.
The stylish, detailed visuals were what first made Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet stand out and throughout the six-hour campaign the game never presents you with a dull, rushed or repeated environment. Traversing landscapes running the gamut from industrial nightmare to frozen wasteland (and even taking to the seas for one nerve-wracking segment) the Shadow Planet is an ideal location to enjoy your cruel and inevitable destruction.
In contrast to the lush visuals, the soundtrack is somewhat muted, opting for atmospheric hints at what danger lies ahead. Some music would have potentially added to the air of constant danger and suspense but its sparse use of sound highlights how small and seemingly futile your efforts are in the face of such a massive foe.
While Shadow Complex successfully iterated on the back-tracking, item-dependent exploration of games such as Super Metroid, ITSP’s gameplay falls somewhere short of its predecessors. Granted, puzzles require more thought than simply recognising the need to introduce the red keycard to its door-shaped counterpart but solutions rarely require much work, with necessary items and powers always within easy reach.
It’s this lack of a significant challenge, combined with the frequent health-replenishing checkpoints that mean no solution is really all that satisfying and replay value for the single player mission is low. After all, where’s the fun in a puzzle once it no longer requires any thought?
The challenge mode, Lantern Run, suffers from quite the opposite problem. Supporting up to four players at once, the task of safely escorting your only light source through increasingly difficult stages is all but impossible beyond a certain point for anything except the most organised team. Solo attempts are doomed almost as soon as they begin, making it more a distraction than a complete addition in itself.
For all of its flaws, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is still a wonderfully atmospheric visual feast with just enough danger to keep you on your toes until its conclusion. Other titles may better define the genre but none look anywhere near as good as this.
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