Jeremy Jastrzab
12 Aug, 2011

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review

360 Review | Just like the PALGN office!
The Summer (or in our case, winter) of Arcade has served up some very impressive titles so far, with the exceedingly beautiful Bastion and remarkably well-constructed From Dust both showered in praise. Now comes a title that has been in development since 2007 and pretty much combines both the aforementioned characteristics. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet comes from another upstart gaming studio (Shadow Planet Productions), and has a significant contribution from animator Michel Gagne, who has been around and about with the biggest animation studios in the world, including Disney and Pixar.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a fascinating and engaging experience, that relies on intuition and minimalist presentations to convey everything. The few short cinematics that encompass the story, tell you pretty much all you need to know. A cosmic disturbance causes some sort of viral outbreak on a nearby planet, one of whose inhabitants jumps into a spaceship and heads off to tackle the problem at its source. From there, you make your way in the spaceship through this alien world made up of a variety of environments, including organic, mechanical, watery and icy worlds. And it’s all done without a single line of text or explanation.

Feeling a little insignificant?

Feeling a little insignificant?
And the game really doesn’t need any, as it shows exemplary design and astute use of the Metroid formula. You start off with a scanner and a piddly gun, but in typical Metroid fashion, you quickly start picking up items that will help you get through then next area. And each of these weapons and tools are very intuitive in their use, and give the game more of a puzzle flavour. Metroid titles concentrate on the exploration, latter day Castlevania titles concentrate on the combat possibilities, and while ITSP offer both plentifully, it concentrates on progression through solving puzzles.

And again, it’s all done purely through well-imlpemented design, as opposed to spelling it out to the player. While your overall destinations are given to you on a platter, getting there is another matter, and the game does an excellent job of throwing up new challenges through out the play time and utilising all the eventual tools at your disposal. The scanner does a good enough job of telling you what you need to use, be it on a puzzle or enemy, but the rest is up to the player to figure out. And any gamer worth their salt should be able to figure out things as they go, while then learning and being able to tackle situations with the reward of immense satisfaction to follow.

Even the bosses are pretty much puzzles.

Even the bosses are pretty much puzzles.
In all, you’ll gather ten tools/weapons to help you make your way through the seriously twisted and mind-bending scenarios that are well enough designed that you don’t have to backtrack unless you’ve been bitten by the exploration bug. Each of tools is thoroughly unique, showing you something that has never been seen a game of this type, such as a circular saw and tractor beam. But even something conventional like the rockets, are different in that they can be controlled manually after fired. While puzzles all have their ‘method’, enemies and the screen filling bosses all have a variety of ways they can be taken down. In all, the design of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet beautifully complements the minimalist design with astute and intuitive designs.

The visual and audio presentations are quite superb as well. While the black silhouetted backgrounds and the minimalist nature give a Limbo vibe, there is actually a whole lot more going on, with exaggerated but beautifully fluid animations, lots of colour, heavily distinctive environments, interesting physics and a flavour that is completely unto itself. It’s a seriously insane, twisted and shadowy planet… While you’re primarily treated to some grand tunes in the cinematics, the ambient background track and sound effects all come together to complement the eerie nature of the setting and the flair of the visuals.

Protect the lantern!

Protect the lantern!
Unfortunately, the exploration is nowhere near as rewarding as the puzzles, where aside from the upgrades (which as pointed out on the map) there is unlockable artwork and ‘artefacts’ (giving back story) to be found. And on your first play through, it’s very possible to cover over 90% of the map. Given the predominance of puzzles, there is little incentive to go back find everything unless you’re a completionist, while it also dampens subsequent playthroughs. Pacing is a bit off the mark, as progress often feels arbirtary. Other issues include a diminished challenge through (arguably) overly generous checkpoints and the fact that it’s easy to just race past enemies, while the lack of precision in the controls will become an annoyance for some later on. Overall, the game clocks in at around five to six hours, depending on how much you like to explore, while you have a co-op multiplayer mode called ‘Lantern Run’ which is actually well thought out and enjoyable, as long as you have company.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet does a lot to show that there is more to the Metroid formula than variations on rockets and morph balls, and throws down a challenge to developers to really explore what the formula can offer. The minimalist presentation and intuitive design come together ideally, giving the game a more appropriate focus on the puzzles. And the way that it delivers a seamless, engaging and intuitive experience, adds another jewel to the Xbox Live Arcade crown. Sure, it doesn’t quite shake the feeling of arbitrary progress, nor quite manage the expectations of combat and exploration, but it’s a rare game that really satisfies when you’re able to figure out things without that much to go on.
The Score
Seamlessly combining minimalist presentation with intuitive puzzle design, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet makes great use of the Metroid formula. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
2 years ago
It's a pity the replay value doesn't seem to be there, but it's still pretty hard to resist the urge to buy this. Might wait to see if it goes on special at the end of the year.
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Australian Release Date:
  03/08/2011 (Confirmed)
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