The Right Tool for the Job: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Shadow Planet Productions’ game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, answers the the immortal question: “What would’ve happened if Genndy Tartakovsky had produced Metroid?”
The well animated opener sets the stage for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Biology has gone badly wrong and a shadowy seed has sprouted, spreading darkness across the planets, and our intrepid hero takes his personal-sized flying saucer slash intergalactic-swiss-army-knife forth to save the galaxy from the infestation. Power-ups will be collected, puzzles will be conquered, giant bosses will be defeated, and “just a minute more” will somehow stretch into another hour of your life gone. But don’t worry, it won’t be time wasted.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is certainly easy on the eyes. Stylized doesn’t even begin to describe it. Anyone familiar with Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series, such as Samurai Jack, will feel right at home here. The attention isn’t on complex polygonal models but instead on shading with attention to subtle detail; I didn’t find one point where the aesthetic broke, doing well to keep the player immersed in the world they’re so desperately trying to save. The ship you pilot is a simple flying saucer, with the external appearance determined by the defensive power ups you find and damage taken. The organisms infected by the shadow sport an appropriately menacing red and black scheme whereas the native (but not necessarily friendly) occupants of each area typically reflect the overall palette of the zone proper. Taking a break from planetary-spelunking allows the player to check out the backdrops, which can range from shadow creatures writhing as they infest the planet to neon lights illuminating a high-tech complex. Animations are smooth and keep the game flowing.
Exploration and puzzle-solving tend to be a lot more fun with good controls and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet delivers. Certain sections of the game require a bit of needle-threading control on the part of the player and could have quickly become “Screw This Game” moments without well-tuned handling. The moment or two where I did wish unpleasant things on the game were the result of my ham-fisted controller jockeying in tight situations vs. any real flaw in the control scheme. As any gamer knows, sometimes exploration requires that things be shot at. Combat is standard twin-stick-shooter fare in the vein of Geometry Wars, but made infinitely more fun via the variety of weapons and tools the player acquires (more on this in a second).
The player eventually collects a toolbox that Samus would be envious of. Up to 4 tools can be hot-keyed to the face buttons with the rest available via a rotary menu. Missiles, shields, a buzz saw; everything short of an espresso machine (though if industry trends are any indication they’ll probably make it available via DLC, sponsored by Starbucks) will be crammed into your little craft and you’ll end up using every one for either combat or overcoming environmental challenges, though most will be used for both. It’s worth noting that the game doesn’t pause when accessing the rotary menu, so some basic situational awareness is required lest the player award the game with free hits.
Usually in games of this type, the player ends up with a stack of gear with only a couple of any real utility. Not the case here. The scanner tool provides suggestions on the weapon of choice for a particular enemy or obstacle, but the suggestion may not always be the best means. Experimentation with the various tools and weapons frequently yields satisfying results, and I consider it a testament to the quality of the overall design that the entire suite sees regular use. This is especially the case in the boss fights, where the “if it glows, shoot it” approach typically won’t get you nearly as far as some clever application of the tool set.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is not a particularly long game and the difficulty won’t turn any heads either. The puzzles are entertaining and serve as mild brain-benders, but ITSP is by no means a challenging game. Checkpoints are scattered about liberally and serve as both a defensive barrier and a source of regeneration in addition to their original function. Included in the keep-‘em-breathing department are plants sprouting glowing healing seeds which are also dropped during boss fights when various criteria are met. Sadly this served to leech the game of much of its urgency and made the otherwise entertaining boss fights a matter of pattern recognition.
If campaign play gets boring, a multiplayer mode called “Lantern Run” is available. This mode consists of players attempting to conquer various obstacles while carrying the aforementioned lantern as far as possible while being pursued by a Cthulhu-esque monster. At the time of this review no multiplayer games were available to be played so I cannot say what legs this may give to ITSP.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, but still makes for a highly entertaining romp. The unique and stylized visuals coupled with well-crafted controls and gameplay make it a really fun game, but the low difficulty threshold and brevity means you won’t be doing so for an extended period of time. Wanderson75.net gives Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet a score of 4/5.
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