Remember how Samus lands on an unknown planet and gradually gains new weapons that allow her to venture even deeper in search of the evil menace that lurks at its core? I’m sure you do, and many games that follow this format have since been dubbed “Metroidvania” games because they blend the exploratory aspects of the Metroid and Castlevania games. When you play Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, you will also be traveling to an unknown planet, but unlike Samus, you won’t be leaving your ship behind.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a game that is beautifully simple in design and presentation. I’ve found that many recent indie developers have taken this approach when designing their games, and it seems to work well for them. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean unimpressive, and as we’ve seen with games like Limbo and UnderGarden, the clever use of shadows and colors can create a mysteriously alluring setting. Most of the different environments you will visit are all bordered by silhouetted floors and walls, but the space that you move through has a colorful tint that glows from the distance. You truly feel as if you are traveling through a shadow planet.
While the overall theme of the game involves shadows and dark areas, each of the planet’s sections you will visit has a unique theme and set of puzzles that set it apart from the rest. Even when you think you’ve seen it all, the game’s final level introduces a new type of challenge. Aside from the art style, the game’s audio presentation also does a great job making you feel like you are alone in an unknown planet and incorporates different mechanical and synthesized sounds into its soundtrack. You won’t always hear the subtle music, but it plays during times of suspense and when you discover something new.
Like most Metroidvania games, Shadow Planet encourages exploration. Your ship start off with a blaster, and you will eventually find more weapons such as rockets and magnets that solve puzzles and open doorways to different parts of the planet. This also means that you will be doing a fair amount of backtracking once you find the weapon that opens the door you couldn’t open before. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have convenient shortcuts for you to use and there are certain gates that are one-way only. Enemies respawn if you move too far away from an area, so like in the old-school games, backtracking can be a pain when all you want to do is get to the other side of the map.
Luckily, the game offers many checkpoints that will activate as you fly by them allowing you to respawn next to them when you die. While the game isn’t necessarily difficult, there will be times, especially during boss fights, that you might die if you don’t know what to do. The game doesn’t indicate how much health you have left, so you will have to rely on luck and the condition of your ship to tell whether you are at full health or about to crash.
Aside from the main campaign mode that will run you about six hours or more (depending if you want to find all the hidden upgrades, movies, and concept art,) Shadow Planet also offers a simple yet fun multiplayer mode called Lantern Run. You can play this mode via Xbox Live or locally with up to four people and help each other defend a lantern as you travel down a never-ending tunnel full of enemies. You get more points the longer you last. Despite its simple concept, this mode is actually fun and still manages to capture the feel of the main game with the added risk of being chased by a tentacled monster.
When I first played the demo for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet at PAX East, I was unsure what kind of game I was playing. A few minutes with the game wasn’t enough to fully appreciate the hidden grandeur the indie team of Fuelcell Games and Gagne International (Shadow Planet Productions) had been creating. While the game doesn’t invent anything particularly new, it will definitely impress you with its intriguing style and engaging gameplay. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet may have a convoluted name, but it plays ever so smoothly and it’s a lot of fun too.
A copy of Insanely Twisted Shadow Pixel for XBox 360 was provided to us for this review.