Microsoft continues its Summer of Arcade with the release of another high quality downloadable title, the FuelCell Games developed Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is side-scrolling twin-stick shooter with puzzle elements. You pilot a flying saucer equipped with various tools and weapons used to combat a mysterious alien force that has taken over your own mysterious alien world. As you can see, there is not much in terms of back story, but you will quickly dismiss this as an afterthought after looking at the gorgeous visuals.
This is yet another beautiful XBOX Live Arcade title matching the graphics of recent release, Bastion, which is a very impressive feat to say the least. The entire game feels alive and the level of detail is impressive, all the way down to the how vines slide off of you realistically as you press on through thick foliage that gets in your way at times.
The environment is a maze of caverns and underwater caves. As you progress through the game, more and more of the full map is uncovered, similar to Castlevania or Zelda. Not surprisingly, influences are everywhere in this game, with an especially strong resemblance to the recent award winning Arcade title, Limbo. Immediately apparent is the shadowy foreground and silent antagonists. The world contains an interesting mix of organic life and industrial mechanisms that is unlike any other game out there.
The gameplay seems to be a mix of Metroid, Asteroid and Limbo, bringing side-scrolling action with enemies barraging from all sides, as well as a steady dose of interesting puzzles to solve in-between the melees. You have access to guns, shields, lasers, rockets, buzzsaws, tractor beams and claws, all of which are very important in allowing you to progress. There are countless different enemies which need to be taken out using your entire arsenal, with random boss battles that are similar to the Mario formula of three progressively harder levels within the battle itself.
Four tools and weapons can be mapped to the X,Y,A and B buttons so you can swap between them whenever you need to. All of the tools at your disposal serve a purpose throughout the game and you will have to use all of them quite often to move forward in your objective.
The variety is great, but constantly switching them and remapping due to the fact that you can only use four at a time becomes a little tedious. Though, overall, the options and strategies you need to employ using your tools in order to progress in the game stays fresh and interesting throughout.
The controls are tight and very responsive. The dexterity of your weapons and tools is impressive, but firing your rocket or aiming with one of your tools comes with a great deal of accidental over-correction which becomes tiresome. That being said, there are many times in the game where you need the tight controls, and you will be happy you have them, but there are countless instances where you may want to toss your controller due to itoverreacting to every little touch.
The sound design is top-notch with an excellent orchestral score that does not appear enough. The effects that come from using your tools or upgrading your ship, along with the eerie ambient effects surrounding you during your journey, are perfect for the game and provide another layer of quality to this title.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the game is quite short. Definitely the shortest of the Summer or Arcade titles, with a play through time of 4-6 hours. The finale is anti-climactic as well, which is disappointing even though the story is secondary to everything else. The game will also be much shorter if you know where to go, but your first playthrough will come with quite a bit of backtracking, which can be irksome considering the sluggish pace of your flying saucer.
Along with the main game, there’s a little extra longevity in the “Lantern Run” mode. Up to four players must make use of the claw peripheral to race through a level as quickly as possible, while being chased by tentacled enemies. It’s a decent co-op mode, but does not bring a huge amount of replayability to the title.
All in all, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a very good game that is imaginative, creepy and beautiful. Unfortunately the game occasionally makes frustration levels go through the roof due to the sensitive controls and a lack of narrative, which slows the pace and somewhat spoils the experience. But aside from these relatively minor pacing and gameplay issues, this is a solid title that is worth 1200 Microsoft points if you are a fan of the genre.