Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Aug 08, 2011 09:53

The ’Metroidvania’ approach is a well proven one, giving players an initially weak character and letting them explore a large world in order to find new equipment that allows them to overcome previously impossible tasks. This sense of obvious growth and progress makes for a satisfying game, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet puts the formula to good use. Despite obvious similarities to other games in the genre, Shadow Planet is unusual in that it’s not a 2D platformer; it uses a similar world/level structure, but you actually play as an alien flying saucer and guide it with controls from a twin-stick shooter. What follows is an adventure through a rather surreal world, one requiring you to employ a variety of items and skills to survive.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (XBLA)Shadow Planet starts out slow, giving you nothing more than the ability to move and use a harmless ’radar beam’ to learn more about various objects and enemies. Exploration will eventually yield items like a basic gun, defenses, missiles, a ship-sized buzzsaw, and more impressive firepower, but these come gradually. It’s fully expected that you’ll come across an enemy or barrier you just can’t deal with, and thus have to explore another part of the map in order to find the item you need. Most games of this type leave the exploration wholly up to you, but Shadow Planet urges you along with a mix of frequent checkpoints and outright telling you the general direction you need to go; you might not be able to see the exact place on your map, but it’s not hard to figure out generally where the game expects you to go. The radar beam usually answers any other questions you have, making this an unusually user-friendly take on a formula that usually relies on extending the game a few hours by making you wander at random for a while.

This makes for a game that is slow at first but quickly picks up the pace. Once you have a decent array of weaponry, you’ll find that exploration and fighting minor enemies is occasionally interrupted by huge, nearly screen-sized bosses and mid-bosses. Some can be defeated by just out-moving and out-shooting them, but many others require figuring out some kind of trick like attacking the right weak-points in the correct order, or disassembling their important parts with your claw arm, or otherwise needing some kind of gimmick solution; it’s a very old-school approach but one that works well. Some enemies also require discovering some trick to defeat, and most of the environmental puzzles rely on the idea of figuring out which item and part of the area around you can be used together to proceed.

While it does a lot of things right, there are several modest flaws worth discussing. The most noteworthy is perhaps subjective; a few puzzles are a little unintuitive and may not make it clear to the player that you’re expected to backtrack a couple rooms in order to finish the solution and move on. Likewise, there may be a few fights where the exact steps you have to take in order to win may yield a shout of "How was I supposed to figure that out without trying everything on everything else?", even with the radar beam explaining most things in at least some detail. I also consider the art style something of a flaw. In terms of pure artistic merit, it actually looks pretty good... but it relies on shadows and silhouettes for far too many things and it’s entirely possible to lose track of important details as you play. Finally, being outright told where to go does gut some of the exploration aspect. There are still plenty of side areas to check out and you’ll be rewarded for doing so, but you’re nonetheless moved along at a rapid pace that will make this game feel a bit short.

Despite those complaints, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a very good game. It holds up well with its peers in this genre, and you’ll probably find it a decent way to spend $15 USD/1200 Microsoft Points. All of the issues mentioned above are ultimately minor to modest at worst, and anyone that enjoyed the likes of Shadow Complex or Symphony of the Night will be well served. Merging twin-stick shooter controls with the normal aspects of Metroidvania games may seem odd, but it works well enough that I have no problem recommending it to genre fans and even those unfamiliar with it may want to check this one out in any case.

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Our Rating for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review (XBLA)
5.5 Replay
While players are technically free to explore and receive a few interesting unlockable rewards for doing so, the game’s map always points you to where you need to go and makes some sections an oddly linear experience.
7.0 Graphics
The distinct art style looks great, but uses dark colors and shadows so much that it is sometimes hard to see what you’re doing.
7.0 Sound
Decent ambient music and sci-fi sound effects do their job well enough. They may not be extremely memorable, but they set the atmosphere well and are nice to listen to.
8.5 Gameplay
Good controls and mostly intuitive abilities keep you wandering the game world and overcoming old obstacles with new powers. This sense of obvious progress keeps things fun.
0.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
N/A; this is a single-player game.
8.0 Overall
Managing to overcome several modest flaws, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet stands out as a good addition to the Metroidvania genre. It may not be better than its peers, but it’s as good as them and easily justifies a purchase.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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