Not really that insane.
If I had to quickly explain what type of game Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is, I would say that 'it's a game that is a mixture between Super Metroid, Outland and plays like a dual-stick shooter'. The one aspect of this game that makes it stand out is it's artstyle, coupled with it's fluid, articulate animation. The work of the artist, Michel Gagné is what makes this game unique and thankfully, the gameplay contained in this title is compelling enough to keep you engaged throughout the entire experience.
Like 2010's Limbo, the approach that FuelCell Games' have taken to presenting the game's story is very indirect. Before you play the game you are shown a animated cinematic that serves as the introduction for the game. It turns out that a dark, evil force has invaded your characters solar system and has commandeered the sun. As time passes it's tentacles are absorbing all that is pure in your planet. As a small alien piloting a flying saucer, you must investigate the threat and destroy the center of evil. As you progress in the game you will encounter collectibles that will either unlock a piece of concept art or play another animated short, these both add weight to the story and sometimes explain some of the external events that have occurred. For most of the game the story is a fairly minor part of the game but, it is definitely an interesting tale with a decent twist to finish up with.
Like Outland, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet uses a combination of dark silhouettes mixed in with the occasional splash of color. This creates a very vivid image due to the contrast between the dark and bright colours, the game also does a really good job of slowly transitioning into darker colour palettes as you tunnel deeper into the infected planet, towards the source of evil at the center. Although the art is very good for the most part, I found a varying amount of detail between the different enemies in the game. For example, your ship looks great, very sharp and defined with lots of little details but, some objects (such as the red spiked menace pictured below) just don't have the same amount of detail as other objects and stand out like a sore thumb.
The one thing that I love about this game is the animations of your UFO; for example when your spaceship uses the claw tool, it snaps out of your ship piece-by-piece and when you use it to grab rocks and other objects, the animation differs between the different weights of the objects. When you pick up a light object, the claw lifts it with ease and pulls it above your ship quickly. When you pick up a heavier object, the claw struggles under it's weight and drags the object behind the ship as you move around the environment. Not all of the different tools, enemies and moving parts animate with the same amount of detail as the claw but for the few that do, it's a really great touch that adds a extra touch of life to the game.
Like most twin-stick shooters, the left stick is used to control the movement of your ship and the right stick is used to aim. The UFO feels appropriately floaty to manoeuvre and the shooting feels tight and responsive. As you progress through the game you will find a number of different weapons, tools and upgrades for your ship. Some of the weapons include: your standard pea-shooter, laser, rotating razor blade, missiles and a tractor beam. In classic 'Metroid-vania' style you will use these weapons to open a number of doors and solve environmental puzzles, you are encouraged to backtrack and open up paths that you could not enter before due to your selection of weapons. All of the menus in the game use the radial menu system à la Mass Effect, you can also assign your weapons to the X, Y, A and B buttons on the controller.
The puzzles contained in the game are fairly hard and will require a bit of thought to complete and the boss battles towards the end of the game require you to use your weapons with an extreme amount of accuracy. You will often have to be dodging enemy projectiles, fending of small enemies and dealing damage to the boss monster with a specific weapon (which is probably not suited to destroying the minor threats around you) all at the same time. The final boss in this game was the last thing in memory that made be rage quit in frustration, so for those of you who aren't the quickest on the controls, be warned.
The one core problem with the game is that, it doesn't really do anything new mechanically in either of the genre's that it sits in ('Metroid-Vania' and Twin-Stick shooters) and in some places it does some things worse than the competition. For example I never felt, overpowered like you do at the end of Shadow Complex which is nearly a staple of the 'Metroid-Vania' style games at this point.
There is also a mode titled 'Lantern Run' which can be played co-operatively online, which is a good distraction for an hour or so, it involves trying to survive for as long as possible through a series of infested tunnels. Unlike the main campaign, this mode is definitely more hectic, and serves as a good long term challenge for players.
The game does a good job of keeping all aspects of the game unified, both with the mechanics and look of the game. Most of the menus adopt the radial-style and throughout all areas of the game you will encounter the suspect combination of black and brighter colours. Apart from the rare, less detailed aspects in the world, the game looks really sharp and defined. The different areas of the game are also very different, the sharp contrast between each 'world' gives each area it's own feel
The music in the game is mostly ambient and helps further amplify the moody, dark tone of the whole game. Apart from my minor issue with some of the residents of the world of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet not being as detailed as others, the game looks very complete and unified overall.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is unique because of it's visuals, although the game itself is solid and well worth the asking price it misses some of the points that you have come to expect from a game structured the way it is. Fans of the genre will definitely have a good time here as will those who are looking to switch it up and leave the dark, grungy world of first-person-shooters. But, for those looking for something new (mechanically) in the genre, I advise that you look elsewhere.