Take one planet, add distorted beauty and bake till twisted
Sometimes it’s really satisfying to just play something simple. The staple of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is as blunt as that - you shoot something and it goes away - though you’ll find so much more as you pilot your ship through this strange new world.
On a planet where paths are teasing and beckoning, though locked till you find the required key; be it a rotor-blade to tunnel through rock, or a missile-launcher to pry open new gates or use offensively. There is unquestionably a foundation built on the backtracking and sealed rooms of Metroid, or the more recent Shadow Complex. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet creates a world where you’ll want to see every little detail. Not just for the hidden upgrades and unlockables (which tentatively explore the story), but to just see every nuanced, warped and captivating detail. The map is truly the star, in a style that blends the strong rich pallet of 2D Boy’s, World of Goo with the tangibly eerie design of Limbo. Dark dank caverns, where the only sound is water, creeping off the ceiling falling to the pool below, or vastly expansive chambers in the planet’s core, with deep ominous tones that subtly for-tell the boss lying ahead.
Set piece moments show how the entire ecosystem of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet comes together. From newt-like grubs swimming in the planet’s sea, to flora that eject little explosive spores, all the way to bosses, engulfing your ship’s size. All presented with a sense of scale that takes you from claustrophobic, to just a tiny ship in a giant world.
If the central focus of gameplay is shooting, then the bosses force you to use your ever expanding arsenal strategically. You’ll be unlikely to be stuck here, thanks to a brilliant feature. One of your weapons acts as an instant tutorial, simply scan the boss, or the impassible wall, any enemy, grub, plant or creature and it’ll show which tool is needed or which function it provides. You’re more than able to just work through the game yourself, there is no guide that says ‘use this on that’, though the tool is ever-presently there.
In many ways the twin-stick action of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet leans towards the loose, fluttery controls of Pixel Junk Shooter rather than the crisp and nimble direction of Geometry Wars. As soon as fiddly boss encounters, tight corners, and small targets enter the fray, this becomes an issue. Take one section, fragments of debris falling and being thrown all around you, you have to rip a ball of energy (your next weapon) from the heart of a metal titan to continue… a lot less troublesome with tighter controls.
With the seven hour campaign comes ‘Lantern Run’, multiplayer that manages to create camaraderie; as usually unseen in gaming. The goal is simple, get your lantern through an obstacle course of enemies and a winding randomly generated path; with a tentacled beast breathing constantly down your neck. You can continue to push through the map even when your lantern is destroyed, as long as one lantern remains amongst everyone playing. Impressively, at the start of each round you’re each fighting solo to progress, though as lanterns are lost - one by one - everyone converges on a single goal.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet shows that an indie game - with just two core developers and credits short enough to fit on a napkin - can create a world with such detail and twisted brilliance that you’ll play for hours, just to see what lies in wait. Gameplay whilst at times fiddly, strikes a balance of simultaneously providing you with new tools in your inventory but allowing you to master those that came before. In addition, multiplayer that fosters union, on a platform that is infamous for the opposite. By the time you’ve played through the single player and dived into the multiplayer, you’ll struggle to care about the few insignificant faults.