Giant Bomb Review

37 Comments

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review

4
  • XBGS

It's not the most demanding game, but this stylized marriage of 2D adventuring and unique visual art makes for an entertaining ride for as long as it lasts.

GROSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

In contrast to its wordy title, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is one of those games that's easy to describe as an amalgam of elements from other notable releases of the last few years. In this case, they're all downloadable games like this one. Start with the ability-driven, backtracking gameplay and graph-paper map of Shadow Complex, blend in the floaty flight controls of PixelJunk Shooter, and coat with a beautiful silhouetted art style reminiscent of Limbo. The sum of these parts is an airy third entry in this year's Xbox Live Summer of Arcade that won't tax your skills much, but makes for a fun and easygoing ride while it lasts.

Shadow Planet hinges on the same 2D gameplay formula that underpins Shadow Complex, Metroid, and most of the latter-day Castlevanias, where you continually pick up new abilities as you explore that let you double back and get into previous areas you couldn't access the first time. Here, those abilities include a buzzsaw, tractor beam, reflective laser, and an all-purpose jointed grasping arm that lets you pick up and move objects around, or grab onto certain surfaces and anchor your ship when you're caught in a strong current.

There are some pretty neat boss designs in here.

All of these items operate with sensible dual-joystick controls that especially give the up-close abilities like the saw and grabbing arm a tactile, one-to-one feel. Some of the ranged weapons are a little less reliable, though; it's tough with a couple of them to see where you're going to shoot until you already shoot. Some sort of onscreen aiming cue or reticle would have helped, since the little animated weapons attached to your ship aren't always sufficient on their own, especially when the camera pulls way out in some areas. There are a few other weird inconsistencies in the way the grab arm works and such that make the gameplay occasionally feel a little rough, but there are very few instances where that directly impacts your ability to get through a given area. At least the movement control feels spot-on. You've got great maneuverability, and your ship has the perfect amount of weight to it.

Actually, your very first ability in the game is an omnidirectional scanning beam that shows you exactly which ability to use on each enemy and environmental obstacle you encounter. Of course you're free not to use the scanner if you want to rely on the ol' trial and error, but its presence belies a broader theme in this game's design: it's almost painfully straightforward. From the outset, the map shows you most of the "points of interest" where upgrades, collectibles, and ability-specific obstacles are located, and it automatically annotates each of these points with the ability you need to use on it once you've scanned it, so it's especially easy to head back to all the icons for a given ability once you've picked it up.

Some of the areas have a great sense of scale.

There's never any guesswork involved in where you need to go, and very little in where you can go, since all of the nooks and crannies on the shadow planet are quite obvious either on the map or in the course of your exploration. I only found one of what I would truly consider a hidden area in the whole game, yet I finished the campaign lacking only two collectibles out of dozens, and I didn't even go out of my way looking for those. Don't get me wrong, this game is plenty entertaining and offers a lot of unique things to do and look at, but you may feel like you breezed through it and saw most of its sights more leisurely than you'd expect from a game of this type.

It sure is a great-looking game, full of greasy-looking tentacles and weird insectoid enemies that all animate like they're straight out of an animated feature film. That goes for the different environments as well, which have you zooming around underwater, through ice caverns full of laser-reflecting crystals, and in a mechanized area where flying inside rotating gears gives the illusion that the entire world itself is rotating around your stationary ship. There's a unique character to the game's visual presentation that alone nearly makes this game worth the price of admission. It's a joy just to look at. Look at it yourself and you'll see what I'm talking about.

When you finish the relatively brief campaign, you've still got the "lantern run" multiplayer mode, and that might be one of the best things in this package. It's a strictly scrolling-to-the-right affair where you and up to three others use your ship's grabby arm to each drag your own lantern through an increasingly tough obstacle course, all while a screen-spanning tentacle monster relentlessly pursues you. Since the arm counts as a weapon, you have to drop the lantern in cases where you need to fight enemies to advance, or use the arm or buzzsaw to clear other obstacles, so you get into a lot of fast-paced fight-or-flight strategizing from moment to moment here.

I like how all these screenshots are a different color.

The best part about lantern run is that the order of the enemies and challenges seems to be somewhat randomized each time you play it. The worst part is that the difficulty doesn't seem to differ much (or at all) whether you're playing alone or with other people, making it pretty overwhelming when you're going solo. But lantern run is a blast with a full group of players taking turns carrying lanterns, fighting enemies, and clearing out obstacles so everyone can get through. Lantern run makes high-level demands on your skills that the single-player campaign never does.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet may not offer the depth or distraction of the standouts in this specific subgenre, but it still effectively scratches the same itch as those games, and it does it with style. While it's hard to resist wishing that there were more of this game to experience, it's just as easy to enthusiastically appreciate what's already here.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
37 Comments
Edited by FloMo

nice :), will buy it today.

Posted by 234r2we232

I'm amazed that the GB staff finds time from their busy schedule of..."things", to actually review actual games for the site.

Posted by Ventilaator

Totally called this, too bad all my I'm Calling It points are already bet on variousgames :(

Posted by JoeyRavn

@sofacitysweetheart said:

I'm amazed that the GB staff finds time from their busy schedule of..."things", to actually review actual games for the site.

We always need to complain about something, right?

Posted by Thor_Molecules

Is this XBLA exclusive? Or is it going to end up on PSN/PC?  

Because i'd LOVE to plunk down money for this game, but my never-used 360 is in such a shape that I'm afraid it'll go up in flames once I turn it on. It rattles, it creaks, and it RROD'd three times already.

Posted by 234r2we232
@JoeyRavn said:

@sofacitysweetheart said:

I'm amazed that the GB staff finds time from their busy schedule of..."things", to actually review actual games for the site.

We always need to complain about something, right?

Only if it's approached in a highly sarcastic tone ;)
Posted by Trilleong

I gave the trial a shot and decided that it probably isn't for me. I really like the way it looks though.

Posted by outerabiz

well at least it's not a modern military first person shooter, guess i should buy this at some point just to fight the power and get publishers to invest differently

Posted by MEATBALL

@Buckfitches said:

Is this XBLA exclusive? Or is it going to end up on PSN/PC? Because i'd LOVE to plunk down money for this game, but my never-used 360 is in such a shape that I'm afraid it'll go up in flames once I turn it on. It rattles, it creaks, and it RROD'd three times already.

There hasn't been word on a possible PC release for some time, with the game being published by Microsoft it's hard to say whether it'll find its way onto the PC and I'm guessing chances are even more slim that we'll see it on the PS3. Then again, Limbo was also published by Microsoft upon its initial release, I believe, so who knows what the situation will be a year from now.

Grabbed the trial right away and it really impressed. It's a shame it doesn't sound like the game is as quite as good as it could be, particularly when compared to games like Shadow Complex and Metroid. Still, from what I've played so far it looks like the game's right up my alley and I'm sure to gain some real enjoyment out of it anyway.

Posted by Rolyatkcinmai

Brad's knockin' these summer of arcades out the park.

Posted by emem

A very nice review.

Hopfully there will be a PC or PS3 release (don't own a 360).

Posted by SaturdayNightSpecials

I might be a rebel here and buy this before Bastion.

But first things first: need to unload this piece of shit 2007 360 and get an S.

Posted by Rowr

So an exploration game which does all the exploring for you.

...

Edited by WinterSnowblind

Add this to the list of XBLA games I want to buy, but currently can't afford :(

Ms Splosion Man, Bastion and this are taunting me (and From Dust, but that's really a PC game).

Posted by Guyzea

Art style reminds me of Samurai Jack...

Posted by Tordah

A bit disappointed to hear that it's not very long or even challenging. I feel like that's a bit of missed opportunity on the developer's behalf here.

Posted by locolukah

It looks pretty and really boring.

Posted by OldGuy
@JoeyRavn said:

@sofacitysweetheart said:

I'm amazed that the GB staff finds time from their busy schedule of..."things", to actually review actual games for the site.

We always need to complain about something, right?

Well, it wouldn't be the internet without them...
Posted by DaBuddaDa

Brad: if you enjoyed this, you HAVE to go back and play Aquaria. It's a longer, more fleshed out, but still "mellow" version of this game from a few years back.

Posted by bybeach

sounds like a good game for me. Later I may try Pixeljunk shooter. Or come to think, Aquaria.

Posted by SockLobster
@Rowr said:

So an exploration game which does all the exploring for you.

...

it's not the destination it's the journey. This game is worth the money just for the visuals, Michel Gagne is godlike. But it also packs a pretty brilliant multiplayer as well. Play it.
Posted by vacancy

Brad liking a heavily stylized downloadable game!? It is unheard of! ;) Did not have my eye on this one until I saw them opening the map in the Quick Look. Metroid-style games must be played! On that note, hope Arkham City does not loose that from the Asylum in the city.

Posted by Airickson

@Trilleong said:

I gave the trial a shot and decided that it probably isn't for me. I really like the way it looks though.

My thoughts exactly. Just didn't do it for me -- not sure why.

Posted by tourgen

ahh man I was hoping this game was going to have some challenge and maybe some cool hidden areas.  I'll grab the demo and check for difficulty settings.  I like the animation and colors.  Hearing that it has some good boss battle designs has pretty much sold me.

Posted by horseman6

Sigh, good art with bad gameplay. Unfortunately, I like playing games, so I won't be buying this.

Posted by BBQBram

Seems like I'll be playing this when I'm done with Bastion.

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

This game kind of infuriates me. I feel like I'm battling against the mechanics/controls a lot more than I should be, especially in the ice section (where I am now.) On average I have a good time with it, but certain scenarios really drive me up the wall

Edited by ProfessorEss

I played the demo and can see how the controls could become frustrating where precision is necessary, but the art and animation is overwhelmingly beautiful. I'd don't think I'll be able to resist getting it. 
 
I love metroidvania games, but I can't stop thinking about what a great, R-Type style side-scroller Gagne could've pulled off too.

Posted by Slaker117

I was interested in this and thinking about buying it, but then realized Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was on XBLA, and bought that instead for five bucks cheaper. I'll probably pick this up as well at some point, but right now I couldn't be happier with my purchasing decision.

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Posted by Megasoum

Just finished the game and...meh... I'd say I liked it overall but it's nowhere near as good as Shadow Complex or SOTN. As a matter of fact, 15minutes into the game I was ready to start a new Shadow Complex playthrough (I'm re-downloading the game right now). Visually ITSP is stunning but the gameplay is kinda bland. I liked some of the puzzle (mostly the ones using the arm to anchor yourself) but other than that it gets boring 3/4 in.

The fact that you can only map weapons to the face buttons and not to the D-Pad (or even one of the shoulder button since LB and RB are doing the same thing right now) is just plain stupid. I spent most of the game switching weapon assigment because you always need more than 3 weapons/tools at a time. It's get really annoying really quickly.

Oh and one very very small annoyance I found with the UI (that's really nitpicking but I have to get it off my chest) is that you open the map with the BACK button but pressing the BACK button a second time gives you a stats screen instead of closing the map. I know I know it's a stupid detail but still...for the first 2h of the game I would always do Back, then back again....then B. It's stupid but it's something that I'm sure the QA testers have pointed out but for some reasons the devs decided to keep it in there. I work in QA for a big studio and we see that kind of weird design decision all the time at the beginning of a project and most of the time the devs will actually listen but sometimes they just slip through!

Posted by Peanut

Another game overblown because of its art style. I'm always up for a Metroidvania style game, but this just has zero appeal outside of how it looks and that = no sale. 

Posted by SockLobster
@vacancy said:

Brad liking a heavily stylized downloadable game!? It is unheard of! ;) Did not have my eye on this one until I saw them opening the map in the Quick Look. Metroid-style games must be played! On that note, hope Arkham City does not loose that from the Asylum in the city.

The city is just a bigger version of the Asylum, don't worry, it is still very much Metroidvania inspired. If anything it's even moreso because they really crammed a bunch of secrets into this one judging by the videos.
 
I just finished Shadow Planet, I have to say it was quite enjoyable, the mechanics do get quite frustrating at times, but the simply beauty of the visual communicaion and complete lack of text in the gameplay is to be applauded. They need to make some dlc or a sequel though, it's quite short :)
Posted by realph

While I have a lot of love for this game, I feel it doesn't do any one thing better than its contemporaries (Shadow Complex, Limbo, PixelJunk Shooter).

Posted by Slaker117
@realph: After playing the demo, I felt like this this was probably the case. Going to wait for a sale before I buy.
 
@Megasoum: When I first read your comment I though that having such a specific and long-winded complaint about the use of the back button was a silly thing to nitpick about, but after stumbling over that a few times myself, you're right. That is a very odd, and in my opinion, stupid, UI design choice.
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Posted by ZmillA

its kinda boring

Posted by Glix

I'm so down on this game because I've heard its a little too easy.  Besides that it looks so great, I'm so conflicted!

Posted by TheFianlFrontier21

game seems too short for $15