Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (PC, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Fuelcell Games
Publisher: Fuelcell Games
Release Date: August 03, 2011
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is part of what is beginning to look like something of a golden age for indie games. There’ve been a rash of cheap, fun and beautiful little games in the last few years. ITSP fits nicely alongside recent classics like Limbo or The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. Boasting a fun gameplay mechanic, a unique take on the idea of what a platform game can be, absolutely beautiful graphics, a fun variety of weapons and tools to use and upgrade, it has to be one of the most immediately pleasing games I’ve got had my hands on in a long time.
The only problem? Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, for all its delightful attributes, is a repetitive game that gets kind of boring over long play sessions. But it comes so close to being a modern classic you almost can’t bring yourself to criticize it. Almost.
But before we (slightly) hurt Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s feelings, let’s accentuate the positive. And there’s a lot to accentuate.
A brief bit about the game. In Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, you control a tiny spaceship piloted by an adorable little alien. Your ship is fully upgradable and will eventually attain a variety of neat weapons. Using the ship, you’ll explore the titular planet, solving puzzles and defeating enemies. The enemies are almost secondary to the gathering of resources (artifacts) and exploring, and the scale makes it appear that your character is actually quite small and that the world you’re on is suited for beings normal human size. You might initially think Metroid, but I almost felt like it’s a cross between Pikmin (minus the pikmin) and Shadow of the Colossus, but as a 2.5D side-scroller. In a good way.
It barely even needs to be mentioned, but ITSP has, as you’d expect, extremely simple, mostly intuitive controls. As you acquire new abilities, they can be assigned to hotkeys, AKA to the XYAB buttons on your controller. This limits you to 4 hotkeyed abilities at any given time. The rest are accessible by hitting the right bumper and selecting from the powers wheel. Choosing your hotkeys wisely is a must because the game does not pause when you click the bumper. If you find yourself scrambling to switch powers in the middle of a particularly difficult portion of the game, you might be killed while you’re selecting from the wheel.
That minor bit of resource management makes for an interesting challenge. Some devices, like your shield, will feel absolutely essential but you’ll find as you advance through the game having to risk setting it aside so you can quickly access other more useful (in the moment) devices.
Starting out with a simple scanner, you’ll add up to 9 upgradable items, including a crane-arm, a laser beam, bombs, shields and missiles. Some, like the laser beam, are purely offensive weapons. The crane-arm however as surprising utility as both a functional tool for grabbing rocks, and a potential defensive weapons – as I discovered when I grabbed a seemingly invincible enemy and used it as a shield against similar enemies. The shield also does double duty: generating a barrier that protects only where you aim it, you can also sweep the barrier through enemies, turning the shield into something like a blunt axe.
That kind of minimal but effective versatility goes a long way, and does much to keep you from noticing the repetition for quite a while. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s aesthetic is also a winner. The pictures, as you can see, speak for themselves. Drawing from both the old time animation look and feel that made Limbo such a wonderful experience and classic sci fi imagery, it’s impossible to get tired of looking at ITSP.
One thing I liked in particular is how much this game made controlling a spaceship feel like fun instead of nothing more than endless blasting weapons. The puzzles are always just challenging enough to be fun but usually not throw-your-controller-against-the-wall infuriating. Part of that is due to the very frequent save checkpoints that appear after pretty much any involved task. Many indie games scrimp on save points, creating fake difficulty by making you re-do a lengthy and dangerous series of tasks in order to get to a boss likely to kill you. Hell, even AAA game makers do this for their downloadable titles (Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty, I’m looking at you.)
ITSP thankfully saves you that kind of headache with extremely frequent checkpoints. Complete a task, beat a boss, and you get one. Even if you’ll keep dying again and again while you work out how to kill a boss, you won’t have to retrace all your steps to get back there.
Special praise should also be given to the sound effects and musical soundtrack. Though minimal, everything you hear adds perfect atmosphere and pacing, and in the case of the music, is catchy too. Taken as a whole, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a triumph, and developers Shadow Planet Productions should be giving themselves some well deserved hi fives. It’s just too bad that it is only very good instead of excellent.
Truthfully, it’s not so much that there’s a single major flaw preventing me from rating Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet at 100. It’s a great game! It’s just that its petty little annoyances, more than anything else, really begin to add up until they kind of interfere with your enjoyment of the game. Two big ones stand out:
* The enemies, however different they look, tend to behave identically. Boss battles in particular tend to be solved as much on sussing out patterns as by strategic use of your devices (and skill). It’s not that big of a deal, but even in a game as short as ITSP, I began to get bored figuring out a pattern, and just playing and replaying until I timed things right. Granted, this kind of play is a total throwback to old school NES style gaming, but it still kind of left me cold.
* The fact that some of these levels are quite big, and you sometimes have to wander across them multiple times, and there’s never a teleportation system or just a way to effectively skip past all the boring bits you’ve already passed through a couple of times. Seriously, as much as I LOVE looking at ITSP, I didn’t like looking at some of the same thing again and again. In the sequel, please give us some kind of trip skip, OK?
Overall, I can’t bee too hard on Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. At 1200 Microsoft points, you might feel it could have been slightly cheaper, but it’s inexpensive enough that you aren’t feeling ripped off. It get’s tedious but even with that in mind it’s fun, full of old school exploration and absolutely gorgeous. Definitely worth a look.