During this years Summer of Arcade on the Xbox 360 one title stood out among the others in almost every possible way: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. The name alone is intriguing enough to grab your attention, but when you see the games visual aesthetic and find out that the art director was Michael Gagné, most known for one of my favorite animated movies of all time (The Iron Giant) and his work with Pixar, how could you look away?
Of course having a cute, crazy name and wonderful graphics by a man as highly respected as Gagné (a man so highly respected I actually looked up the keyboard command to type his name properly) is but a small piece of the puzzle. How well does Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet hold up as a whole? That, is a very good question.
The story for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is one that you’re going to have to find for yourself, as it’s presented in the beginning with a brief cinematic sequence with no kind of narration. You pilot a ship, you leave your homeworld and head to the Shadow Planet, and that’s about it. Throughout the game you can collect artifacts that give you another brief clip of what happened for every three you collect and I do mean brief: the longest one is probably five seconds.
That’s OK though because the story is far from the center piece here. You’re on the Shadow Planet, it’s a horrible place and you have to solve puzzles and fight monsters to escape. That’s fine.
The true core of the game is exploration and puzzle solving, all of which are made possible by different attachments for your ship. You start with a scanner which will let you scan interactive areas and enemies in the environment and receive a hint on which attachment to use. Eventually you’ll pick up a large variety ranging from your standard blaster for combat to missiles, a laser, or a buzz-saw. They each have their uses in the environment for navigation and puzzle solving, and most have a certain combat application as well.
Combat itself often boils down to simply blasting away the things that are in your way and continuing to do so until they stop being in your way. The blaster is often capable of handling most of your battle needs, though in certain areas or with particular enemies you’ll need to use a different tool. You can access all of your equipment quickly by pressing the right bumper and bringing up a wheel, where you can then assign four of them to the face buttons which makes accessing the most used ones easier, though which four that entails will be constantly changing.
As you navigate the different areas you’ll often come across an area where you can’t proceed until you have the proper tool. Scanning these items will actually mark them on your mini-map with a small logo of the item needed to proceed which is a very useful addition which cuts back on unnecessary backtracking trying to remember where you saw that missile door.
Speaking of the map, get used to seeing it because you’ll be checking it nearly constantly. Your current destination is always clearly marked as is the current location of your ship, but the map itself isn’t the source of the problem. Aside from the fact that every section of the game is very distinctly different from the others, each section sticks very hard to a certain design motif that while incredibly visually satisfying is difficult to navigate by memory and appearance alone. Do I need to turn left at this spiky black wall of doom, or the next one? A brief complaint, but one worth noting.
If combat is the weakest part of the game and the puzzles one of the most solid, it truly says something when I say that without a doubt the absolute strongest part of the game is the boss fights. Taking place at the end of each different section of the game, each different boss battle is an absolute delight. These actually feel like giant intricate puzzles more than straight up fights, incorporating all the different obstacles you encountered in the previous areas as a means to take down the boss.
Despite the heaps of praise I’ve slung upon it thus far, the game isn’t without fault. The worst part about the boss fights is that there are so few of them, and this is one of my biggest complaints about the game in general. I’m not a strict proponent that the length of a game is directly proportionate to how fun it is. A few games in recent years have certainly proven that statement and I still stand by that.
The problem is that no matter how much there is to do in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the adventure is over all too soon. You’re given all these tools and introduced to a large number of puzzles and different enemies but most of them are never truly given an opportunity to shine. By the time I had beaten the game I’d already explored 95% of the map and discovered 90% of all the collectible items in a mere five hours, leaving very little left to do afterward.
In addition there are a handful of control issues that caused me no end of frustration. Sometimes aiming the blaster can be a hassle, particularly with some of the faster swarming enemies that bounce all over the place. More troublesome however is the grabber arm, particularly in a few puzzles. The biggest offender that stands out is the ever infamous laser/mirror puzzle which rears it’s ugly head. In this one you must insert crystals into certain slots, with different ones bouncing the laser in a different way. The problem is rotating the crystal with the grabber arm is touchy to say the least, and they don’t always want to go into the spot they’re supposed to.
There is a co-op mode available called Lantern Run which sees up to four players doing an endurance run that’s similar to a particularly frightening and thrilling level near the end of the game. Your goal is to carry a lantern as far as possible while you’re being chased by an Eldritch horror in the shadows that desires the lantern for itself. Each player has a lantern, though you only need to hold on to one. This mode is extremely fun with friends, and by yourself will tax all of your abilities in the game.
I had a lot of trouble deciding how I felt about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Though I was having fun and enjoying everything the game threw at me, the short length and a few particular frustrations kept gnawing at the back of my mind. The biggest disappointment for me was how much potential there was that’s squandered.
It’s not a bad game, and the parts of it that are good are simply outstanding. The art design in particular is so wonderful that I’d love to see more of the game even just so I can see more of Gagné’s wonderful nightmare world. The music and sound design is equally impressive, strangely enough featuring parts of the Dimmu Borgir song “Progencies of the Great Apocalypse” which sets the mood wonderfully and is used in just the right places where it’s incredible each time you hear it. Fans of the band will be pleased, and those who aren’t into this particular genre should note that it’s just the orchestral part in the beginning and if I didn’t tell you (or you didn’t catch the note in the credits) you would never know that music was done by a band wearing corpse paint.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is an absolute highlight of the year for me, despite all the faults present. When one of the biggest complaints somebody can give your game is that there’s simply not enough of it you know you’ve done something right. The game lives up to every word in the title as you’re chased by terrible horrors of the dark through a sometimes literally twisting planet, and it’s an absolute blast the entire time. Though frustrating at parts and cut off too soon, this is one game that should not be missed. Just be aware in advance of the short length, and enjoy it while it lasts.
- Title: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: FuelCell / Gagné Int’l
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Release Date: August 3, 2011
- MSRP: $15 / 1200 Microsoft Points
- Review Copy Info: A review copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.