Wednesday, August 10

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review (X360) – Inviting, Tedious, Short, Pricey.

In the lead-up to its release, many had likened the elaborately-named Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) to classic platformers such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid Fusion. In terms of concept, I believe the comparison to be accurate enough; as the game gradually introduces new weapons and equipment that allow for players to explore parts of the play area that were previously inaccessible. In terms of execution however, there is very little left to go back to, and the expanded arsenal doesn't necessarily need to be implemented in combat. Striking visuals aside, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn't have the depth to be mentioned in the same breath as a quality "Metroidvania" title.

The Good
Delicious direction - Much like the other releases we've seen in this year's Summer of Arcade promotion, ITSP features striking art direction with wonderfully animated organic and mechanical foes and obstacles set in clean, colourful and varied environments. The game's cut scenes while used sparingly are well produced and beautiful to behold. 

 ...AND THAT is how babies are made!

Sounds evil - The sound design featured in ITSP is sufficiently dark to draw strong contrast to the vibrant visuals. Upon taking damage, players are treated to a Jaws-esque audio cue that creates a real sense of tension. Each of the corrupted planet’s inhabitants are also capable of stirring players to action with a cacophony of screeches and roars to let you know that they mean to do you harm. 

Momentum – There were some parts of the game – particularly early on – where it felt almost whimsical. The colour and weighty movement mechanics made for a genuine sense of discovery.

The Bad
Watch where you point that thing - This is more a quibble than a genuine problem, but on multiple occasions I found some of my weapons getting caught in tight spaces or slowing me down when they brushed against the earth or the planet's florae. The momentum-killing potential that my deadly appendages afforded me was often annoying.

Missed multiplayer potential - Lantern Run is a more visually-appealing take on F.3.A.R's "F$@king Run" mode, with up to four players tasked with escaping death at the hands of a large, tentacled monster in a tunnel punctuated with “arenas”: where groups of smaller creatures must be dealt with quickly to progress. I could never find a full match and connection quality was spotty at best, but working together with complete strangers to escape certain death was fun for a little while. Lantern Run could have been a worthwhile addition to ITSP but ultimately it fails to deliver. 

 Insert Iron Maiden lyrics.

The ends of the earth – After completing the campaign proper – which takes about six hours - there is very little left of the shadow planet for players to explore. I didn’t even really try to find most of the collectable upgrades and artwork scattered throughout the map, and yet there’s still very little for me to find after besting the final boss battle. There just isn’t enough content here to justify the asking price (1200 Microsoft Points).

The Ugly
That's not a weapon! - Most of the unlockable weapons in ITSP have a very specific purpose: generally they're used for puzzles in one of the game's environments. There's no mixing up your arsenal to get the edge in combat: more often than not I would just spam my alien foes with the saw blade appendage. The majority of the nine attachments on offer have some very specific applications that make for cheap and repetitive combat.

How bad is it, Doc? - During several boss fights - and just about any time I found myself in a large, open space - the camera zooms out to a point where it is very hard to discern how much damage your little ship has taken. This was particularly frustrating during the final boss fight, where I was little more than a black blemish compared to the hulking monster below.

Got a light? - The last of the shadow planet’s five zones is played out in a darkened area illuminated only by some bright lines in the background and a lantern that players must carry along with them. This disorienting experience was made even worse by barely visible enemies and a wide camera angle. I could hardly see my ship, I died a lot, and I didn't have much fun.

Stormtrooper syndrome - Aiming in ITSP is inconsistent, often inaccurate and a real blight on the entire experience. In several boss fights a sure hand is required, but the finicky aiming controls had me missing the mark and meeting my demise more times than I could count. This may have been alleviated with an on-screen reticule, but for the majority of the game I was cursing under my breath on account of the loose targeting controls. 

 You'll know what you need to do, but good luck making the shot.

The Verdict
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is dripping with charm in terms of presentation, but it’s too shallow and frustrating to justify the steep price of admission. The art direction and sound design are of an equally-high standard to its Summer of Arcade contemporaries, but it doesn’t match them in terms of fun and longevity. Good, but hard to recommend given the cost.

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