|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Fuelcell Games/ Shadow Planet Productions|
|Release: August 3, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Fantasy Violence|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Maybe my mind has been corrupted from over-exposure to both horror movies and games that make "difficult" a dirty word, but when I heard about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, I was expecting something that would make me tear my hair out and feature plenty of crazy images that would forever alter my perception of reality. However, what I got was a beautifully crafted world full of style and substance that I just couldn't get enough of.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a game in the vein of titles like The UnderGarden and PixelJunk Eden; the visual style is really what keeps you playing. The game takes place on a planet that has been infected with some sort of unnamed evil. Even though this evil is slowly eating away at the planet, it is, in its own way, strangely beautiful. It introduces some amazing structures and creatures. One-eyed bats, floating jellyfish, and living plants fill the landscape with some truly spectacular visuals, and the look of the game really is its signature element. If you love games with unique art styles, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is right up your alley.
Unfortunately, even though the game itself is beautiful, gameplay feels like it sometimes takes a backseat to the visuals. The main game mechanic relies on your ability to collect tools and use them to get through challenging environments and get rid of enemies. These tools range from a ray gun to a circular buzz saw, and finding them along the landscape is your first priority in the game. There is only one "level" and it'll be up to you how you progress, which works both positively and negatively. Though the self-guided approach does give you plenty of room to explore, it can also take you to places where you can't access with your current tools, which can result in some serious backtracking. But if you don't mind some unintentionally wasted time, you can fly your little spaceship around and outfit yourself with all the tools you'll need for the game and then some.
I actually tried to just blast through the game initially, but I found that to be a pretty fruitless strategy. Much of the game relies on your ability to solve complex puzzles, and just focusing on blasting away bad guys won't help you at all. The game actually has somewhat of a dual identity as both a shooter and a puzzler, but the latter is what you'll encounter more often. In fact, the shooting is what I would say is the weakest part of the game, as it relies on some very specific twitch mechanics. Boss fights in particular require extreme precision, which can detract from the overall "feel" of the game. I much preferred wandering around the terrains and using my tools to solve puzzles over frantically switching and aiming weapons and specific parts of a boss to win a fight, especially because boss fights in this game tend to feel overly long.
Still, despite my qualms with the twitch-based combat and the boss formats, I did like the gameplay overall. As you progress, you can see the planet slowly coming back to life, which is satisfying indeed. Though there is no straight progression path, every unlocked item, defeated boss, or discovered artifact feels like a big win. The Shadow Planet is a big place, and finding items in its hidden corridors is always exciting.