Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet promises a return to Metroid style gameplay with a single map to explore, weapons and tools to collect, puzzles to solve and lots of backtracking to unlock all the game's secrets. For the most part, I enjoyed my time with the game, but unfortunately a few flaws keep it from being truly great.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet starts off... well you're actually going to need to make heads and tails of the story on your own mostly. This is because there is no dialogue or subtitles explaining everything in detail. Maybe I'm just a sucker for immersive storytelling, but I really dug how much the game embraces this. What I could put together from the intro cinematic is that an asteroid of shadowy substance and red eyes crashes into this system's sun and in turn infects these alien's homeworld, covering it with black tendrils. You are one of the few ship not caught up in the black stuff, so it's up to you to find a way to the shadow planet and figure out what's going on.
As I said earlier, something I enjoyed most about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was the way it embraces this truly bizarre experience. You are an alien investigating an alien planet. The player doesn't know much more than that, but you do have your trusty scanning tool to give you some hints. Your scanner will show you a picture that will give you a basic idea of what something is or what it will do to you. It might be a picture of your ship exploding or a picture of which tools might be helpful in the situation. It's somehow fitting that the game has you floating around in your little UFO and running the light of your scanner back and forth. Graphically, much of the game is in sharp contrast of black silhouettes with splashes of bright color, which gives the game a striking and memorable look, and as you progress through the world the environment changes as the shadow planet progresses and evolves.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet splits its gameplay between exploration, shootem up and puzzle-solving. Instead of a series of levels you simply have one big map to explore. Ultimately the only thing holding you back from scouring every inch is having the right tools to get past the various obstacles and gates. I love exploring in games, and I would frequently clear out every other possible avenue before heading to my next objective. So while exploration is handled solidly, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet drops the ball on giving you good in-game reasons to explore. There are useful upgrades to your ship scattered about, but you will mostly be finding concept art and movie clips. I really wish there was a slightly little better incentive for me to fly and fight my way back across a previous section.
The shooting and fighting also has its good and bad points. The varied weapons are fun and most every tool can be applied to fighting with a bit of ingenuity, but the act of actually trying to shoot down another opponent often feels much more "spray and pray" than using your tools to your advantage. It was often my practice to simply jet down a corridor as fast as I could. I would fire continuously and hope for a hit while I tried to dodge my way through everything else. The health refilling checkpoints and pick up are frequent enough to support this less than cautious approach.
I had the most fun with Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet's puzzles. Nothing was too particularly head scratching, but they did require you to use your tools in clever ways. A few of the puzzle related mechanics do feel too much like they were done simply for the sake of the puzzle. The tractor beam, for example, conveniently doesn't work on a needed item but works fine on the others around it, and there is also a section where you must shift the perspective so you can fit down passages too narrow for you to pass through vertically. The boss battles are great though and you'll need to use your tools and surroundings in order to defeat them, sometimes without needing to fire a single shot. All in all, I'd really just like to see more puzzles in the game.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is roughly six hours in length, though that can vary based on how much you explore and backtrack to uncover the whole map. I tend to do that a lot. In addition to the campaign you can also try Lantern mode, which tasks you and up to three friends with seeing how far you can travel while a big nasty enemy chases you. You can hop online for it, but it's great to bring a few people together in the living room and yell at each other about who was supposed to be carrying the lantern when you all died.
Bottom line: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is good fun, with striking visuals and a great setting. A few issues keep it from being totally brilliant though.
Recommendation: If you're a fan of "metriod-vania" or in the mood for a light puzzle game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is worth picking up.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
Justin Clouse wants to trade in his UFO for a Star Destroyer.
Game: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Developer: Shadow Planet Productions (Fuelcell Games/Gagne International)