Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (2011)

insanelytwisted

There aren’t many games these days that manage to enthrall me from the get go and keep my in their grips until I’ve beaten them. Insanely… well, lets just shorten it to ITSP, is a sort of Metroidvania game that isn’t a platformer, more like a physics based shoot’em up where you play an alien whose world was invaded by a strange shadow force and now you’ve gone to its source, a creepy, twisted world full of dark caverns, deadly monsters and strange machines.

The formula isn’t all that new: explore, get new upgrades, solve a few puzzles, advance until you’ve seen all and met the final foe. What makes this somewhat different is the unique art style, think Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack but in an completely alien environment.

Both the imaginative scenery and the complementary soundscape work together to create the perfect illusion of an alien world. Black vines twist to alien harmonies, glowing things spout deadly projectiles and various ancient tech lies around, either upgrades or information about ITSP’s past and how the shadow force evolved.

At the start of the game the action and puzzle aspect is still laid back. First you have to learn how to navigate this new world. It’s just enough to fly around in your little ship, blast away a few creeps and go exploring. There’s no single human word spoken, everything you discover is described by images and you can scan foes and friends alike. There are a couple of boss fights, mostly at the end of each unique area and each of them has to be vanquished with a different tactic.

Besides being an utterly beautiful 2d-game, the pacing is quite well done and while at times a bit too easy, it’s never too easy. Moderate I would say. Some puzzles require navigating rockets along narrow paths (and later hauling a light source), which is a bit annoying if you don’t know that you can also use the mouse to control the rockets direction (or haul the light source). I can’t imagine how annoying those segments were on XBLA where you only had the gamepad.

The game gets a bit puzzle-heavy toward the end and the exploration aspect is lessened, which made me go sour on the game a little bit, but overall I really enjoyed ITSP. It feels, despite the common formula, like a unique game (physics shmup metroidvania) and a fresh take on some very worn out ideas. And it’s pretty fun to play.