Picture the scene. A beautiful, picturesque planet with lush gardens, serene lakes and a skyline to die for, a secluded paradise. You play the part of an alien happy in paradise. Until one day, from out of nowhere comes a toxic contagious monstrosity – a plague, a virus, which lands on your planet and consumes it from the outside in. Where there were fields, there is now a sticky black mess, where there were lakes, there is an icy tundra, and the skyline is filled with darkness.
This is the basic premise of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Your planet,is infected by a virus. It’s your job to cleanse the planet, and return harmony to your world. So you jump in your space ship and set off to right the wrongs.
The game opens beautifully. The opening cut scene is an amazing cinematic with incredibly sharp animated graphics to which I was immedietely intrigued. The whole thing, just looked, sharp. Upon entering the game itself, a thought struck me immediately. “This is Limbo, with colour”. I’m purely referencing the visual style here, but if you were to colour in Limbo’s world from it’s black and white tones, this is what you’d end up with. It’s at this point I finally get to take control of my spacecraft, which responds beautifully as I lift off from the docking station – and off I go, to save the world.
It’s fun, even if a little easy. It’s got a decent length, without getting boring. The visuals are stunning and varied, and the controls are spot on. Simple is never a bad thing.
At it’s core, ITSP is a platforming shooter/puzzle game. It reminds me of both Lunar Landar with feels of Echo the Dolphin. Each zone has a start point and a final destination – with a combination of enemies and gates along the way impeding your progress.
The game itself is set into seven zones incorporated into one huge map. There are no loading screens here as you can freely move from one zone to the next without having to wait. Each zone is distinctly different, from the submerged Ocean zone to the darkness of the Electric zone. The enemies in each zone are different too, although some are shared across multiple zones ; but there is still a unique feel in each. The Ice zone features snowflakes which break up upon destruction, the Ocean zone features Jellyfish that release a deadly ink cloud when they get shot. ShadowPlanet Productions have done a good job in making the worlds feel different, despite the fact the game runs on the same concepts all the way through.
To tackle the various enemies throughout the world, we’re going to need some serious firepower. Unfortunately, when the game starts, we have no weapons whatsover; but it doesn’t take long until we obtain our first, the gun. It’s as simple as it comes, but its effective. Click the right trigger, fire a bullet. It’s like a HD version of Asteroids. As you progress through the game you are slowly drip-fed weapons and utilities until you have a collection of eight, including a shield, a buzzsaw, an EMP pulse and rocket missiles. Each weapon has an enemy that it works incredibly well against, so you’ll find yourself using each weapon as you progress throughout the game.
The weapons also have a secondary purpose – most puzzles involve gates, and most gates can only be opened via usage of the correct weapon. It’s here that ITSP tries to offer some longevity ; for example, putting a gate in the second zone that requires the Traction Beam to open yet you only recieve the traction beam towards the end of the game. If you want to explore everywhere and get those collectibles, you’re going to have to backtrack.
Speaking of collectibles, there are quite a lot of them. We have 24 concept art icons, that when picked up open a new set of art in the extras menu of the main menu; we have armour and weapon upgrades, that as you collect more your ships armour/firepower will increase, and we have artifacts. There are eighteen artifacts, but I couldn’t discern their purpose. They do offer a small cutsecne when each tier is completed, but aside from that I think its just an added incentive to go back.
The opening cutscene is all you will get – no dialogue, no in game cutscenes to explain a bit more of the plot. Pretty much, the planet is infected, go save it.
The soundtrack in the game is of a mediocre standard. It didn’t stand out to be in any way, yet it was ambient enough so that I didn’t hate it by the end of the playsession. It did a job : the gun sounded like a gun, the saw, like a saw, with an eerie feel to the ambiance in the background.
The puzzles in the game are intriguing. Some were so easy they couldn’t be classed as puzzles yet some required such an obscure solution that I spent thirty minutes trying to solve them (I’m looking at you Mr Snake in the wind tunnel!). Most puzzles just consist of playing the game, selecting the correct loadout then backtracking to shoot a switch/move a box/grab a rock. There is no real tutorial system in the game, with the exception of one screen explaining the controls for each weapon – it means that you have to work out the best way to utilise your loadouts. The “info-beam” is a handy tool though; you fire it at an object, and it then tells you the corresponding weapon that interacts with it. Unfortunately, it takes away a lot of the intrigue and mystery, and ultimately makes the fairly easy puzzles even easier to solve. If I need to saw through a wall, let me figure it out on my own – I don’t want a big “saw” icon slapped on the wall when I use the info beam on it.
It’s here that I start to point out flaws with ITSP, and for me it has a few big ones. My main concern was the sheer lack of story. I know not all games need a story, but this is not Tetris. The opening cutscene is all you will get – no dialogue, no in game cutscenes to explain a bit more of the plot. Pretty much, the planet is infected, go save it. Seven hours later when you complete the game, we get the opening cutscene again, but this time in reverse (or near enough). I just felt that in between zones, a small 30 second clip to just hold the pace for a minute would of been wonderful. I wanted to be more immersed in ITSP, but unfortuntely, there was nothing to be immersed in.
My second huge issue with the game, is that most enemies can be bypassed. It’s a risky decision for any developer to make ; do we keep you locked in that room until all enemies are destroyed, or let you go where you want. They chose the latter, and unfortunately the game suffers for it. Players need a reason to stay and fight, and it just wasn’t offered here. I found myself nimbly dodging most enemies in my hunt for the next collectible, just because it was faster. Not necessarily easier, just faster.
My final issue, is once again related to the combat. ITSP is a puzzle/shooter, which is fine. The problem here I have, is the pace of the game. The puzzles slow the game right down, but unfortunately the combat sections do not speed it up. The enemies are usually slow, and killing or avoiding them is easy. They feel more of a nuisance than a threat. In fact, aside from boss battles throughout the game, I didn’t die once.
So how was the Multiplayer? It was great. Fun, fast and frantic.
The boss battles were entertaining enough, and I could sense inspiration from many older games. In fact, I’m pretty sure every boss mechanic here has featured in Sonic in some form or the other, but it wasn’t until I hit the last boss that I thought “Hey, I’m actually fighting a boss”. There were hundreds of mini enemies screaming towards me, whilst I’m dodging them and also trying to destroy my objective. The previous five bosses were much slower paced, and rather than being a frantic pot of mayhem, they were slow paced and co-ordinated exercises of patience. It’s a shame really, every boss should of been like the last boss – it would of made for a much more fun experience.
There is only one multiplayer mode on the game, and it’s called Lantern Run. The premise is simple (again) – your team has to drag your lanterns as far as you can go throughout the “rooms”. For every player there is a lantern, and they can be pulled or left at your discretion. Be warned though, you’re being chased by “The Hunter”. If he catches you, you die. If he catches your lantern, it pops. If all lanterns pop, or all team members die, its game over.
So how was it? It was great. Fun, fast and frantic. I played with three Americans (I’m English) and suffered no lag whatsoever, which is always a great start. Lantern Run brought the frantic feel of Asteroids that I was longing for, but co-operatively. There are mini puzzles here, but its more of a case of working as a team and communicating properly to get down the corridors to the “room”. Each room has a fight in it, where as the aim is to clear all the enemies then dig yourself out, get your lantern out, and get to the next room.
Every upgrade from the campaign is here in multiplayer, but its an added tactical choice as to who gets what. If a player dies, there are “checkpoints” where you will be reborn. If I was sounding like the campaign, was too slow paced and too easy, this is the exact opposite. It’s difficult in the later stages, and its incredibly fast paced. You can’t rest, not for a second – and if you think it’d get boring fast, doing the same thing over, your wrong. The corridors are random – corridor #1 on one playthrough will be different from corridor #1 on the next run. The random generation of the order of the corridors combined with the increased Hunter speed at later levels means sometimes getting the hard parts first is better – but you never know, and it just adds to the suspense. For a multiplayer mode so simple, the depth is incredible. With the decision of who gets the upgrades, whether you carry all four lanterns or just one, if you have an assigned shielder, shooter, carrier ; the possibilities are endless, and I can’t see it getting old.
Now, you’ve read the review to this point and your probably thinking it’s a very negative review. You’re wrong. ITSP is a very hard game to review due to it’s total simplicity. It’s hard to praise something thats good, if there isn’t much depth to what your praising. I can write about the flaws, because there is something there to write about – ITSP is a good game,I’m not sure if it’s 1200msp’s worth, but at 800msp I’d be happy with my purchase. It’s fun, even if a little easy. It’s got a decent length, without getting boring. The visuals are stunning and varied, and the controls are spot on. Simple is never a bad thing, just look at beans on toast.
Thanks to ShadowPlanet Productions and Microsoft for supplying us with a promotional copy in order to supply this review.