Today Microsoft let loose the third of this year’s Summer of Arcade titles, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet from FuelCell/Gagne Int’l. In actuality, though, Microsoft accidentally released the game last week for a short period alongside From Dust. The game combines fast action and exploration with a visual and audio style that would rival Tim Burton’s movies.
The trial begins with a great rendered cutscene giving you a brief glimpse at the tragedy that sets up the rest of the game. A giant black mass of a gooey, tendril-ed nature emits a piece of itself that sets off and takes over a nearby sun. I was a big fan of the animated series Samurai Jack, which had a similar origin with its villain, so I was reminded of that series by this introduction. A lone observer sees the fate of his sun and watches as his own planet is also slowly consumed. He sets off in his own mini saucer to fight off the onslaught and that’s where your part in the story begins.
At the onset of the game, you’re immediately introduced to the mechanics of your ship as you learn how to swap between and assign your various tools to buttons. You’ll also get accustomed to flying your ship fairly quickly as its controls fairly smoothly. Pretty early on in the trial you’ll acquire a few tools including a claw hook for picking up objects and latching onto others, as well as a ray gun that’s your primary defense against the world attacking you.
That world is part of the artistry that makes up the game. It’s a living world of open chambers and narrow passageways, filled with tentacles, spikes, and all sorts of moving parts that are either there to kill you or impede your path as you progress towards the center of your home world. The enemies maintain the same general color scheme giving you the sense that they’re all just pieces of a much larger being. The visual style of the world is really something amazing with the blacks and reds of the surfaces and enemies set against much more vibrant and colorful backgrounds. It’s a striking feel that I haven’t experienced since playing last year’s Limbo.
Pretty quickly, I’m sure everyone would get the same feeling I did in that it seems like every inch of the environment is out to kill you. However, there are times where your obstacle is simply progressing forward. At one point I encountered a puzzle where I needed to move a large boulder in order to shift a large branch-like structure to open up a path. At other times, a living creature will need to be fed a rock via the hook arm in order to have it retreat out of the way. The game also has a ‘Metroidvania’ element in that you need to pick up certain new tools that will let you get through a previously inaccessible area. Case in point, during the trial you’ll acquire a buzz saw that’s necessary to clear a few paths. It’s nice to have these quieter moments amongst the tense portions where you’re navigating through or fighting against the enemies.
Along the way, you’ll not only fight waves of smaller enemies, but also gigantic bosses. It’s on you as the gamer to figure out what tools you’ll need to use to survive and which you need in order to attack a weak point or points on the boss. The trial for the game ends just after you beat the first boss. There’s so much going on between avoiding the spike-lined walls of the chamber, the smaller enemies that the boss releases after you, as well as running into the boss itself. Sometimes the scale of your ship compared to everything made me lose track of where it was, but I quickly adjusted after a couple of self-induced deaths.
If you can take out the boss, you’re treated to a trailer showing off some of the bosses and tools to look forward to in the full release of the game. It’s pretty much the same trailer that was available as a preview weeks ago, but having just completed the trial, it’s really a smart push to get you to pick up the game. I absolutely loved the visual style and ambiance of the game, the mechanics were sounds, and the promise of what’s to come is just too great to resist. This is definitely a game I’ll pick up once I finish Bastion, but I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up now. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will set you back 1200 points($15), but it’s well worth it.
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