There comes a time where a single game comes along from an unknown developer that does just about everything right. Very few are able to pull it off, but Fuelcell Games is the latest to try to make that perfect game that’s fun, challenging, and beautiful. Their first game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, will attempt to do just that when it launches as part of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade on Wednesday. Does this game represent perfection?
Shadow Planet’s story is a very simple one. In fact, there isn’t much of a story at all. The game’s plot is pretty much this; You’re a spaceship-piloting alien who is sent to investigate/purge a planet corrupted by a single dark spore-like object that crashed into it. That’s it. No dragged out sidequests, no romance, no rough-and-tumble characters broken down into a fragile state of mind. Fuelcell decided to put more focus into gameplay than lines of dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, aside from a couple of messages during the tutorial stage, there is none. Zero. Zilch. Nil. Any information given to you in Shadow Planet is presented visually. Your ship is equipped with a scanner that, when used, tells you what you’ve scanned (object, switch, enemy, etc…), what it does and what abilities you can use to interact with it/what weapons are effective. All of this is given to you in a very simple display using icons and your weapon ring. Bosses can be scanned too, which takes some of the grunt work out of figuring out how to beat them. This whole system felt confusing at first but you realize after a few minutes that this method of communication makes the game that much simpler.
Shadow Planet is best described as a “Metroidvania” type game. You’re able to freely explore the expansive world, the only limitations being “gates” where you need to have certain weapons or abilities before you can open them. Much like Shadow Complex, the game shows you where you need to go next; Most of the time, this “destination” marker points to the location to the next boss. What sets Shadow Planet apart from most other Metroidvania style games are the puzzles that you’ll have to solve along the way. These puzzles only get harder as the game goes on; Some of which can be quite challenging in the later stages. I found this to be a nice addition to the formula and appreciated the way I was forced to use my head.
The game’s simplicity is reflected in its very basic controls: Left stick controls your ship, right stick aims your weapon or ability, and the right trigger fires or activates that ability. The right bumper can be used to change weapons, though you can map four of your most often used weapons to the face buttons. Some of these more unique abilities, aside from the scanner and blaster, include a grappling hook to carry objects, a saw blade that cuts through loose rock, and a laser beam that reflects off of some surfaces. Most of these abilities are dropped by bosses as they are defeated, and mastering each of them is key to getting through Shadow Planet.
Shadow Planet also has a separate co-op multiplayer mode called Lantern Run. In this mode, you and up to three other players (either locally or over Xbox Live, though it can also be played in single player too) are armed with only a blaster and a grappling hook, trying to escape from a giant monster that slowly creeps up from the left side of the screen. The goal here is to get as far as you can without everyone dying or losing all of your lanterns. Along the way your team faces many obstacles and waves of enemies that must be overcome, and is one of the more interesting and challenging multiplayer modes I’ve tried lately.
As mentioned before, the game’s visuals make up for the lack of dialogue as a means of giving the player information. At the same time, the game world is visually stunning, with its focus on black reminding me of Limbo. The concepts behind the look of Shadow Planet’s world were all painted by Michel Gangé specifically for this game, and as a bonus can be unlocked by collecting molecule-like objects scattered around the game world. Both him and Fuelcell’s artists left no stone unturned when creating this world, and the result is one of the most gorgeous-looking games on XBLA.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet ends up being a smorgasbord of different games. From its Metroidvania base to its unique abilities and challenging puzzles, this game is worth the 5 or so hours it will take for you to finish it (even more if you dive into multiplayer Lantern Run). If you’re into action games at all, this game was meant for you. Shadow Planet fits perfectly into this year’s Summer of Arcade along with Bastion, and is a downloadable game that you won’t want to pass up.