Twisted and Shadowy
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, brainchild of visionary animator: Michel Gagné and developed by Fuelcell Games (Joe Olson), is a short title that's devoted to providing you with several hours of fun. It has a simple and elegant control system and borrows a very Metroid-esque style of puzzle solving for many of its locked passages. Dive in and see what the fuss is about with our capsule review right now!
An alien world's sun has been devoured by a mysterious shadowy planet, causing no ends of trouble for the little guy's homeworld. So, he packs himself into his saucer and sets off on a fantastic voyage to discover just what's going on.
Shadow Planet as previously mentioned borrows heavily from the Metroid school of 'locked route is opened by weapon x' and it does so beautifully. You control the titular alien's saucer in a side-scrolling adventure that will occupy you for a few hours in single player, and offers a form of multiplayer to round out the experience. The single player story sees you attempting to navigate all kinds of hazards, monsters and boss battles from the mind of Michel Gagné and his superbly twisted imagination.
Along the way you're going to search out upgrades, pop open the map to find the best route and collect several kinds of weapons, from a blaster to a remote guided missile. The saucer comes equipped with a scanner and can scan enemies and other objects in the world. If you're stuck for a clue, try using it, it'll save you a lot of frustration trying to work out just what's going on.
Weapons and gadgets can be mapped to the various face buttons, quickly and easily. Swapping them out is simple enough and the controls are very solid. There's no control lag and the whole experience is smooth, very smooth. Likewise the control of the saucer allows for some precise manoeuvring to avoid the various obstacles, dodge the enemy types and manipulate some of the game's more complex puzzles. In short, it's a joy to play.
The lack of mini-map does mean that you're constantly switching between play and the map, which does bog things down a little and breaks the flow. The map is easy enough to use however and this little short-coming isn't bad enough to really mar the whole experience.
There are checkpoints that track your progress through the Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and they also restore the saucer's health. Clever checkpoint use means that you're never too far away if you are destroyed or make a mistake from a puzzle or boss you just fought.
The boss fights are pretty clever and often require brainpower as well as trigger power.
The campaign is quite short though. The game's difficultly isn't too bad and there are a few controller-chewing moments that will give you a headache or two, this is however all part of the fun!
The visual charm of Shadow Planet is not to be sneezed at, this is a gorgeously animated and extremely detailed game. The stark black and white shadowy effect is offset by a brilliant splash of colour here and there, with a beautiful surreal nature to the actual graphical designs. There's a lot of minute detail in the graphics as well, with the saucer looking superb with its little windows and tiny antenna on the top. Gagné has pulled out all the stops with his art here. It also runs silky smooth and there's not a single smidge of slowdown.
The whole animated style of Shadow Planet give it a very Russian 'Shadow Puppet' feel to the proceedings, with gorgeously evolving scenery that moves and weaves, the whole thing comes alive in tiny animated touches. The backgrounds have a lot of motion to them and there's very little static scenery in the game, in fact I'd hazard a guess to say there's hardly any places in Shadow Planet where something isn't going on in the background really. When you come to the alien, the saucer and the various other enemies in the world, there's a layer of animated detail that is easy to miss if you're not looking for it.
The little antenna atop the saucer has a way of bending back at speed, or moving to match the opposite direction of saucer travel, its a little touch but an important one. Our titular heroes' ship is the star of the show in many cases and as you upgrade it, it changes subtly to reflect the extra power given to the vessel. Then you have the enemies themselves that all have numerous moving parts, some are made up of smaller enemies that can break apart if damaged too much. And at times I'm reminded of Bullet Hell style games with tons of projectiles on screen at once and the saucer nimbly zipping around and through them.
Shadow Planet has a subtle level of physics that allow for weight based objects, certain puzzles and even a flow dynamic that means water plays a crucial role in some of the areas of the game. There are also physics that impact the projectiles fired by the enemy and by the saucer's blaster, as well as guided missile. For instance, you can dip the saucer into the water and shoot bolts out; they will speed up somewhat when they leave the water's drag. Shoot down into water, and they slow down. These little physics touches keep a sense of reality about the surreal world and designs, one that brings a tiny smile each time an effect is noticed.
I'm reminded once again of the old-skool games of yore, ones with boss patterns and enemy patterns. This is a superbly retro feel and Shadow Planet ascribes perfectly to the whole ethos that you don't need complex AI to make this kind of game fun, just AI that provides a suitable challenge.
Shadow Planet brims with sound and audio design, the quality of these audio snippets and sounds is extremely high. They also match the visuals perfectly and it's yet another layer of atmosphere on an already atmospheric title.
With the help of Dimmu Borgir and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (a great mashup), the music of Shadow Planet is utterly compelling and provides a sense of dramatic scope to the whole game. This is something that complements Gagné's visual and animated style to the letter.
There's apparently DLC on the way for Shadow Planet, though we don't know exactly what form it will take save for the fact it's co-op. We are thinking it might be a co-op campaign or even a co-op side story. At the outset though, it's possible to play Lantern Run with a local group of up to 4 people, or play online with the same. Lantern Run sees the players trying to outrun a dangerous massive beastie whilst delivering a large lantern down the random passage, full of nasty things and other obstacles.
There are upgrades available but it's wise to share those out so you ensure your team has the best chance of survival. Lantern Run is also playable on your own, but really, half the fun is working with a group of people to survive the trials ahead.
Well it is twisted!
The only real issue with Shadow Planet besides the lack of mini-map is the short campaign, which last a few scant hours. Yet for a downloadable game it's a price that is worth paying for a fun, unique and beautifully realised adventure. We'd recommend this one to anyone who loves Metroid, puzzle games and has a soft spot for starkly beautiful graphics and high levels of detail/animation in their downloadable games.
Quality production values throughout mean that Shadow Planet is a visual spectacle for those who aren't playing it right now as well.