Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review
Since it’s highly unlikely that the Xbox 360 will get any sort of version of Pixeljunk Shooter, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a hell of a fill-in. Arriving this week for Xbox Live Arcade, the latest from Fuelcell Games combines the frenetic space-shooting action of closed-in shooters with the kind of thorough exploration that we haven’t seen since the old days of Metroid. It’s a combination that makes for a good time, but there are some speed bumps along this road that you should be aware of.
The game puts you in control of a floating UFO as you make your way around a planet that has a life of its own. Its organic nature is a hostile one, with vines that rip out of the ground, small enemies that come flying at you like crazy, and bigger ones that want to eat you alive. Luckily, you’ll be able to pick up a variety of abilities for your spacecraft along your journey, including a shooting weapon, a scanning device, and other means that will help you get around.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s abundant abilities help keep things interesting. Over the course of the game, you’ll find such abstract tools as a magnet propulsion device, a spinning buzz saw blade, and a grappling claw, which is ideal for hauling around rocks and clearing debris out of the way. Switching through these abilities, though, can be haphazard. You can assign certain functions to buttons on your control pad, but it’s way too easy to screw up functions and assign items to the wrong place. As a result, if you need something in a pinch (such as your blaster), you may find yourself unarmed and destined to die.
That’s a minor quibble for an otherwise terrific game that rewards you as you dig deeper into the planet. You can find a fine mix of collectibles here, including organisms that hint at bigger and badder dangers that are coming up. Granted, you’ll have to dig deep, and despite the fact that your objectives are clearly marked on a scanner in the pause menu, getting there can be quite the obstacle. Even if you reach your objective, you’re not entirely set for smooth sailing, as you’ll need to find the coordinating device to help you get through. A conduit isn’t going to activate itself, after all.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet may not be for those who prefer straight-up shooting antics, but those who stick with it will be promptly rewarded. The gameplay is loads of fun, and there’s plenty of action here, including some boss encounters that will test the mightiest of shmup skills. Once you complete the game (which should take a few hours upon finding everything), you can also try out Lantern Run—a co-op supported foot race where you try to survive an unstoppable beast’s wrath while carrying light-up lanterns. It certainly beats nothing, though a more competitive space battle would’ve been preferred.
Fuelcell Games has done wondrous work with the game’s presentation. These deep, dark caverns are colorful, and watching the terrain come to life—whether it’s small glowing vines or large beasts flinging their tongues at you—is dazzling. It’s definitely on par with Pixeljunk’s Shooter work, and in some ways maybe slightly better. The music is fitting too, shifting from ambient tones as you creep through the darkest of caverns to sudden outbreaks of Dimmu Borgir awesomeness. Nothing wrong with a little Norwegian death metal, right? (And for good measure, we recommend adding “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” to your iPod library. You can thank us later.)
With its somewhat-controlled pacing and occasionally frustrating puzzles (it’s almost like the planet is TRYING to kill you at certain points), Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet just narrowly misses joining the ranks of some of the best shooters out there. That said, its eloquent art style, innovative concepts, and sheer sense of overall fun still qualify it as a worthwhile purchase, especially in this dry spell of August game releases.