Technological innovation is a standard occurrence in video gaming. Every few months, new bars are set for expansive worlds, smarter AI, and better graphics that build upon their predecessors like stepping stones. More impressive is the rare release that makes us rethink what video games are capable of in terms of core gameplay;
Shadows are little more than visual touches of realism in most games, or possibly, a means of escaping an AI’s attention. In Lost in Shadow, the absence of light is the foundation for a truly unique platforming experience. As the shadow of a captive boy, you have been sliced away from your host and tossed to the lowest reaches of an impossibly massive tower. Your only goal is to return to your corporeal half, using shadows cast from the tower’s architecture as your walkways and platforms.
Running and jumping along shadows can be an extraordinarily disorienting experience, but in very enjoyable and eye-opening ways. It requires you to look beyond the material pathways and catwalks that every game before has trained you to be conscious of. How many times have you seriously considered the shadows in the world around you as anything more than the absence of light? Look at the shadows on a wall and imagine moving across the top of them, jumping between gaps, and being blocked by vertical stretches.
Shadows on flat walls are only the beginning. The tower curves and juts. As you approach the gap of an archway, a gargantuan hole leading a hundred meters inside, you’ll pause before realizing that even the shadows in the far distance connect to form an unbroken pathway. As the shadows shift perspectives along angled walls, backgrounds and foregrounds, and floors, so does the size of your shadow and the length of your jumps, adding yet another layer of challenge.
Floors will challenge you to not only navigate the shadows, but to manipulate them as well. There will be opportunities to move light sources and, with the help of your fairy companion, manipulate some objects in the real world. Shadow Corridors are dangerous realms filled with traps. Shadow Corridors can also be rotated (not tilted or rolled mind you), as though you are attempting to logically navigate a M.C. Escher print.
Death is a strangely provocative force in Lost in Shadow. It sends you back to the beginning of a stage and, although you are free to keep retrying, there is a morbid catch. Upon dying, I was given the news that Boy #1 had failed, and upon dying again, another alert that Boy #2 had failed. The ramifications of my actions were clear; every time I failed, another child lost his life. It was a small touch, only hinted at with the number, but it was an emotionally powerful incentive to survive.
The subdued colors and ambient sounds that float through the world are more reminiscent of Playdead’s Limbo than any other recent platformer, which is a compliment of exceedingly high degree. My brief time with Lost in Shadow was hopeful, challenging, and filled with moments of marvel as I navigated a side of reality rarely acknowledged.