With the excellent examples of smaller arcade titles being released such as Bastion and From Dust, it’s hard to spend much time playing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. If not for the art style of the game, I would simply say it was mediocre and write it off.
What does work about the game isn’t enough to keep me playing. The art style is clearly its best feature. The game is gorgeous and creates an interesting atmosphere for you to explore. I had fun exploring the planet for a while, but quickly realized how similar all the enemies were and how each level only looked a little different than the last. Yes, the planet is beautiful and artistic, which encourages me to explore, but most of what you find when you explore is simply concept art — you may get lucky and find an upgrade for your ship, but mostly concept art. The artwork may be a little neat, but I never felt compelled to track it down. Since the map is so huge and takes some time to get from one end to another, I feel like I really needed a better reason to go clear over there to see if it’s something worth my time.
With so much of the same thing, you begin to look forward to the boss battles. They were the only thing that kept me going after a little while. While most enemies in the game look and act alike, the boss battles each feel unique and challenging. Shadow Planet Productions must have focused on making each one a true battle. I could easily beat each level without dying, but as soon as a boss battle came along, I would lose several lives before I could survive the encounter. The bosses feel fairly old-school, with different stages of difficulty coming at you until you can barely keep up. Emerging victorious always left me with a sense that if the fight had gone on a little longer, I would’ve lost. Many of them are visually works of art. They consistently reminded me that the best feature of the game is its visuals.
Shadow Planet is far from cinematic, as it has almost no cutscenes and other than a short clip at the beginning introducing you to the alien hero and his ship, there is no story. You are an alien, exploring a planet that has been taken over by something. We don’t know what that something is or why the alien cares. We don’t even know if this is his home planet or why he cares. We just know he wants it gone and you’re helping him. His ship is really all you see for the rest of the game and without any other characters — or much of your playable character — the game started to feel lonely. Guiding my ship around the massive planet for hours, backtracking through areas I had previously explored looking for the next ability or boss quickly grew stale.
If you’ve been hoping for at least a soundtrack to keep you company along the way, then think again. The music is little more than a few beeps that follow you along as you wander throughout the game looking for something cool to fight. This is one aspect that could easily have taken more focus. It just seems like what music they have was tacked on or added as an afterthought. It does nothing to enhance what atmosphere Shadow Planet Productions tries to create. Why not add something in that could’ve at least made each level more unique or added into the atmosphere of each level? This game is clearly rooted in old-school, but lacks the old-school music to accompany the hero on his quest.
Even the abilities began to get on my nerves after a little bit in Shadow Planet. Each ability gives you the opportunity to pass a unique obstacle that requires that ability. The shortfall is that most of the abilities are only slight variations, for instance, a buzz saw, a claw, and a tractor/repulsor beam are all abilities. There are two kinds of rocks in the game, rocks that can be cut through with the buzz saw and rocks that can be picked up with the claw. They look identical, but you can’t cut the claw rocks or pick up the rocks that need to be cut. Also, you can’t use the tractor/repulsor beam to move either kind. There are only specific blocks and a few other random things that the tractor/repulsor beam works on. This may be a minor detail, but it highlights why the game becomes mediocre. One ability was a scanner that really only served the purpose of informing me what ability applied to something.
In the onslaught of small, cheap but creative titles that are coming out, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is fun, but not as fun as its competition. If you like these kinds of games and you see it come up even cheaper, look into it. Other than that, go play From Dust or Bastion.
The Good: The visuals are a work of art. The boss battles are fun and intense.
The Bad: Almost no story. Begins to feel boring after a little bit.
The Ugly: Controlling guided missiles was really kind of annoying. Guided missiles should never be annoying.