Title: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Microsoft's annual Summer of Arcade event has been nothing short of awesome so far this year, and the latest game in their lineup is an indie title called Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. While it doesn't really break a lot of new ground, the game does combine simple shooting and exploration mechanics with a unique art style to create an experience that's short but sweet.
Set on a strangely serene alien planet, the game opens with your homeworld being invaded by some sort of presence from space. Giant, weird looking monsters descend and start consuming the planet and its resources, plunging the paradise into a disturbing darkness. As one of the cute, cartoony little UFOs that inhabit the planet, your job is to figure out just what's happening to your world and stop it any way you can.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet has one giant, continuous map that's open for you to freely explore. Points of interest are highlighted to guide you along to your next objective, but you don't necessarily have to follow the path that's laid out for you. Exploring new areas is one of the best parts of the game simply because they're all so beautiful. From the eerie, devastated surface of the planet to underground waterfalls and more, there are lots of cool and interesting areas to find here.
Despite the wide open map, you'll eventually come up against some type of obstruction that you won't be able to get around. This usually means you're lacking the right tool to do whatever needs to be done to proceed. Tools come in many different forms, from things like ray guns and missile launchers to a grabber arm and a buzz saw. Moving a giant rock out of the way with the grabber or steering a missile around a corner to hit a hidden switch are just a couple of the puzzles you'll come across.
Gameplay is divided up between these type of puzzling segments and fairly straightforward snippets of combat. Enemies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and figuring out how to deal with each of them is almost another puzzle in and of itself. The enemies can get rather predictable though, especially if you pass through the same area multiple times, as they always seem to reappear in the exact same positions.
It all boils down to either testing your wits or your reflexes. The game walks a fine line with its difficulty, rarely straying into the realm of being too tough but when it does things can get very frustrating very quickly. Puzzles sometimes appear to make no sense, but that just makes it all the more satisfying when you realize what you were doing wrong the whole time. Combat can be a bit worse about this, leaving you to bang your head against the proverbial wall over and over again while trying to figure out just how to kill one of the game's massive and visually complex boss creatures.
Despite the occasional rough spots, my only other complaint is the length of the game. Clocking in at somewhere around five or six hours, the game feels complete but lean. Its duration falls shorts of feeling unfinished, but the culmination of the game's steady buildup of concepts never feels like it has time to stretch its legs.
Regardless, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is still a solid game while it lasts. Great visuals and entertaining gameplay along with a soundtrack that fits like a glove make it well worth your fifteen bucks. If you're still not sure, there's a free demo you can check out. Another example of the great work that indie studios are capable of putting out.