We won’t mind if you’ve not heard of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, it’s not the most publicised game ever, but we will mind if after this review you don’t go and buy it. ITSP (as it will be known from now on) isn’t a game that tries to do anything particularly ground-breaking or imaginative, and it doesn’t have to. The concept is simple – you’re an alien and you fly around in your spaceship using various power-ups to clear out the corrupted star at the centre of the solar system. Complex? No. Brilliant? Yes.
The game begins with a simple cinematic sequence showing the corruption of the star at the centre of a solar system in which the game is set. Your alien jumps into his spaceship and after dealing with a quick thing on his own home planet, heads for the star to clear out the mess. That’s about all the story the game gives you, but you never actually want more. First impressions of ITSP reminded me of the NES classic, Solar Jetman, mixed with one of the 2D Metroid titles. You move through themed locations, collecting new power-ups and defeating bosses until you’re able to reach the final boss’ chamber. The concept is simple but the multitude of power-ups, tricky puzzles and fiendish enemies mean it’s a whole lot more.
When you begin, you’ll quickly gain access to your first item – a ray which can scan objects in the environment and tell you how to clear them. As you progress through each differing world, you’ll gradually collect additional items including a claw to grab objects and scenery with, various projectiles for attacking enemies or completing puzzles and many more. In total, the game presents nine differing power-ups, each with their own way of defeating enemies and completing puzzles. In typical Metroid fashion, you’ll usually acquire one new item per-world and then proceed to use that item to get through the world and defeat the boss.
As mentioned, each world has multiple different puzzles for you to complete, usually using the most recent power-up you collected. The first areas will see you completing simple puzzles such as pulling rocks aside with your claw item to make space for your tiny spaceship. Other puzzles you find later in the game get a lot more challenging. Whilst in the ice world, you’ll find crystals that can reflect laser beams and you’ll be tasked with redirecting the beam a number of times to a certain goal. Whilst it sounds easy on paper, when you factor in three different crystal sizes, multiple sockets for the crystals to sit in and multiple directions in which the crystals can face, you’ve got something that can be very taxing if you’re not thinking correctly.
Enemies in ITSP are never too challenging but some do cause a headache or two. Early enemies can be defeated using your ship’s basic laser, but later enemies acquire reflective shields, fire homing rockets and loads more in efforts to stop you succeeding in your quest. Bosses are typical video game fare with predictable attack patterns and being only susceptible to the item you recently acquired. Saying this, some bosses can be challenging enough to force multiple tries but, thankfully, the game’s checkpoint system is more than generous and makes repeat attempts less of a chore.
Visually, ITSP is very striking. Similar in vein to games like Limbo, the game opts for black 2D silhouettes against colourful back drops above most else. Occasional objects and enemies are 3D but the game sticks to the basic but effective theme for the most part. What you get is a game that oozes visual charm but never feels overly arty in ways that games like Limbo might.
Although not often present, usually limited to the unlockable cinematics that are opened by collecting items in the main game, the soundtrack in ITSP is stunning and wouldn’t seem out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. Quite how this small title has such an impressive score is beyond me, but it’s definitely one of the best heard in a downloadable title.
Whilst Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet won’t take you long to complete, clocking in at around 4 hours, it’s definitely worth the admission price as you get to play something truly unique and interesting. The collectibles, upgrades and cinematics offer extra longevity and there’s an online mode if you’re determined to keep going. One of the best arcade titles released in recent times.