Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
“Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet”, or “ITSP” for short according the official blog, is a new XBLA game from Michael Gagne and Fuelcell Games. Michael Gagne is an experienced animator and comic artist which is pretty obvious from this game. ITSP starts with a bang like some crazy Saturday morning sci-fi cartoon (think Invader Zim) and the artwork throughout the whole game is superb.
At its core ITSP is a retro 2d arcade shoot’em up game with some mild physics puzzle aspects. It’s obviously been inspired by classic arcade games like Galaga, Asteroids and Gravitar. You fly a tiny UFO through a series of underground cavern zones on the Insanely Twised Shadow Planet. However despite the name, the game-play is fairly standard and you won’t encounter any real surprises here. Many of the puzzles remind me of other 2d puzzlers, for example the ‘Machine Zone’ of ITSP could have been lifted straight from last years XBLA ‘Limbo’ title.
Each zone you explore has a different art style and contains new abilities and power ups for you to collect for your UFO, and while there’s a nice mixture of enemies and mini-bosses in each zone as well as an uber end-game boss, don’t expect to be particularly challenged. The enemies are generally fairly sluggish and predictable and the mini-bosses you’ll be able to beat once you figure out what particular pattern you’re supposed to be following. If you do get stuck there’s also a built-in help system in the form of a scanner your UFO can use to get hints about what particular weapon or tool you should be using against each puzzle or boss. Towards the end of the game the difficulty is slightly increased but an experienced gamer will really have no problems completing this game. The campaign is also noticeably short. I made it to the end boss in three evenings of casual play which represents around 5-6 hours in the campaign, that’s mildly disappointing for a 1200 MSP game. Still for you achievement gatherers, there’s some easy achievements to be had!
However while the game isn’t particularly challenging or long it is still great fun to play and beautifully executed. If you’re a fan old school arcade shooters or ever doodled UFO’s on your school books, you’ll eat it up. Each zone has fantastic artwork and the power-ups you collect for your UFO all add reasonably unique abilities which are fun to use. For example the giant claw you see in the teaser videos is an amusing early power up that’s used through out the game. You have a set of fairly large maps to explore and if you want to collect all the upgrades and collectibles (in the form of some nice concept art) you’ll be back tracking a fair amount to use the later power ups to get to earlier parts of the map. Once you’ve explored the entire planet and collected all the things though, there’s no reason at all to return to the campaign. Completing the campaign will also net you two avatar awards: the standard game branded t-shirt and a nice ITSP avatar toy.
ITSP includes a multi-player mode that runs locally or on XBox Live where up to four players cooperate to protect and drag ‘lanterns’ (from the main game) through a series of random, enemy infested caverns. There’s a hard time limit, in the form of a giant creature that will destroy your lanterns if you take too long to advance. It’s mildly amusing and does add some replay value but feels like a bit of a throw-away addition just to check the ‘co-op/multi-player’ box.
According to True Achievements there’s already some DLC planned for the game, which sounds like it will add more co-op zones to explore. This is good to hear because ITSP is a game that’s crying out for some new zones to play through.