Price: £10.20 (1200 MS Points)
Format: Xbox 360 via XBLA
It’s spectacularly difficult to pin down just what Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is. Is it a twin stick shooter? Yes. Is it a platform game without any platforms or jumping? Yes. Is it a fiendishly difficult puzzle game? Yes. Is it a gorgeously realised space adventure with some of the most stunning and individual graphics Xbox Live Arcade has ever seen? Yes. It’s all of these things and more. And less. It’s a frustratingly esoteric, yet gloriously playable fable about a plucky spaceship, searching for a way to defeat the darkness that’s gripped its world. It is, in short, brilliant. And also not brilliant.
You know from the word go that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is something unique. Its art style is breathtaking, a mix of lush hand painted cartoon world and sumptuous, solid colours. Words don’t do justice to just how good looking this game is. Then you’re given control over your little spaceship, a buzzing, endearing craft with little more than a beam that explains things to it, and you, for defence.
Even at that early stage, the twin hearts of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet are at war. On one hand, it’s a rich and beautiful experience, yet on the other it’s a convoluted and confusing trial, often not explaining to you in clear enough terms what you need to be doing. This dichotomy runs throughout the game. Even when it’s at its finest, when you’re flashing through ingenious puzzles with a smile a foot wide plastered on your face, there’s still the nagging feeling that just around the corner lies a task that’s going to leave you hovering around for half an hour, bewildered as to what your next step should be.
The game is split into six distinct levels, each with their own stunning look. You pilot your spaceship through these zones, solving puzzles, shooting enemies and battling enormous boss monsters. Described like that, things might sound disarmingly old school, but that’s far from the case. Your ship can carry a number of upgrades, each of which perform different tasks. There are guns and rocket launchers, but also grabbers, tractor beams, lazers and electric shields. You need to utilise these add ons to solve the puzzles in front of you, and that’s where the game really comes into its own.
When Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet gets things right, it’s an utter joy. You find yourself pushing on, trying to beat the next puzzle and move on to the next level, just to see what the game has in store. When it gets things wrong though, the bitter pill is all the harder to swallow because of the sweet, sweet greatness you were tasting mere minutes before. Some of the puzzles are just too obscure, some of the paths that move you forward just too well hidden. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a prime example of everything that’s right with Xbox Live Arcade. It’s brave, creative and shockingly pretty. If you can get past the parts where it stumbles, you’ll find one of the most rewarding experiences the Xbox has to offer.