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    REVIEW: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

    Oh, how I love non-linear side-scrollers. Super Metroid, Metroidvania, and everything in between. If it features action, adventure, exploration, upgrades, backtracking, slick 2D visuals, and a map that is ready to be explored to 102%, I am all over it. It's no surprise then, that I was so excited to get my hands on Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, a downloadable title that features all of the above with one stipulation: you have full 360-degree control of a spaceship and its weaponry!

    An insanely twisted shadow force is infecting unsuspecting celestial bodies with extreme prejudice. The shadows have made the mistake of encroaching on your planet. You take control of an anonymous, hideous-yet-adorable little alien, who pilots an adorable-yet-fearsome flying saucer. As the lone hope for stopping the infectious shadow, the fate of your planet, and maybe the galaxy, falls squarely in your lap.

    As mentioned above, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet takes the mold of Super Metroid, sprinkles some twin-stick shooter elements, and cautiously floats around with it. The right analog stick controls the 360-degree movement of your ship. The left analog aims your ships weapon or tool, with right trigger being used to activate said tool. Left and right buttons pull up your tool selection wheel, and the face buttons can be assigned as equip shortcuts. As there are 9 total tools to choose from, with equal use around the planet for each, it would have been nice to have another four quick equip actions mapped to the unused directional pad. I found myself having to pull up the selection wheel too often in the thick of action, which doesn't pause the game, and obstructs most of the screen.

    Much like the games of this mold that have come before Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, a good chunk of your tasks revolve around exploration. Probing the planet in its entirety will not only net you things like concept art and artifacts to expand the story, but also upgrade your standard issue pea-shooter and armor. As if you needed a reason to explore every last inch of the map. The world is broken into one central area and several surrounding areas, each with their own unique attributes. There are sections dedicated to ice, magnetism, and more, including the always dreaded underwater stage. Of course, you can't readily face the challenge of any section you choose, all willy-nilly. Certain parts of the world are only accessible after you acquire the proper tool, most of which become available after defeating a boss, or entering new area. There are a wide assortment of tools to collect such as a buzzsaw, laser, pincer, magnet, and so on. Each serve a specific purpose to further your progress, with most of them also doubling as a weapon in addition to your trusty pea-shooter. Difficulty increases as you delve deeper, both enemies and level complexity alike, though you will never feel ill-equipped for any challenge you face. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet does a great job of giving the player a sense of progression though all the tools and upgrades collected.

    Sadly, the single player segment of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is relatively short, but to offset that, you can take up the multiplayer Lantern Run. Lantern Runs support four players either online or locally, with the purpose being to out run an evil shadow squid beast. As the squid creeps toward the four ships of different hue, it is the team's job to advance and transport four key items, or 'lanterns'. You're allowed only two tools at the onset: pea-shooter for fraggin' and pincer for draggin' the lantern. Speed is your friend here, as you try to outrun the squid, though caution should not be thrown to the wind. The tricky linear navigation is book ended by increasingly difficult rooms where you must clear all enemies before proceeding. Should a lantern fall too far into the squid's grasp, it with burst and never return. Though with four lanterns, the game is only ended when all four have been extinguished, or all ships have been destroyed. I was surprised to find a healthy amount of people lantern running on Xbox LIVE, and even more surprised at how dedicated to winning most of the community was. Didn't run into many of the nine year olds that infect Halo and Call of Duty, thank the stars. Lantern runs are a good bit of fun, and a nice distraction after overcoming the campaign, but I'm not completely sold on their staying power. There is a bit of DLC on the way which includes an additional multiplayer mode, but the jury is still out on whether that will be enough to reconcile for the game's slight duration.

    Art Design
    This is where Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet truly shines. While at face it appears to be the latest of many games to explore the minimalist style of silhouettes splashed with color, Shadow Planet goes far beyond this recent trend. There is high graphical production value that contributes to the cinematic art and animation. Backgrounds are vivid enough to capture your eye, but not intrusive enough to interfere with your focus. The well-designed stages have plenty of differentiating factors, so the player feels as if they are exploring new areas instead of running into the same recycled sprites. Every last inch of the lovingly crafted art is populated with gorgeous detail, which made every moment of exploring the map to completion a joy, but also made me wish for more.

    Sound Design
    Aside from the liberal use of Norwegian metal unit Dimmu Borgir's Eradication Instincts Defined during cutscenes, there is no music to be found in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. No sweat, since most of the sound effects and ambiance make up for this by attributing to the engrossing thought of your planet being enveloped by oblivion. Though I am a music monger, the desolation of certain titles is amplified by the lack of an accompanying soundtrack. That law applies here to an extent. It works, but it would have been nice to have some insanely twisted tunes to narrate parts of the experience. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is completely devoid of any type of voice, or text for that matter. A little music, if only to illustrate what our heroic alien is going through, would have been welcome.

    For fans of the side-scrolling action adventure genre, or the Cousteauesque exploration enthusiast who choses to peruse from the comfort of their couch, there is a quality experience within. The bang for your buck may be a little low due to the length-to-price ratio (3 or 4 hours : 1200 MSP), but once you get past that, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a gem for its detail-laden minimalist design, and addictive map-foraging gameplay.

    Buy it: If you love Super Metroid or Metroidvania
    Dont buy it: If you want a lengthy game to keep you occupied for a week or more
    The Score: 8 outta 10 Blasters!

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