There have been quite a few good titles in this year’s Summer of Arcade. For me, last year’s title had to be Limbo, and it seems I wasn’t alone, as many gamers snapped up the cute side scrolling adventure that turned it into a big hit on Xbox Live Arcade. This year we have had more outstanding titles that have been fighting for this year’s Summer of Arcade crown. Bastion and From Dust were all great contenders for me, but Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet had the edge in my book – it was just what I was looking for this summer.
In ITSP you control a cute little spacecraft, which has the ability to spring out a number of weapons and tools to aid you in your adventure through the evil twisted shadow planet. New tools and weapons are collected throughout the game, however most of them are found at the end of defeating the few bosses you encounter in the game. Each of the nine tools are crucial in progressing through the many tight spots that litter the deep depths of the shadow planet, and it is this that encourages you to explore every corner of the alien planet in search of the next item for your ship. Thankfully, your trusty map makes this a lot easier and is only a button press away. On this map areas of the planet are hidden behind generic squares and are only revealed until they are reached and explored. This simplicity makes it easy to see where you have and have not been in the game, and if you see an area you cannot get to, the chances are you need to destroy a creature or get the right tool for the job to get you in there. There are pipes which connect the many areas of the planet, which allows you to revisit past areas of the planet that you may not had access to before picking up a particular item for your ship. Unfortunately for you, a tasty brain busting challenge or a big fat creature will be blocking access to each of these pipes.
You start the game with a simple scanner weapon, which when locked on to an object will tell you what tool you’ll need to interact with it. You also have a grappling arm from which you can grab rocks, switches and even enemies with to pull, push, move or fling as you so desire. Each item is controlled with the right analogue stick, and the result of this is very cute and comical, as you see your ship’s huge arm reach out and attempt to grab on to things. Later in the game you soon collect new items for your ship; from lasers to reflect off crystals to circular saws that will break through the loose rock that block your path. Self-guidable rockets are also there to help destroy the shadow planets inhabitants and there is a tractor beams to help move boxes and trigger doorways. Each item has their own purpose and some can also be used in an offensive way. What I do like about all this is that, unlike games where you favour and stick with the more powerful weapon, in ITSP you find yourself reusing many of the earlier tools throughout the game.
As you explore the many caverns in the game you will come across a number of enemies, both tiny and extremely screen filling large. The game’s camera emphasizes this very well by zooming in on close quarter combat with small homing creatures, to zooming so far out that your ship is just a fraction of the size so that the enormous boss that you are fighting can fit on screen. This camera effect works very well and shows off the game’s quirky creatures, with their flaying tentacles and bulbous eyes, and thankfully I didn’t experience any issues with the camera having a mind of its own.
ITSP has two main game modes, Campaign and Lantern Run. The Campaign mode is the meat and veg of the game, whereas Lantern Run is a competitive mode where you can join three other buddies over local or Xbox LIVE and attempt to carry your Lantern through many rooms that contain various enemies, all while a tentacle shadow planet monster is chasing you down. This mode is very light-weight and is best played with people you can rely on if you want to get be able to reach the later levels.
ITSP brings with it a great simplistic art style and gameplay that is very easy to pick up, yet compelling enough to have you exploring for hours. There are some brain exercising puzzles as well as a few intense ‘pew-pew’ combat moments, and the variety of enemy creatures, zones and the many items in your arsenal help to freshen-up the game very well.
Although you might not get much else out of the game once it has been completed, the journey there is fun and at times a challenging one. It reminds me a little of ‘PixelJunk Shooter’ on PS3, but with added story, style and flare - something that PixelJunk narrowly missed the mark on. All of this is great when you are seeking that pick-up-and-play game to pass the evening hours with. For me ITSP was this summer’s dark horse on XBLA, and is a title that is definitely worth your 1200 Spacebucks.