June 2, 2011

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – Hands-On Preview

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

It’s been two years since the first stunning announcement trailer revealed Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet to an unsuspecting gaming audience. Then one year ago, following the announcement of the game’s eventual release on Xbox Live Arcade, things went rather, well… dark. ITSP went from being one of my most anticipated upcoming releases to having fallen totally off my radar and I sadly wondered if it had been banished to the void of once promising, but now canceled projects.

Then, just a few days prior to PAX East 2011, news came down that not only was Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet still alive, but it would be playable on the show floor. Needless to say, this improved the tone of my weekend considerably.

An opening cinematic, set to grandiose orchestral elements of Dimmu Borgir’s “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” sets the scene. A seed of darkness, spun off from a sinister-looking celestial object, has engulfed a local star. Smokey tendrils streak toward the planet below, corrupting everything they touch. Watching all of this unfold is an alien being who flees his observatory home in a tiny craft, into the depths of the titular world. Strange organic life now abounds; deadly spines and writhing tentacles form the new natural order as he explores the twisting, cavernous environments.


The gorgeous shadow puppet visuals on the level I demoed called to mind PixelJunk Shooter filtered through a less desolate (but no less starkly malevolent) version of Limbo. The splashes of color that do occur helped to denote intent: things tinted yellow (health, power-ups) work to your benefit, while red, obviously, warns of danger. The in-game audio, likewise, is atmospheric and ambient; brooding menacingly to set you ever-so-slightly on edge. I happily donned the provided headphones, cranking the volume to drown out the nearly 70,000 attendees clamoring at the neighboring booths, and lost myself in the moody drones and almost retro sci-fi blips and bloops. If you you sampled the game at PAX without doing this, you seriously missed out; I wouldn’t repeat that mistake when it releases.

Initially, my craft was equipped with just a scanning device and a gripper claw, with a basic blaster being acquired shortly thereafter. Scanning an enemy creature or point of interest in the environment will trigger a pop-up display that hints at its usage and shows which of my tools could be used on it. For instance, the gripper claw can obviously be used to move rocks or carry objects, but it can also grasp certain enemy types that can be used as tools or weapons themselves. The final version of the game is expected to have many more available implements (there were nine slots on the wheel), but the basic three served me well enough for my first foray into the shadows.


The portion of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet that I saw consisted of a labyrinthine network of passages and hollows that lent it a touch of “Metroidvania” exploration. I was informed that everything is actually seamless, without loading screens to speak of. I imagine some manner of fast travel will allow for rapid movement through previously explored areas–as earlier videos and screens have shown a variety of different environments, ranging from planetary exteriors to menacing, industrial-looking mechanical works–but that wasn’t yet required and the map overlay served its purpose just fine. Points of interest can also be marked on the map, allowing you to return to them later when you’ve acquired the tools needed to access them.

After some basic physics puzzles and various encounters with the decidedly hostile flora and fauna of this newly twisted world, the demo culminated in a boss encounter with a giant floating sphere, festooned ominously with flailing tentacles, pincers, and eyes. If  you weren’t fortunate enough to make it to Boston, you can see a full trip through the PAX East demo in the ten minute video below, courtesy of Michel Gagné and Fuelcell.

A final price has yet to be announced, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will fall in the $10-15 range of most releases nowadays. It was also mentioned that the game would have an as-yet unrevealed co-op mode that they wouldn’t discuss at the time. A separate campaign? An alternate way to play through the main adventure? I suppose we’ll find out when Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet orbits Xbox Live Arcade this summer.


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