If you’ve been longing for a return of the games of yesteryear, complete with massive single levels and collectible weapons and gadgets that mix intuitive gameplay with challenging stages and fight sequences, then ITSP may just be the game that you’re looking for. But can it match the advances made in today’s arcade titles, or does its old school flavour drag this ambitious title into the abyss?
When an alien sun becomes mysteriously infected with some sort of interstellar virus, transforming it into bizarre world of hostile organic life and threatening biological machinery, its up to you to board one the nearest flying saucer and get to them bottom of this mystery, lest your civilisation perishes from a lack of vital sunshine.
If the story sounds confusing, don’t let it worry you, as the entire narrative of ITSP is told without any text or vocals. Instead, its up to players to pay attention to the cutscenes that unfold before you, leaving some room for interpretation, in what sometimes becomes a bewildering tale of survival of danger.
Taking place on one massive map, exploration is the key to this game. With a somewhat lethal environment, growing ever more dangerous as you descend further into the heart of the infection, uncovering hidden passages and secret areas is essential, as you’ll often find new tools and weapons waiting there for you.
Environmental hazards require some grey matter muscle flexing, and the nine tools in your inventory are all required for the job at hand. You’ll have access to lasers and missiles, but the claw seems to be the most versatile and used tool, as it can help clear debris out of your way, or save you from strong winds by allowing you to anchor yourself.
Levels can be fiendishly difficult, and while the controls aren’t the most precise layout of buttons ever given to a player, they get the job done, despite a few niggles that could have been ironed out before the ITSP was released.
Its here where ITSP encounters its first major flaw, as the complete lack of an onscreen mini-map greatly reduces the almost sublime organic flow of the game into constant pausing and checking of maps in the menu.
While the single-player campaign will last you a brisk 3-4 hours of gameplay, its the multiplayer section, Lantern Run, that proves to be the most enjoyable. Joining up to four other friends online, its up to players to race away from a screen of impending manga monster tentacles, as they devour everything in their path in order to catch you. Levels are randomly generated, with a limited arsenal of weapons that needs to be managed carefully if your team wants to survive the peril that is coming for them.
The visuals of ITSP are magnificently effective, despite the initial simplistic style of 2D animation that starts the game. The planet beneath you feels completely alien and foreboding, while the strange creatures that inhabit it feel fresh and unique, and are dangerous enough to warrant their spooky design. All the amazing designs are solidified with smooth animation, never skipping a frame during even the most intense battle sequences.
There is also a noticeable lack of any music during the game, but far from being a negative aspect, the odd sounds and grunts from the environment help to enhance the alien gameplay, creating a world that shows just how isolated you can be, the deeper you go into it.
Simple, yet addictive, the world of ITSP is in stark contrast to what we normally see in games nowadays, and it successfully manages to fuse the influences of Metroid and Castlevania into one sprawling quest, despite the shortness of the mission at hand.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
It may appear to be a simple design with minimal effort spent on it, but sometimes, less is more. From the gloomy surface, to the sinister underground, its your flying saucer that spreads the light when it comes to saving your world.
As mentioned previously, ITSP is one short game, but the multiplayer keeps it going, while players with a case of chievos OCD will be compelled to search every nook and cranny for anything they might have missed on their first play-through.
Despite its old school charm, ITSP manages to present some original and new ideas, making this an addictive little game that will compel you to finish it quickly, even though it could have done with a few polishes that would have made the end product that much more sweeter.[Reviewed on X-Box 360]
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys