Critical Reception: Fuelcell's Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Fuelcell Games' Xbox Live Arcade shooter Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, which reviewers describe as "light on shooting, heavy on the puzzling."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Fuelcell Games' Xbox Live Arcade shooter Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, which reviewers describe as "light on shooting, heavy on the puzzling and exploration." Shadow Planet currently earns a score of 77 out of 100 at Matthew Keast at Games Radar scores Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet at 8 out of 10. "It seems that PixelJunk Shooter may have popularized a genre -- the 'puzzle-shmup' -- and we can't complain," he notes. Keast continues: "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet takes the 'light on shooting, heavy on the puzzling and exploration' to Metroid levels of expansiveness, and also manages to paint an aesthetic that trumps that of PixelJunk Shooter by a wide margin." The game's expansive arsenal allows for varied, entertaining gameplay. "Making use of the different tools is the main fun of Shadow Planet," Keast says. "They all have cute cartoony looks and playing around with them to see what they do to enemies and objects continues to hold surprises until the end of the game." In addition: "While Shadow Planet can be completed in only a few hours, for those who want to really Metroid it up, the actual meandering map is massive, with all kinds of side passages and nooks and crannies that reward you with powerups. The map looks intimidating, but we never got lost since it clearly shows where you need to go and what areas you haven't explored yet." "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, from the look of it, might make you think it's trying to skate by on charm," Keast warns. "Even if that were the case, its minimalist beauty that piles upon itself endlessly would allow it to skate pretty far. Yet the game is solid in its mechanics to the point where it would be worth playing even if it were butt-ugly." GameSpot's Tom McShea rates Shadow Planet at 7.5 out of 10. "Otherworldly environments engender strong feelings of loneliness, and a modicum of instructions reinforces the idea that you're all alone," he describes. "There are few clear directions as you attempt to navigate this hostile world, and that lack of hand-holding is one of Shadow Planet's biggest strengths." McShea explains: "Figuring out how to use your various tools to overcome obstacles provides the most satisfying hook to pull you along, and it is well worth putting up with the requisite trial-and-error activities to get past the most daunting puzzles." The game is largely focused on exploration and discovery. "Shadow Planet places exploration and problem solving at the forefront," McShea writes. "The interconnected zones create a tangled web in which you must guide your vessel, and you can fly where you please, as long as you have the proper tools. You start your adventure with little more than a weak blaster and helpful radar, and you slowly gain new instruments by defeating bosses or accessing out-of-the-way areas." However: "The game often nudges you in the wrong direction. For instance, you may come across a glowing tube blocking your path. By scanning it, you find that by injecting it with electricity, you can shatter it into a million pieces. But the game doesn't mention that you need to find a conduit first, so you might spend minutes filling it with electrical blasts before you realize another method is needed." "These problems are thankfully rare," McShea admits, "though when they do show up, they quickly derail your space-faring fun." Simon Parkin at Eurogamer gives Shadow Planet a score of 6 out of 10, describing it as "unfamiliar pairing of familiar components." "The style is silhouette indie chic -- a more colourful Limbo, a less intricate Pixel Junk Eden, a more serious World of Goo -- each frame rendered in pin-sharp black vector ink that’s only just beginning to fade from fashion," Parkin describes. "Meanwhile, the structure is pure Super Metroid, depositing your diminutive spaceship into a 2D labyrinth. Your task is simple: chart the world by visiting every nook and cranny." "While its name implies oodles of charisma, in reality Shadow Planet suffers from a unwavering lack of character," Parkin notes. "The alien ship is a cold, near-silent avatar, and the world it seeks to penetrate is unforgiving and without warmth or solace. The decision to eradicate all text from the game adds to the style, but the lack of narrative and premise makes this an icy, clinical game that relies entirely upon the strength of its mechanics to provide motivation to its player." Parkin finds that the game falls short in many areas. "While the game benefits from the Metroidvania template, it falls short of its inspirations in the details," he writes. "There’s a lack of excitement every time you unlock a new weapon, derived from the fact it’s not always immediately clear what each one does. "Meanwhile, the puzzles, while often ingenious, are also fussy. For example, midway through the game you must painstakingly arrange a series of crystals to refract light towards a larger crystal in order to shatter it from your path. It’s a well-orchestrated conundrum that fails to give any jolt of relief or excitement when it’s solved, as you worked out how to complete the puzzle long before your thumbs managed to set the stage for the solution." "The joy of Shadow Complex, Super Metroid and Castlevania Symphony of the Night was just as much to do with the character of the place we were asked to reveal as the role we assumed to do it," Parkin concludes. "There is no metagame driving you forward here, other than the drive to explore for exploration’s sake. So what's left is the nucleus of a Metroidvania game, mechanically functional and regularly interesting, but a shadow of its inspiration nonetheless."

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