Darkness gets used in interesting ways in various video games. For stealth series like Splinter Cell, it’s empowering, letting you strike unaware antagonists in total silence. Coalesced shadow was the metaphorical and literal enemy itself in last year’s Alan Wake, where a dark presence possessed ordinary townspeople and made them demonic killers.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet differs from either of those games by using darkness as more of an aesthetic pillar than a design mechanic. You’re not manipulating the absence of light here; you’re battling sentient tendrils of it in a game that pulls you into the cover of night from the very beginning.
Developed by Shadow Planet Productions—an indie partnership between Joe Olson’s Fuelcell Games and comics artist/animator Michel Gagné—the visuals of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet make it dangerously seductive.
As the story goes, a faraway planet launches an inky probe which blacks out the sun. The ooze-covered star then sends out additional probes that submerge the other planets in the system into darkness, too. You play as an alien looking to investigate and reverse the shadow attacks at the source.
At least, that seems like what’s happening, since ITSP unfolds wordlessly, which adds to its creepy vibe. But the palpable dread ITSP harbors gets mixed with old-school elements that infuse it with a sense of intrepid adventure. Your thumbs will recall arcade classics like Asteroids and Robotron 2084 in the game’s UFO avatar and dual-stick controls.
The conceptual building blocks of ITSP readily show off other bits of shared video game DNA in the game’s look and architecture. You’ve got a gorgeous silhouette art style that feels kindred to Limbo—the masterful minimalist alpha game from last year’s Summer of Arcade. But the shadows get shot through with color here, which invites players to venture even deeper. The game’s various sections sport different design cues, too, so the gooey organic feel of earlier parts gives way to sharp angles and fantastic machinery later on.
ITSP sports a nice blend of puzzle-solving and shooting that doesn’t lock you into using either method to progress through the world. For example, you can shoot a hostile plant to temporarily stop it from spitting projectiles at you or you can yank off the snout and permanently end the fusillade. But certain areas won’t be accessible until you get the right weapons or tools to unlock access to them.
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