Sphere of a Black Planet: ‘Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’ Review

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That’s where the elements from the design style dubbed “Metroidvania” show up—so named for the Metroid and Castlevania games­—where you revisit locations in the game world after finding new weapons or tools to explore previously locked places. In ITSP, once you get the claw attachment for your UFO saucer, for instance, you’ll be able to move rocks that previously blocked your progress. Later on, you’ll get force fields that reflect lasers, missiles that you can steer into spots too small for your ship, and other add-ons that will let you fly through every nook and cranny of the Shadow Planet.

While the Metroidvania mechanics might feel familiar, the whole milieu feels utterly alien. Playing through this game world is like stumbling into a subterranean universe where life evolved differently and creatures don’t need light. At first, figuring out just how to get going is frustratingly opaque (pun intended). Getting to that vital first weapon might stymie you, but once you get it, you’re able to go deeper—both literally and figuratively—into the planet’s intricate maze structure.

You’ll get to explore with friends, too, in Lantern Mode, ITSP‘s co-op offering and you’ll be able to play with three friends who are either in the same room or joining you online. Your squad’s tasked with going ever deeper into an inky trench blocked with various obstacles and each player will need to deploy their ship’s specific gadgets in tandem with others.

The goal is to clear the way for the person bearing the titular lantern to go as far down as possible, and the trench’s hazards get randomized each time so you’ll get a new experience with every play-through. While ITSP‘s main campaign doesn’t have much replay value, Lantern Mode will bring your buddies and you back for more.

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Exploration is the main draw for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. You’re plunged into this abjectly hostile ecosystem, faltering along its abortive trails and flummoxed by its cul-de-sacs. But with every addition to your arsenal, you get to feel a little more powerful and a little more free to roam.

ITSP isn’t bursting at the seams with possible metaphorical readings the way that Bastion and From Dust are, but that’s okay. The latest title in the 2011 Summer of Arcade class boasts great aesthetics and clever, interlocking design that favors bravery and ingenuity. For a planet made of shadows, you’ll be charmed by its brightness.

Techland Score: 8.7 out of 10

Evan Narcisse is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @EvNarc or on Facebook at Facebook/Evan.Narcisse. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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