Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (henceforth ITSP) is, as the name suggests, pretty loaded with shadows. And yes, it's on a planet. But that's about all one can glean from the title alone – to fully appreciate ITSP, you really do have to see it. Until now you needed a 360 for that, but the plucky dev has just released for PC. Hooray!
It begins in the style of a zombie movie; a pathogen from space slams into a clean planet, quickly breeding and coating the planet in black goop. This is clearly not on, and the orchestral soundtrack gives it a suitably epic feel – it's even performed by the Prague Philharmonic! From there we're handed control of a tiny alien in a UFO (which over time you will get to identify with pretty well, so we suppose it's more of an FO).
As we traverse the planet's surface, which is in the midst of the pathogen multiplying across its body, we reach a group of other UFOs and follow them through a network of tunnels that lead downwards towards the planet's core. Abilities are extremely limited at the start of ITSP, with our only tool to hand a long-distance object scanner. Along the way our companion UFOs are damaged by spiky airborne pathogen spawn, handily leaving behind a blaster that we scavenge and use to defeat the floating scourge.
We then tootled our way to a transport system stored in the caverns, which blasts us even further underground – and ever-closer to the infestation at the planet's core. To get there, we must first traverse five distinct areas of the crust: Organic, Ocean, Ice, Mechanical, and Electrical. Each area is visually distinct and presents our friendly alien with a variety of challenges, as enemies and puzzles hinder progress. It's very reminiscent of 2D side-scrolling games such as Metroid Fusion, and has a similar reliance on a map to navigate around.
Most puzzles can be defeated with simple trial-and-error, such as the lasers and reflective surfaces of the Ice area, but some are plain weird – such as knowing which tool to use to pass barriers (in this particular case, the shield ability to conquer a gassy pond). This is compounded by the sheer variety of tools: there are nine to unlock, and each has a unique use in very specific circumstances.
Adding to the challenge are bosses, a few of them per area, though they're not too hard once you work out how to damage the vulnerable points. And even though we've built this up as a hard game – you'll definitely die a couple times – it's not impossible, and we cleared it in just under six hours (100% map exploration, all artefacts, full shield and almost-the-rest-of-the-collectables).
But perhaps the most enjoyable part of ITSP is the exploration. There's a real sense of initial confusion as we attempt to work out what the pathogen has done, and the trepidation that follows as we wander around the subterranean areas full of exotic dangers and clean, crisp graphics.
The 360 version of the game has DLC for purchase, but the PC version reviewed comes with it – both the Lantern Run and Shadow Hunter extra modes are designed for four players, and aren't particularly fun solo. Worth a shot with mates, but value is hard to determine.
ITSP has full 360 controller support, but it plays great with keyboard and mouse – the former to navigate and select weapons with keys 1-9, and the latter to aim and shoot – and there were but a few times where we felt cheated by clunky controls.
The current price of ITSP is $15 on Steam, which we feel is pretty great for six hours of visually interesting UFO simulation (see our screenshot gallery below). Of course, if it's ever on sale it'd be an instant purchase – though replayability is limited due to the linear nature of solving puzzles. It's a great showing from an indie developer, and is all too easy to recommend.
||Arcady and fun, interesting puzzles.
||Visually wonderful in every way.
||Orchestral soundtrack, but it’s quiet for most of the game.
||A must-play indie game worthy of your attention.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet main page
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet on Steam