If you loved the original Metroid, prepare to relive your glory days in this 2D exploratory shooter

User Rating: 8.5 | Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet PC
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) opens with a full orchestral score, your flying saucer (and your planet, for that matter) under attack by an unknown alien organism that has infected a nearby star- and that infection is spreading. Naturally it falls to you to do what you can to save the planet. Starting with but a radar and the ship's hull to protect you, you take your personal space craft out into the wilds to save your planet.

Along the way you upgrade your vessel, solve puzzles, avoid and combat a variety of foes, and uncover secrets that include bonus video footage and concept art. Games for Windows LIVE is required for ITSP, so you will need an internet connection to play the game, including the single-player campaign.

For the most part ITSP is a very smooth game with modest system requirements. You interact with the game as you might any two-dimensional, side-scrolling platformer, minus the platforms. Your ship moves easily in 360 degrees, with accurate controls that have a great tactile feel. You aim your selected equipment with the mouse, be it scanner, blaster, missiles, or any of the nine different pieces of equipment you will come to unlock.

You'll need to explore the game to find them, though, and ITSP gives you a large world to investigate. The environments border on indescribable, taking you underwater, through giant machines, down corridors covered in tentacles and unidentifiable fleshy masses, and through icy caverns.

The 2D artwork is stunning, fully-rendered in the popular chunky animation that has become typical of shows like Samurai Jack, Clone Wars, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, only much, much darker. If you took all those shows and dumped in a pot of Cthulu with a sprinkling of H.R. Giger, you'd get a pretty good idea of how you could take modern animation and twist it into something dark and foreboding.

And dark it is. While explicitly rendered in deep, solid colors, most of the world is rendered in multiple planes of silhouettes. So the foreground might be shadowy outline of grinding gears, the mid-ground where you reside comprising yourself and your enemies, and the background various animations following the theme of the section of the planet you are exploring, such as large machinery at work, only blurred slightly to give a sense of depth.

The music and sound effects are consistently perfect, punctuating every shot fired and accenting your ship when damaged with a sound not unlike a car that's just not running quite right. The Prague Philharmonic provides a full orchestral score and is absolutely wonderful, making the journey feel truly epic in scope ever step - or antigravity pulse, rather - of the way.

And when you hit a boss you know it. The bosses are big, scary, and a bit mysterious. Each has its own pattern of attack that is both fun to discover and that, once deciphered, makes the encounter an enjoyable exercise in skill. After each boss you feel a bit like David toppling Goliath.

All that said, ITSP is not without its faults. The game uses automatic checkpoints for saving progress at key points. The problem here is that it makes many problems and encounters trivial, since when your ship is destroyed you appear a short distance away at full health, any encounter in progress reset. This trivializes a lot of encounters, removing what might otherwise be tense moments were you to run out of lives or lose power-ups.

Further, I observed a bug during the final encounter where damage to the boss failed to register. This was remedied by a quick restart from the most recently saved game, but did momentarily stall the momentum of the game and suspension of disbelief.

Lastly, the game will sometimes challenge your patience with its controls. The "control arm" does not always grab items in the way that you would think, and running the remote-controlled missiles through a narrow gauntlet often tries your patience more than your skills. Still, when you do complete these mini-tasks there is a certain satisfaction to be had known you overcame these design quirks.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is fairly easy with only one difficulty setting, and should take about seven to eight hours to complete if you hunt after every power-up and backtrack for extras like semi-hidden Concept Art collectibles. There are two multiplayer modes, but the single-player campaign is the real draw here, and is a wonderful experience for anyone that enjoys exploring, collecting powerful weapons, and epic boss battles.

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