A gorgeous Metroidvania that is consistently fun even when it stumbles.
Cons: A bit linear for a Metroidvania; Lack of interface options
Metroidvania games are a dime a dozen these days. It seems every indie developer and their grandmother is making one. But for good reason! The formula is incredibly solid from a design standpoint, and often enhances the experience when applied correctly. Thus, despite the commonality of Metroidvanias, I couldn't help but be intrigued when I first saw Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.
This game instantly grabs your attention as one of the most visually stunning games around. The silhouette art style instantly portrays the planet as hostile, yet fascinating, with its liberal use of tentacles, claws, and other unsettling/alien shapes. But unlike other silhouette based games, the art style is not lacking for color, with each area bringing a fresh coat of paint to the things that ARE colored. Throw in smooth animations for all the squirming alien creatures, and you've got a neat art style and a strong sense of identity right off the bat.
Fortunately the game plays almost as well as it looks. As mentioned before, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a Metroidvania, which means you explore this alien planet, looking for power-ups to proceed forward. Along the way you encounter barriers that seem initially impassable until you return with a new power-up you discovered elsewhere.
The one key difference between this game and most Metroidvanias, though, is that this one is not a 2D platformer. However, what the game lacks in 2D jumping challenges, it more than makes up for in its robust set of puzzles. Each area has a theme, whether it be water flow, reflecting lasers, gears, etc. These themes come and go quickly, and the puzzles are much more elaborate than you'd expect from a Metroidvania, ramping up in complexity until you need to use your full brain by the end of each area.
Another key element of the Metroidvania formula-bosses-also appears in full effect. The big nasties that you fight in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet offer the right mix of twitch action and light puzzle elements to be very enjoyable. The variety is also admirable, as no one is likely to mistake the tentacled inhaling boss with the one that spins and shoots lasers.
On the flipside, however, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn't uphold other Metroidvania traditions as well. For instance, exploration is less rewarding than it could be. Don't get me wrong, finding new sections of this alien planet is initially quite fascinating. However, collectibles aren't particularly well hidden, and with the exception of one area, you can generally get all the hidden collectibles on your first visit. While some might appreciate the lack of backtracking, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed that I rarely had that "a-ha" moment where I got a new tool that would let me bypass a barrier that I saw a while ago.
It should also be mentioned that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn't let you turn off some interface elements that also contribute to making exploration a bit too easy. This is particularly bad for the mission location indicator which also makes an obnoxious noise every time you pull open the map. It's a small issue, but one that kept irritating me the whole experience, and may disappoint others who like to play these types of games with as little guidance as possible.
Small gripes aside, though, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a solid Metroidvania and a great game. It's a bit easy, a bit linear, and short without much replay value, but the experience is fun while it lasts. Metroidvanias are incredibly common, but if still love the style (as does this reviewer) then you could certainly do worse than Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.