Never before has a game’s title summed up the contents so completely. I barely even have to say another word – “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet”. That is all.
But I won’t finish my review there because that would be boring. ITSP, as I’m going to call it from now on, is a beautiful twin-stick shooter originally released on XBLA and ported to the PC. You can tell that even without doing any research – everything about the UI and control scheme is totally built to favour the controller. For example, the menus are all circular so you can select them with a joystick. Each of the power-ups is assignable to a hotkey, but I’d rather be able to simply change power-ups with the mouse wheel. In all honesty, even though it’s definitely playable with a mouse and keyboard, the entire game plays much better with a controller, so if you’re planning on playing on PC, do yourself a favour and buy a nice, cheap USB joypad.
Enough of the negatives, because that’s about all of them. ITSP is an absolutely amazing, fantastic arcade shooter. You are a little flying saucer on a twisted shadow planet – insanely twisted, some might say – weaving your way in and out of vicious, grasping tendrils and all sorts of other horrible creatures in an attempt to glide to the end of the map. The brilliance of ITSP is in the creation of the atmosphere without anything even resembling dialogue or a plot. In that respect, ITSP has a lot in common with other downloadable titles such as Limbo, in that the player develops a strong emotional bond with the poor, little flying saucer as it goes up against massive, monstrous beasts. At one point, I picked up a turtle with the aim of carrying it through the entire level, only to see it gobbled up, right off my grappling claw, by some greedy motherfucker after about twenty minutes of painstakingly guiding it past tendrils, tentacles, and giant worms. I was mad.
As is the case in any good quality indie game, the sound effects, music (performed by Dimmu Borgir, for curiosity’s sake) and graphical style are off the chart. Adding to this, the creators have woven in feeling of exploration; this twisted shadow planet is totally unknown, and in a style reminiscent of Metroid and Ecco the Dolphin, you’ll have to find your way around the horrible, aggressive-looking chambers. Every single piece of ITSP comes together to make playing it an experience rather than just a game – you feel lonely and isolated (which is why I brought the turtle with me). Now and again you’ll see other little flying saucers die gruesome deaths, after which you’ll scavenge their corpses for a shiny new power-up. You just try and do that without feeling some level of guilt and remorse. The few times where you actually get to encounter a fellow flying saucer, the chances are you’ll see them six feet under in a matter of minutes.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is full of some of the most memorable showdowns in the history of video gaming. Forget Ganon, now you have Soundwave Boss, the boss that attacks with sound waves (obviously). Who’s that? Sephiroth? Fuck him, here’s Water Boss. The boss fights are hard, but the satisfaction after guiding your little guy in and out and around all manners of projectile to watch the boss burn is one matched only in very, very, very, very, very few games. Each one has a unique pattern and weakness, and it’s not a glowing yellow spot on the back of their head. Hey, you’ll even get a sense of satisfaction just from conquering one of the game’s many puzzles comparable to the feeling from defeating the final boss in most games.
ITSP is a game for everyone. It’s charming, yet deeply disturbing; uplifting, yet so downtroddingly depressing it’ll tear your heart out and stomp on it. But it’s all worth it, even if just for the experience of watching your little flying saucer overcome the odds and glide on to fight another day.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet by Shadow Planet Productions.