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GAMES

Playing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is like navigating a (malevolent) work of art
Xbox Live Arcade (Rated Everyone)


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Somewhere in the galaxy that houses Limbo and Sony's Patapon series lies Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, a gorgeous 2D side-scroller that serves as yet another reminder of the levels of artistry games can now almost effortlessly achieve.

You're a teeny alien in a sleek saucer charged with beating back the black-'n'-oily darkness that has suddenly and aggressively infected your home planet. You're not given much backstory at all, just sent out into the chaos to try to do your thing.

Literally everything on this planet is vicious and out to get you. Tentacles flail, worms pulse, claws snap. Bursts of shadow morph from the walls into kamikaze birds that buzz straight at you. Sailing through the game's varied environments feels like navigating a malevolent abstract painting suddenly come to dangerous life. The guy who created these nightmare forest-mazes is artist Michel Gagné, and his vision is absolutely arresting.

There are no high scores to be had for blasting enemies into inky oblivion, and since many of them simply regenerate after a few seconds, sometimes the best strategy is to run and gun your way past whatever's in front of you -- which generally leads to an area where there's even more deadly enemies to dodge.

The game's central mechanic allows you to use a radar scanner on objects for clues as to which tool you'll need to interact with them -- or better still, where your enemies Achilles' heels are hidden. If you're good about straying off the beaten path, eventually you'll collect lasers, bombs, a buzz saw, missiles and a claw of your own to nab and smash blobs of black that that drift within your range.

You spin the navigation wheel to select and switch out weapons and tools. It's not nearly as easy as it oughtta be, especially when you need to switch quickly to survive an attack.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a graduate of ye olde gaming school of immersion. In other words, there are no subtitles, scores or health meters to distract you from the mission at hand.

If there's a complaint to be made, it's that outside of the occasional burst of soundtrack and background drone, there's scarcely any noise adding to the spooky, sci-fi ambience. It sounds like a petty criticism, and it probably is -- after all, Limbo also had a very limited noise factor. But deafening silence seemed to fit that game's deadly dreamlike universe. With all the shadowy action littering the Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet screen, I found myself longing for a little more noise to amp the action along.

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