Monday, 8 August 2011

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - 360

Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade continues with this excellent and stylish shooter by Shadow Planet Productions.

As the pilot of a monochrome flying saucer, the player sets out on a journey to cleanse an alien planet from a gloopy and evil presence.

Taking elements from Nintendo's Metroid series and underwater indie classic Aquaria, the player scoots through spectacular subterranean environments, solving puzzles and blasting nocturnal creatures.

The player's ship can be upgraded with a wealth of hi-tech gadgets, which include a handy claw arm to remove loose rubble, a laser which peppers small, skittish creatures, missiles which can be guided into the heart of hulking foes and a buzz-saw which cuts through rock faces, allowing the player to enter previously inaccessible areas.

Four gadgets can be mapped to the 360's pad - although the option to add more hot keys would have been nice, as you have to mix and match load-outs on a regular basis - and the game doesn't pause when swapping gadgets.

The beautifully presented levels are huge and each area is interconnected - a design choice which leads to backtracking to reach previously unexplored areas once the relevant gadget has been uncovered.

It's never a chore though, thanks to a decent map - which highlights areas of interest - while bonus upgrades and collectables make exploring the vast environments worthwhile.

The little flying saucer's defences can be beefed up by discovering extra shields but a sustained attack by alien life forms leaves the craft looking like a weather-beaten umbrella. Thankfully, generous checkpoints restore the ship to pristine condition, while the alien foliage pops with glowing spheres which also repair small amounts of damage.

But it's not just eye-catching aliens which pose a threat to the tiny spacecraft - giant sinister plants try to devour the flying saucer, destructive industrial machinery must be avoided and air flows and water currents also play their part in creating havoc.

Puzzle elements also feature but these head-scratchers can often be a nuisance. Because the game has no text clues to nudge the player in the right direction, some sections can become frustrating as you struggle to work out what your next step should be.

Still, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is yet another brilliant game on Xbox Live Arcade. Its sterling visuals and wonderful animation play a huge part in the game's appeal, while the ambient soundtrack draws you further in to the experience. But it's the tight controls and solid gameplay which lie at the heart of the game, making it such a joy to play.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is available now for 1200 Microsoft points on the 360's Live Arcade marketplace.

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