E3 2011: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet preview – like Super Metroid in a UFO with degrees in art and physics

A singular vision can affect everything. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s art and story were created by Michel Gagné (of The Iron Giant and indie-comic Zed fame) and are simultaneously simple and beautiful. Striking pitch-black foregrounds contrast with richly saturated pastel backgrounds, somehow enhancing the eponymous alien planet’s air of mystery.

Gagné drew all the art for the game and then sent it over to developer Fuelcell, who designed gameplay around his concept, trading ideas back and forth as development went on. The constant collaboration shows through, as the visuals and what you’re doing onscreen complement each other rather than compete for your attention.
The physics-based action of the demo had us lifting boulders to access upgrades tucked under see-saw-like logs and avoiding tentacles as black as sackcloth. It may be a 2D action game akin to Super Metroid, but unlike recent genre entries, Shadow Planet feels very original because you’re flying a tiny spacecraft around a heavily stylized environment instead of traversing some research facility or military base as a guy with a gun. Yes, it sounds minor, but it makes all the difference in the world.

Interestingly enough, the game also pulls a page from Metroid Prime’s book and has you scanning objects and enemies for weaknesses. If you come across a spot you can’t access just yet because you don’t have the right upgrade, scanning it saves its location to the world map so you can come back to it once you have, say, the requisite buzzsaw or ice gun.

This could be great because it’ll make searching around in vain for that passageway you couldn’t get through earlier a non-issue. One issue we did have that we hope goes away is that finding what objects you need to manipulate isn’t always clear – they tend to blend together into one another in the foreground. Were it not for the demo-booth attendant pointing out where to scan, we wouldn’t have seen a difference between one set of stalagmites and the next. The clue window that pops up pulled us out of the universe, too, with its stark whiteness and shape-driven hints clashing with the otherwise nonexistent user interface.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet has already won us over with its charming aesthetics and enigmatic tale of alien infestation. How did the contagion arrive at the once-lush planet and why are they even there? We’re guessing it isn’t to give out free hugs. We’ll find out when the game ships later this year.

Jun 14, 2011

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