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Review: Lost in Shadow

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When video games use the theme of light and shadow as part of their gameplay, it often involves entering alternate dimensions and fighting shadow versions of yourself or enemies. What sets Lost in Shadow apart from the rest is that you're controlling someone's shadow and traversing the real world using the shadows in your environment. Hudson's Lost in Shadow gives you an impressive title with inventive gameplay and puzzle mechanics that provide a solid and engaging gaming experience.

The premise of the game is simple but it provides a basis for this gloomy title. The beginning cut-scenes show your character, a small boy, being severed from his shadow by a mysterious figure at the top of a giant tower. His shadow, not his body, is then thrown half a hundred stories and lands on at the base of the tower. With a small fairy named Spangle as your helper, the young boy's shadow makes his way up back up the tower, now only able to walk on the shadows of the many structures he finds along the way.

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When you play Lost in Shadow, you'll need to devote most of your time to what's going on in the background since that's where the action is. Structures in the foreground cast shadows on walls and surfaces that will provide floors for you to walk on and will also create walls that will block your path. Sometimes you can't proceed over a surface because it's covered in spikes, for example. Thankfully, Spangle can interact with some foreground objects and by pointing the Wii remote at the screen, you can cause objects to move and rotate. For instance, an object that once cast a spiky shadow can be rotated so that its other side creates a safer silhouette to land on.

Each floor of the tower you ascend has you jumping from platform to platform as you reach that level's checkpoint. You'll pull levers, climb ladders, and board lifts as you make your way to the end. The checkpoints take the form of harmful shadow walls that can only be destroyed by collecting three Monitor Eye keys scattered throughout that level. This means that if you don't collect all three keys by the time you got to the wall, you will have to backtrack and search for them.

You will also encounter areas that allow you to control light bulbs which alter the angles and shape of the shadows in your environment. Using Spangle, you'll move the light either up or down, causing shadows to get taller or shorter. Moving it left or right changes their angles and makes platforms closer or further away from you. You can use these techniques to move a structure's shadow in front of another to block traps too. But if you're not careful, you might accidentally push your character off ledges or get him squished.

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Early in the game you'll find a rusty sword whose shadow is in perfect condition and proves to be a good weapon to use against the creatures you'll encounter throughout the tower. You can do basic sword combos by tapping the B button. The red-eyed enemies range from insect-like to mechanical and get a lot more menacing as you ascend the tower. Some monsters have blue eyes and can only be destroyed by the environment so you'll need to activate traps like arrow shooters and flamethrowers to hurt them.

Your health is based on how much you weigh, and each time you get hit by something, you'll lose a few grams. Once you defeat enemies, they release both health and experience points that level up your character. It's a simple leveling up system that increases your strength and defense to enemy attacks. You can change the difficulty of the game anytime during play to change how much health you lose from hits and how strong your attacks are. You can also increase your shadow's weight by collecting memories of previous shadows (or your own) that once ascended the tower and did not make it. These memories can provide hints to what you have to do but also give you more of a sense of the history behind the tower and its creatures.

Aside from finding Monitor Eyes and fighting off creatures, the game also has instances where you'll enter "shadow corridors" which are standalone levels separate from the tower with their own set of puzzles and obstacles. They also contain special switches that rotate the entire viewpoint of a level 90 degrees causing its layout to change. Some corridors have special themes and can involve altering the light's angle, fighting off enemies, or simply figuring out which way you need to rotate the level to reach its exit. They start off easy, but as you progress through the game, they will combine all the skills you've learned and will require more thought.

The memories you'll read and the overall look of the environments give the game a somber tone that will remind you of Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. You'll traverse through abandoned gardens, factories, and dark shrines which are accompanied by a tranquil soundtrack that reinforces the game's sense of being alone and abandoned. The chilling music picks up during climactic moments and when you're being chased by one of the tower's most dangerous creatures. The outdoor parts of the game reflect the yellow-orange hue from the hazy sky that seems to be in an eternal sunset. While the graphics are solid and done nicely, there are instances of over saturation and too much noise that lower their quality. Despite relying so much on shadow surfaces, foreground objects aren't forgotten and have dark, gritty facades.

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The best moments in the game are definitely those that require you to think and figure out what's going on without worrying about combat. While the combat system could have been better, this game's heart lies in its puzzle and platform elements. As you ascend the many floors, you'll realize that your adventure is long and tedious. The first part of the game is poorly paced and can get stale especially since the music might lull you to sleep. But as you make your way up the tower, you'll realize there's more to the game than just shadows.

The first few hours may seem boring, but after you reach a certain point in the story, the game really shines. Literally. Just when you think you've seen it all and you're about to beat the game, Lost in Shadow surprises you and gives you the ability to move in the real world for short periods of time. Entering special gates, your character gains a three-dimensional body of light that lets him directly interact with objects in the foreground that will inversely affect their shadows. The puzzles in the latter part of the game require you to travel to the foreground and activate switches that will change the layout of the background and vice-versa.

When you play Lost in Shadow, be prepared to give this game about ten or more hours of your time. You'll definitely appreciate the nice blend of puzzles and the unique way the game uses light and shadows to affect how you move around each level. The deeper combination of foreground and background objects comes into play late in the game, but this gameplay element truly makes the game shine and creates an even more unique gaming experience. Don't be fooled by the game's simple silhouettes and slow start-up. Lost in Shadows will provide you with a great platform experience and perhaps even change the way you look at shadows again.

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