I first laid eyes on Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet around two years ago, and was instantly drawn to it's unique visual style. In fact, up until now my excitement for the game has been driven almost entirely by the visuals. As someone who frequently scoffs at the idea of hype without gameplay details, this has been a very troubling occurrence for me. So I was overjoyed when I discovered that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet would finally be playable for the first time at PAX East. But would I still love the game once I got a controller in my hand? The short answer is a definitive yes. For a longer answer follow for my full breakdown of the PAX East demo.
The demo began by plopping my UFO inside a shadowy corridor. To my left, glowing red and black worms blocked my path, and using my UFO's scanning beam revealed that I needed a laser to clear the path. To my right were a pile of boulders blocking a power-up with the same laser icon that was shown from scanning the worm. So, I equipped my UFO's claw, and began picking up and throwing the boulders out of the way. It was at that moment that I fell in love with the claw. Sure, I now had a laser, which was quite effective for scaring the giant worm into moving or blasting enemies, but almost any game can let me shoot at enemies. I chose the claw. Grabbing enemies was as simple as grabbing the boulders, at which point I could fling them into other enemies or walls to destroy them. I then noticed a pod on the wall spewing out more enemies. Naturally, I attacked it with my claw, plucking the barnacle-like spawner from the wall with a satisfying pop as the thing harmlessly deflated in my grasp. Later in the demo there were shielded enemies with a vulnerable backside. Most people at the show simply maneuvered around the enemies and shot them, but I again used the claw and was delighted to discover that I could grab them too and use them as a shield to deflect each other. I honestly didn't expect the claw to work on enemies so well, but the fact that it did has me excited to see what novel and unexpected ways I can use the items that will fill the UFO's remaining five equipment slots.
As far as the level layout is concerned, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet falls under the Metroidvania umbrella, with a sprawling map filled with hidden pockets to explore. Those who thoroughly investigated the PAX East demo discovered a hidden buzzsaw item, which controlled very similarly to the claw using the right analog stick. The buzzsaw was far more efficient at dispatching enemies even than the laser, and served an important secondary function by breaking rock walls that were too sturdy for the claw to pull apart. These rock walls can hide UFO upgrades or collectible artifacts, which show an animated cinematic fleshing out the game's story when all are collected.
But what is most striking about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is still the game's visuals. More specifically, how those visuals are integral to the gameplay. There is no HUD in the game, so your health is displayed through real-time damage on your UFO. There are also no tutorials in the game, with any needed guidance offered through the easily understandable icons from the scanning objects. Finally, the demo ended with a huge boss battle, in which the camera panned far back to fit the entire boss in the screen. When the creature - covered in tentacles, claws, and eyes - finally fell, one of th developers told me that it was merely a mini-boss. The demo represented only a fraction of the game's first of eight worlds, each of which, I am told, will have a unique visual theme and absolutely no repeated enemies between worlds. I'm told the final game is expected to span between 10-15 hours.
Because the visuals are so key to the experience, my words alone do not do the game justice. On that note, enjoy this gameplay trailer featuring almost the entirety of the demo.
The developers on-hand were also very coy with announcing that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will feature multiplayer, though they would not divulge number of players or whether it was competitive or co-op multiplayer. And after such a long development cycle, it looks like we're closer to the game's release than I had originally thought, with the developers announcing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet to release this summer. I asked if that meant it would be a part of the Summer of Arcade promotion, and was met with a response of, "I hope so! We honestly don't know at this point what Microsoft's plans are." Asking about the game's price received a similar response, with one booth attendant adding, "but honestly, how many games to you see releasing for under 1200 MS points these days."
With a still mysterious multiplayer mode yet to be full revealed, and an impending summer release, expect to hear quite a bit more about Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet in the not so distant future.