Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is notorious for two reasons. First and most obvious is absolutely glorious visual style by Michel Gagné; it’s dark, macabre, slightly frightening, but at the same time truly beautiful and not repulsing even by a tiny fraction despite all of the picturing of those tentacles and insect-like creatures. Second prominent feature is the protagonist. You see, despite all the variety of settings and worlds and stories a hero in metroidvania usually is a human, or at least some humanoid. But here you play as small flying saucer; so technically there’s still some humanoid inside. Obviously it impacts gameplay turning it into twin-stick shooter and omitting platforming with all it’s precision jumping and running. What it has instead is all different kinds of guns and devices that our UFO can use. Among them there are not only assorted lasers and blasters, but also a buzz-saw, a grappling claw, protective shield and so much more. So you fly around, shoot stuff and sometimes solve some puzzles. They’re neither challenging nor time consuming, but their presence is enough to transform what could be a blazing gun carnage into an exploration of beautiful yet twisted and insane world.
Speaking of which, there may be not a lot of variety on the first sight, but there surely is distinct difference on what kind of thrill you can expect from different game zones. There’s soothing calm of ice zone disturbed only by pesky and ubiquitous enemies; there’s tension of mandatory underwater level; and then there’s those enigmatic factory and all those different yet very familiar regions of the Shadow Planet. It’s not just bland similarity, but rather a true sense of interconnectivity that is the result of this distinct visual style of minimalistic mix of black shadows and pure-color backgrounds. This world doesn’t look or feel artificial, it’s as natural as a background for digital entertainment can get. It’s complete and interconnected; it feels solid, ready to be explored by a curious traveler, who’s on a mission to restore it, rather than just tear it apart.
And because of its small size and simple story the game forms an intimate bond with the player. It’s not a feeling of attachment but rather a sense of lasting mutual sympathy. If anything, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet in a short few hours that you need to finish it accomplishes the task of teaching you a handful of interesting tricks while giving just enough time and space to toy with them to your amusement. Facing new challenge most of the time you either will know the solution right out or will figure it out faster than frustration kicks in. And that is not something easy to do, when an average gamer has an attention span shorter than one of a goldfish. Not that the game is a cakewalk from start to finish; there are bosses, you see. And they have all their bossy stuff: attack patterns, heavy attacks and weak points, that you’ll have to figure out to exploit them. So you’ll maybe even fail a few times while dealing with them.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet makes you feel invested without caring to present itself believable or even needing that for that matter. It’s a fiction that works on sheer kinetics and aesthetics; it doesn’t tell a story, it makes you perform it. The game simply unfolds with elegance and simplicity of a pop-up book and gives you the keys to the entrance.