Thursday, August 4, 2011

Xbox Summer of Arcade: From Dust and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (XBLA)

The clean, Flash-esque visuals really work to ITSP's advantage.

It’s been just over a week, and the second and third instalments of Summer of Arcade have been released, so let’s go take a look at them, shall we?

First off, I’ll quickly run over From Dust, which came out last week as Episode 2 of the Summer of Arcade. I heard good things, and comparisons to god-game classics such as Black & White and Populous, but in practice, From Dust just doesn’t feel compelling. Playing as an omnipotent being, you manipulate earth, water and fire in order to guide your villagers to totems, or to locations where they can learn rituals. I didn’t feel as if I connected with my tribesmen, and that was the core of my problem with the game. By not clicking with my quarry, I felt no strong desire to watch them succeed. This is not helped by their recycled animations, which serve to further fail to make the player identify with them.

From Dust feels more like a game mechanic than a game.
My main issue with From Dust is that it simply doesn’t feel like a game to me. This can be symptomatic of sandbox games by their nature, but the repetitive breathing in of elements, displacing them and breathing them out again felt more like a game mechanic than a game. Consequently, after playing for maybe twenty minutes, and finding it admittedly tricky, I was more than ready to move onto something else. The controls feel as if they’d be better suited to a PC than to a controller, but perhaps that’s just a personal gripe.

Now, on to the main course: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is this week’s release as part of Xbox’s Summer of Arcade campaign, and, in my opinion, the best one so far.

Drawing comparisons to exploration-based games such as Metroid, Castlevania and even Ecco The Dolphin, the game places you in control of a tiny spaceship, wending your way through the titular planet, solving puzzles in order to collect artifacts and progress. The game is visually very cute, looking something like a cute-infused cross between Limbo and Outland.

The game excellently combines monochrome foregrounds
and colour backgrounds.
Essentially, ITSP boils down to three things: exploring your environs for obstacles, collecting abilities to help solve those puzzles, and finally solving the problem and moving forward. One of the first abilities you acquire is a scanner, which serves as something of a hints system, informing you of the required attachment in order to get past the block in your path. This removes any element of trial-and-error puzzle-solving, and so while some might prefer to forego it in order to add a bit of a challenge, others might fail to take on board that scanning is unnecessary to the gameplay.

Difficulty, however, is not the name of the game here. ITSP is about exploration through visually-pleasing scenery, and it simply excels in achieving these aims. In my short time with it (and the game is short), I loved flying around in my floating ship, grabbing objects with my arm, and shooting threats with my Fifties-Science-Fiction-sounding laser gun. The ship is brilliantly anthropomorphised and I found it to be even reminiscent of how Pixar similarly fared with Wall-E.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is certainly not the most taxing game I’ve played, but the combination of the cute visuals, a 1950s-esque spaceship and a very responsive control system make it a highly enjoyable experience. Even if it may not be rewarding on your brain, it is certainly a sight for sore eyes. Of the three Summer of Arcade titles to date, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet gets my vote.

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