A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… I’m guessing. If there’s anything like a proper story here, it’s been almost entirely subsumed by whatever’s going on around it. A story within a story. Like Inception, but with more tentacles and drill bits.
The protagonist of this inscrutable space saga is, appropriately enough, a flying saucer, whose mission mostly involves whizzing up, down, and all around what is presumably the game’s titular world, and getting things done.
Much like Shadow Complex, and the Metrovania catalogue of games, progress in Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a matter of bolting exciting new things onto your intrepid little spaceship, and working out how to use these to move through obstacles in the environment. Of course, getting at these exciting new things is a series of increasingly complicated and occasionally ingenious puzzles in itself, and requires a bit of lateral thinking and a lot of wondering what the **** to do next.
The game plays somewhat like a twin-stick shooter version of Asteroids, with movement locked to the left stick, and interactions with your currently active tool or weapon on the right. And like most twin-stick shooters, it also comes with the inherent problem of fussy and imprecise aiming, an issue only partly mitigated by infrequent necessity, and then overwhelmingly aggravated by erratic enemy movement.
Relative movement vectors can also be temperamental, a problem which becomes instantly and infuriatingly apparent in a recurring puzzle that requires guiding a rocket through a cramped and convoluted conduit to hit a switch on the other end. If the rocket bumps into the wall two or three times, you’ll have to start over. That seems simple enough until you realise that pushing the stick over to the left might not translate into movement to the left. I couldn’t even explain why. Maybe that’s the “insanely twisted” bit.
While there’s definitely some fun to be had here, it’s hard to escape the too-obvious fundamental gameplay mechanism that you’re basically just getting stuff to get more stuff to get more stuff to get to the end. Which admittedly describes just about every game ever made, but Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet does a pretty sorry job of disguising it, and its lack of a clear narrative or any real personality only compounds this.
Old school ascetics will probably appreciate its “purity” of design, but everybody else is likely to find the game a little baffling and cold. It’s a good game, even great in moments, but falls rather short of what it might have been altogether.