A mysterious sentient dark blob collides with your home star. You watch helplessly as it is instantly transmogrified into the titular Shadow Planet. By corollary, the corruption spreads to your homeworld, enveloping everything in inky blackness. But as a good little alien, you’re not about to take this lying down. You hop in your flying saucer and head out in search of a way to teleport to the Shadow Planet to set things right.
While this War of the Worlds-type story may be nearly as old as science fiction itself, it is at least told in a refreshing way. Everything is presented through spectacular animations that establish the story, style, and player objective wordlessly. This commitment to “show-don’t-tell” carries over to gameplay design as well. There is no HUD, your ship simply appears damaged if you have taken hits. There is no enemy health indicator, look at the hitsparks to determine if a weapon was effective. Once gameplay begins you are not burdened with any explanatory tutorials, you just take off in your flying saucer and explore the awesome and menacing landscape. Critical to this wordless design, your first upgrade is a scanner.This tool can examine any enemy or puzzle element to display a helpful image. With these symbols alone, the developers hint at the best weapons or tools to use to surpass any obstacle in your path.
And in the same vein as the Metroid games, most of the tools you acquire are useful in both combat and exploration / puzzle solving. Whether it’s a saw blade that cuts enemies as well as it cuts loose rocks, guidable missiles that can be steered through sections too small for your craft, or even your basic manipulator claw that can toss enemies into other hazards, practically every tool is multi-purpose.
The puzzles are very intuitive, with excellent visual cues highlighting objects of interest. They are never terribly challenging, but still enjoyable applications of your acquired tools. However, I felt that puzzles could have used more combinations of gadgets instead of focussing each section primarily around the item you most recently obtained.
I also felt that the checkpoints were placed too liberally. Now I’m no fan of having to replay long sections after dying, but coming across these health-restoring safezones so frequently undermines the tension of exploring dangerous territory. As it is, I was only really challenged during the boss fights. The bosses are well-designed, and are probably the highlights of the game. Difficult without being too frustrating, they task you with figuring out what to do while under threat: a solid mixture of discovery and execution.
And that’s probably the best way to sum up ITSP: solid. It’s a thoughtfully designed game with standout visuals. It’s not re-inventing any wheels here, but everything looks good and works smoothly. It’s been available on XBLA since last year, released on Steam this month. Metroid fans, what are you waiting for?