In some indeterminate galaxy, a giant black mass pulsates. The mass ripples, and a piece of it launches into space, splashing onto a distant sun. In an instant, a dark transformation begins as tendrils erupt from the surface and engulf the star in blackness.

In the same instant, fragments of the eruption collide with a nearby planet, setting a similar transmogrification in motion. An alien, observer to all this chaos, leaps into his flying saucer, determined to save his home world and stop those who have turned the sun into a writhing, evil thing.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet begins stupendously, kicking things off with a visually stunning, orchestral bang. Its first moments are truly captivating, introducing a planet that is both hostile and inviting -- a world that begs to be explored.
It may be gauche to discuss graphics before gameplay these days but, considering that Shadow Planet's visuals spring from the mind of animator Michel Gagne, it seems an appropriate place to start. The Shadow Planet and all of its habitants -- our UFO-flying protagonist included -- move with grace and a sense of artistry. The UFO wobbles and spins as it floats through the air, passing by wriggling tentacles and undulating cilia.

Compared to its surroundings (objects painted primarily in black, the background in pastels) the UFO is relatively small, lending a sense of scale and isolation to the proceedings. Our hero is hardly alone, however, as the Shadow Planet is home to any number of hostile creatures. These too are well-animated, often springing to life as our hero approaches.

This living world -- and I mean that literally, nearly every surface moves -- serves both as our hero's antagonist and as the player's motivation for moving forward. Doing so will uncover vital upgrades and unlockable bonuses. As in many exploration-based action titles, the map is large and, yes, you do receive an Achievement for uncovering every corner of it.

Water boss
The environment is littered with obstacles and blockades that can only be overcome by utilizing an abundance of gadgets. It's all the kind of stuff you'd expect to pop out of a flying saucer: A ray gun, laser, tractor beam, giant saw and, my personal favorite, a huge articulated claw.

Tasks for these gadgets range from simple things, like picking apart a pile of stones with the claw, to more complicated fare such as manipulating objects on the opposite side of a wall, using the tractor beam. One of my favorite activities involves guiding a rocket through a narrow corridor in order to ignite a hidden switch. Once launched, a rocket can be steered with the right analog stick, sending it careening through a twisted tunnel rife with sharp, tricky angles. Bounce the rocket off of the walls too many times, and it explodes.

None of the tasks are particularly taxing, save for the final section that requires players to tow an energy cell through a pitch black series of corridors. The energy cell serves as a key to restore power to generators and remove blockades. It also serves as the only light source and wards off mysterious floating anemones. They're nasty things that can destroy the UFO very quickly. Apparently, the cell is also irresistible to alien squids, as just such a creature constantly tries to steal the damned thing. As you might imagine, it can get fairly annoying. Beyond this one section, however, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is brimming with clever contraptions and obstacles.

Shadow Planet machine world

And therein lies my only other concern. The world, beautifully realized though it may be, occasionally feels at odds with the brilliant cinematic used to introduce it. The culprit, I think, is a nearly complete lack of music. While the cinematics employ a grand orchestral score borrowed from black metal band Dimmu Borgir (if you can believe it), the actual game relies solely on a sparse, ambient soundscape.

Some of the boss encounters, at the very least, could do with some more lavish tunes. Shadow Planet's enormous monstrosities are worthy of equally enormous accompaniment, though most only benefit from moderately enhanced percussion.

But that's only a minor issue among Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet's otherwise glowing qualities. Having completed my little alien's adventure, I have tunneled through rock, encountered masses of strange and wonderful creatures, delved the deeps of an underground sea and literally turned the world upside down. Having done this, I want more. I say this not because I am unsatisfied but because, like one of its own bottom-dwelling denizens, I am hungry for everything Shadow Planet has to offer.



This review is based on review code provided by Fuelcell Games. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will be available for $15 on XBLA starting August 3.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.