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Lost in Shadow
In Lost in Shadow you play as the shadow of a boy, cut apart from his body and thrown from the top of a tower to the ground below
- Mind-bending game mechanic, beautifully stylised, accessible for all kinds of gamers
- Finicky controls and combat system, brainless puzzles, generic platforming under the packaging
This slick, stylized action-adventure boasts a unique visual style and some innovative, well-implemented gameplay mechanics, but still suffers from some finicky, generic platforming.
In this age, a novel twist on a traditional genre is the perfect way to make a game stand out from its prole brethren. Our highly evolved tastes don't just want Mario to chase after the Princess anymore. We want Mario to chase after the Princess... in space! Hudson Soft's Lost in Shadow sets itself apart from like-minded platformers with a dreamy, meditative style and innovative gameplay that asks players to manipulate light, shadows, and perspective in the basic package of a 2D platformer.
You play as the shadow of a boy, cut apart from his body and thrown from the top of a tower to the ground below. With no memories, and only the help of a sylph named "Spangle," you decide to climb to the top of the tower, reclaim your body, and roundhouse whoever did this to you. But here's the twist: As a shadow, you can only interact with other shadows cast by objects in the foreground. It takes some getting used to, but when you adjust and realize how objects you'd normally be hopping on in any other platformer affect the landscape you're actually allowed to traverse, I guarantee you'll let out a girly shriek of delight.
During play, you can interact with levers and switches in the background, while Spangle can rotate machinery in the foreground to open new passageways. Other ways to manipulate the shadows involve moving the light source, swinging a hanging bulb to bring platforms into reach, and rotating the perspective, Echochrome style. My favourite mechanic involved "light gates,". which let me run around and change things in the foreground, then teleport to previously inaccessible areas.
The game is easy to learn, as markers with helpful hints are scattered throughout. Collectable memory fragments either provide advice or contain the woebegones of an emo teenager, but always increase your health bar. Health is also replenished by venturing into shadow corridors -- mini-stages that feature unique puzzles and double up as checkpoints in case you catch tetanus from a rusty saw-blade.
Ico is the obvious inspiration for Lost in Shadow's visuals, right down to the palette, industrial machinery, and rabid use of feathering. As such, you can be guaranteed that this is one of the better looking games for the Wii. It's easy to get tunnel vision during play, but when I took the time to observe, I noticed delightful details in the foreground. I could be running on the shadow of a clothesline in the residential district, or the shadow of a windowsill, 30 feet in the air. The game's score fits the mood, sounding off eerie, barely-there notes that draw your focus to the realistic clangs of machinery and levers. The same song is in almost every level though, and becomes grating when playing for hours straight.
But for all its creativity, Lost in Shadow is best enjoyed in small doses, as it's host to some niggling flaws that become more apparent the longer you play. For one thing, the puzzles are formulaic. I was often spoon-fed which mechanic to use. The light slider pops up? Move the light source. An object in the foreground glows? Rotate it. For a game with so many innovative mechanics, I had hoped for better integration. When it managed to work, like with the light gates, it was so good -- it just needed more. After all, I play games like this to work my soggy excuse for a brain, where I can just as easily turn it off.
Other flaws that nagged at me were fussy controls (making it infuriating to perform precise movements) and the foreground sometimes blocking my view of the boy entirely. These problems are nothing compared to combat though, which is clumsy and adds little to the game. Fighting enemies consists of slashing them, jumping out of the way, and then slashing again until they explode into experience points. Unfortunately, if I'm swinging my sword, I can't move, nor can I take any other action for half a second after. This means a missed swing results in a beating, and the numerous baddies inflate the length of the game in an annoyingly redundant way. Levelling up technically increases the boy's damage, but its benefits were barely noticeable beyond stimulating that pleasure spot in my caveman brain associated with increasing numbers and epic loincloths.
Not all enemies were a chore to deal with, though. The ones that I had to use puzzles to take down were satisfying to outsmart. The giant shadow monster that chased me in select levels, which I could never quite outrun, was a welcome change to the Zen pacing of the game. I would have liked to see more of these puzzle-type enemies and less of the hack-n-slash type.
If you can keep your expectations in check, accepting that Lost in Shadow is essentially an old school Prince of Persia-inspired game with a clever twist, you will find it worth your time to try it out. The initial head trip and squeals of glee you'll make when you discover yet another unique game mechanic will be worth it. Just remember that, to fully appreciate the aesthetic and not let the repetition wear on you, you should approach the game in bite sizes. Save it for those lonely rainy nights, when all you can hear are the eerie creaks of gears turning, lever flipping, and the crazy guy on the street belting out "All Along the Watchtower."
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