Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, unlike many of its contemporaries, tells its tale without the use of words and, for the most part, any noticeable exposition. This brief ludic voyage, a striking collaboration between artist Michel Gagne and Fuel Cell Games, is the gaming equivalent of a coffee table book, and as you zip about the game's six themed stages you juggle through three distinct roles: tourist, outsider, and adventurer.
The palette is purposefully simple - piercing blacks and one other colour at any time - but the construction is densely intricate. The eponymous Shadow Planet is a hostile and wholly alien entity, its construction made up of thick lines and sprawling, spewing objects. This is a world overrun with gooey, spiky, dripping, pulsing, and buzzing obstacles, thick tendrils, whirring contraptions, and coarse plant life. Almost everything is out to get you, and there's as much likelihood of you being skewered by arcane machinery running amok as there is spat on by something eyeing you up for lunch.
It's possible to just sit back and let Shadow Planet's gorgeous aesthetic beam out of your telly and splash pleasingly over your corneas, and the game's gentle difficulty and forgiving checkpoints complements this rhythm of play. This is a game unashamedly built on Metroid's foundations, but it places the onus on visual exploration rather than upgrades and combat.
More importantly, this pastel-coloured world feels alive and independent of the player, as if you were a visitor to its hostile shores - which, within the context of the game, is exactly what you are. Your character, a bulbous-eyed alien moulded after pulpy 1950s movies, spots a nearby star invaded and corrupted by a treacle-like alien blob thing - thus making the Shadow Planet - and hops inside his saucer-styled UFO to investigate.
The Shadow Planet is world portioned off into six chunks - ice zone, underwater zone, mechanical zone, and so on - with a colour-coded, geometrically impossible map that bears more similarity to The Crystal Maze than it does Super Metroid. A central zone siphons you off into each respective area, and you'll scurry back and forth around the expanding map as you chip away at 100 per cent completion.
While exploration is the key, the game includes plenty of gentle puzzle-solving exercises and nine upgrades for your vessel, most of which are unlocked in true Metroid fashion: kill a big monster, get a cool new toy.
Admittedly, some tools are vastly more useful than others; the saw and the rockets are invaluable, whereas the shield and the electrical charge feel like their perfect usage is yet to be realised. Tools are accessed via a radial menu, and your most invaluable four can be set to the face buttons.
One of the game's greatest strengths is in ensuring most of your arsenal has more than a singular purpose. Rockets, which can be guided by the right stick, can be used to blow up enemies but also are required to be flung, in slow motion, down small tunnels to open up paths; the buzzsaw can be used to drill through scenery, but also to anchor yourself to poles; and the claw can both clear rubble and be used to keep certain enemies at bay.
Areas often have their own environmental tricks to play, too. The ice zone has you beaming lasers through crystals, the underwater zone has you navigating currents, and the mechanical zone requires you to ferry a lantern through darkness, powering it up on certain objects.
The versatility of your ensemble hooks in to some imaginative and inventive puzzle sequences that remain satisfying to solve without erring on the wrong side of frustration. Bosses themselves require more brain than brawn, with you required to work out the right sequence of events to correctly dispatch the foe.
You spend much of your time excavating, grabbing, and yanking the environment to open up new routes and access new areas. Despite the arbitrary split between areas there's a genuine underlying sense of world and place, and you'll be distracted at every corner to prod and poke at something new, or in the hope of unearthing something hidden.
Dug into the world are numerous upgrades for your shield and blaster, artefacts which slowly unlock a movie detailing the backstory, and over twenty lumps of concept art. While the overall game is short - I finished it with 100% of the map uncovered in little more than an afternoon - I didn't manage to find all the collectibles.
Isolation is a central theme - it's just you and the Shadow Planet - with the mood hearkening back to Samus Aran's original journey through Zebes, long before Nintendo's flagship character was ransacked with the addition of quip-talking sidekicks and poorly implemented love interests.
Alongside the main campaign is a co-operative Lantern Run mode, allowing up to four players to ferry objects away from an unstoppable enemy giving chase; as you progress down a randomly-generated path, you'll stumble upon combat rooms at set intervals. Lantern Run is much tougher than the campaign, requiring solid use of weapons, upgrades, and space management.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a brief but striking title, one that doesn't outstay its welcome, perfectly pitched at the digital market. This unique environment pulses and ripples and burrows in a cascade of thick lines and solid blocks of rich colour, and creeping through its isolated and hostile corridors makes for an unexpected summer delight.